Vendor focus: Sony – where did it all go wrong?

By Sooraj Shah
28 Nov 2012 View Comments

But while this strategy may work, Sony still has work to do to catch up with the likes of Apple and Samsung. Its Tablet S and Tablet P devices are relatively unknown, and the fact that gaming is beginning to move away from dedicated machines and onto tablets and smartphones is also a concern.

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But according to Ovum analyst Nick Dillon, all is not lost.

“Sony is in an enviable position; it has arguably the widest range of connected consumer electronics devices, an established brand and an extensive range of content services,” he says.

But while Sony can offer excellent cameras and laptops to go along with its sexy HDTVs and sleek smartphones, these products are invariably let down by a marketing operation that is put to shame by rivals like Apple. Sony tends to have many similar products with unmemorable names like the “Bravia KDL40HX853”, while Apple has only a few devices in its product ranges, simplifying the choice for buyers.

Selburn believes Sony has traded off its name for too long, to the detriment of innovation.

“Sony TVs used to look better than the competition because of the ‘secret sauce’ they put into the image processing and video processing chips on the TV, but now the gap has closed and a top tier company like Samsung or LG has just as much ‘secret sauce’ to put in,” he says. “Also, companies like Vizio are able to get off-the-shelf processors and chips to do the majority of what is good but at a lower price point. So there is less reason to pay the premium price for the Sony brand.”

Regaining its crown

TechMarketView analyst Richard Holway believes the only way that Sony can revive its fortunes is by coming up with more “special sauce”.

“They can only do it by inventing a whole new genre. The TV is overdue a reinvention. Smart TVs are rubbish. There is a whole new market in connecting the ‘Internet of everything’ – really effective control centres for everything in your home controlled via your smartphone,” he says.

This is a view shared by Ovum’s Dillon, who argues that the firm’s salvation could lie in the development of a truly integrated multi-screen experience.

He says all Sony devices should come with a Sony Entertainment Network (SEN) app that allows users to access content using a single ID.

IHS’s Selburn believes the PlayStation console is the ace up Sony’s sleeve. “Sony should focus on a position that it is strong in, its consoles. And it could mean playing a game on a big screen but have a map or inventory list on your tablet or smartphone,” he suggests.

Sony’s recent attempts to, in Holway’s words, “reinvent the TV” have met with little success. Alongside Logitech, Intel and Google, Sony was the first manufacturer to launch a smart TV running on Google’s operating system. But this was a flop, prompting Logitech to quit the programme stating that the platform was “not ready”.

Sony has persisted with the alliance, once again showing its stubbornness but perhaps more worryingly revealing an over-dependence on Google.

“The problem is, even if the initiative takes off, where is the value for Sony? Is it really Google’s value that is causing people to buy the set and, if so, then Samsung, LG and Vizio can offer Google TV, too. Sony tried to be a leader with the first generation Google TVs but in the second generation it won’t be the only player, so all it does is keep Sony from falling behind rather than putting it in the lead,” says Selburn.

Dillon says that Sony is entirely reliant on Google to provide its smart device platforms, and that this poses a “significant risk” to the company.

Is Sony’s future make.believe?

Despite all its problems, Selburn believes that Sony can be more optimistic than the likes of Panasonic.

“I don’t see Sony as the Titanic. I think it has struggled, and is still at the mercy of forces beyond its control. I don’t know if any management changes will fix this but I don’t see it as a sinking ship,” he says.

Holway is less sanguine, arguing that Sony must sell off its unprofitable businesses in order to save itself.

“IBM is very good at killing off bits of itself, for example selling PCs to Lenovo,” he says. “But cutting off your limbs to save the rest of you is as painful to a corporation as it would be to any human. Do I think Sony can do it? No.”



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