Sony is the closest thing the Windows world has to an Apple Computer. It is also the company that should be the natural winner when it comes to the upcoming convergence in the consumer electronics space. Unfortunately, Sony has had execution issues that have made me doubt it will ever step up to its potential.
That may have changed. The other day, when I sat down with Sony to look at their new fall laptop and desktop lines, I saw a new Sony—one that should keep Steve Jobs up at night. It probably wont, but Ill get to this later. Now, until Sony announces the new products, I cant give you any details, no matter how much you beg. I will say that what I saw indicates that Sony is coming back, and I can chat a bit on the why behind this.
Sonys Ugly Past: For a long while, the design direction for Sony PCs has come from Japan. That direction has, for the North American and European markets, been ugly and inconsistent.
That is not to say they havent had good products. Its just that the good products have been overshadowed by some really bad ones over the last several years. Sony, like Apple, is known for sharp designs. Yet a number of Sonys designs have looked more like they were designed by the aircraft carrier division of the U.S. government. I actually suggested one have air horns put on it to complete the look.
Sonys Back On Track: But that is about to change. The reason is that Sony has shifted responsibility for product selection and planning for the U.S. market to the United States. This is similar to what Toyota did nearly a decade ago to better address the non-Asian market. Based on my read of Sonys new offerings, it will have the same positive impact with Sony as it had on Toyota.
What were those designers
thinking?”> The problem with centralized planning done in an offshore company is that the planners and designers dont live in the target market and so make assumptions, generally in error, based on what their local market is like or what they think the foreign market wants. In some cases, it looked like the Sony designers thought we wanted laptop computers we could use as office furniture or personal defense weapons.
The Japanese market is dramatically different than the U.S. and European markets, which makes any centralization of planning in Japan foolhardy and generally unsuccessful. Though, I have to admit, Im at a loss as to how they could imagine that some of these things would ever have sold anywhere.
Apple vs. Sony: Apple doesnt show its products in advance of their release, so I cant actually tell if what Sony will have will beat what Apple will have. It certainly is possible, though. This is not to say that Apple folks will move to Sony. I cant afford the hate mail that would come from making that statement even if it were true. But the new lines should attract a similar audience, making it more difficult for Apple to get new customers. Stay with me, because “should” doesnt mean “will,” and well get to that in a moment.
One place where Apple does beat Sony is in product placement. This is strange, because Sony is a media company. You would think the company could place its products better in its own shows and movies. But Sony doesnt compete as Sony, and that remains one of its competitive weaknesses.
If Sony can continue to execute on the desktop and laptop designs that were shown to me, I have little doubt the market will find them compelling. If Sony could ever get the entire company on the same page, it could become dangerous. But any step in the right direction is a good step, and this was a good step for Sony.
/Wintel truce”> Wintel vs. Apple War Over: Looking at the Apple vs. Sony dynamic, which is where the competition between the Wintel and Apple platforms should be the most dramatic, I dont see much in the way of excitement. The Apple Switcher campaign was actually well-done, but it failed miserably, and I dont see people moving from Apple machines that much anymore, either.
This battle may be done. Much like cars vs. motorcycles, the two platforms may be different enough now that Apple users simply buy Apple machines and most everyone else has accepted Wintel as the decision starting-point.
Ive been thinking for some time that comparing the speeds and feeds of both platforms no longer even makes sense, since they dont, for the most part, run the same things, and the Apple users seem to be a vertical market in and of themselves—at least on the professional side.
This wouldnt mean that Wintel won and Apple lost; only that Apple has carved out a niche of unique users whom it serves extremely well. Basically, Apple has become a vertical market vendor in a well-defined space. This would support Apples high customer loyalty, very high customer satisfaction and inability to attract Wintel users—which, otherwise, would appear to be conflicting. This both gives me a creative way to dodge hate mail from Apple users and gives you something to ponder this week. That is a win/win no matter how you cut it.