June 25, 2018

Sony, At War with Itself

The February issue of Wired has an interesting feature on Sony’s struggle to figure out its position on technology, media, and copyright. As a consumer electronics maker, Sony wants to make products that give people flexible use of their recorded music and video. As a content provider, Sony wants to enforce limits on that flexibility.

For a while, the result was paralysis. The Wired story begins with a Sony executive looking wistfully at an Apple iPod, and wishing Sony had had the guts to create such a product. Sony’s consumer electronics business drifted, unable to create breakthrough products that provided the flexibility that users crave.

Now under new leadership, Sony is trying to find a middle path. Unfortunately, the new strategy seems to work only for customers who have all-Sony setups. One Sony device will talk to another, but it’s not clear how a customer could mix in other manufacturers’ products into a Sony setup. Open and flexible components are still too scary to allow.

The result is just another way of failing to serve customers. Instead of trying to make each product as useful to the customer as possible, Sony is still trying to corral and control their customers’ activities. They still talk about finding the “balance point” between customer-friendly design and content protection. Despite the hopeful ending of the Wired piece, the civil war inside Sony isn’t over yet.