A couple of products coming from Sony are worth noticing for their potential to signal novel approaches to markets. One is Sony Cybershot DSCH1, the 5.1MP digital camera, and the other is Sony MZ-DH/RH line of minidiscs.
Both these products indicate some remarkable departures from several of Sony's directions. The lower pricing, about half of what Sony used to charge for its high-end new to market products, could be aimed at better positioning of the camera against Panasonic's Lumix, and the minidisc against Samsung's players and Apple's iPod.
The feature sets have also gotten less impressive than what we've come to expect. Except for the higher optical zoom and stabilization for the camera, and Organic EL Display for the minidiscs, several of the high-end/marketing driven gimmicks are gone. Among the missing features in the new lines are: the magnesium body, hi-def digital amplifier, and long battery-life in minidiscs, and the InfoLithium M battery as well as the Zeiss lens and the ability to use non-Sony memory supports for the camera.
So, besides the price adjustment, what else is there? Sony gave in and its minidiscs support now both MP3 and Atrac3plus direct playback. Moreover, the $6-1Gb Hi MD removable disc can store music-, and data-files of all types, thus enabling the player to become a storage device as well. Considering Sony's attachment to ways of protecting its content copyrights at all costs, this is no small change in a world where consumers want to freely move content among devices. As for its DSCH1 camera, this seems to offer a refreshing price vs. feature-set balance that takes into account both competitors' prices as well as the rise of consumer preferences for other brands, and maybe the diminution of its own following.
Since all these are product-events that must have been in the making at a time when Mr. Stringer, Sony's recently appointed non-Japanese CEO, was still the British executive of Sony's American entertainment operations, it is safe to assume that even the old guard at Sony had heard the message from the markets. However late, market capitalism seems to be alive and well and has finally taught a lesson that Sony's executives could not afford to ignore.
The To Do List at Sony should include the making its 1Gb Hi MD discs widely accessible, by lowering the price and licensing the standard out. In an increasingly commoditized world, the competitive game has not remained about engineering alone as much as great engineering and design followed by ubiquity and standards. In this sense, the expected truce in the next generation DVD media support is another sign that the folks in the big league get it.
Nota Bene: According to 54-year-old Ken Kutaragi, the "Father of the PlayStation," Sony executives had been too restrictive in controlling Sony content in a world where consumers of digital movies and music want hassle-free access.
He was of the opinion that Sony must revive its original innovative spirit. The Company also has been hurt by its insistence on making its content proprietary, Kutaragi said.
Mr. Kutaragi's latest creation, the handheld PlayStation Portable, is selling very well. An estimated 3 million have been sold since it was released in Japan in December and the United States last month. Considering his recent demotion, he has lost his board seat recently, Microsoft or Samsung could do well by making him an offer