NEW YORK--If the PlayStation 4 announcement on Wednesday is any indication, Sony may finally--and bravely walking away from the NIH (not invented here) syndrome that has characterized the Japanese consumer electronics giant for decades.
Remember Sony’s insistence on the use of Memory Stick (which nobody else used) in digital still cameras? Its promotion of the ill-fated Mini Disc? Its adamant push for the ATRAC audio compression format (instead of MP3) in the early days of the solid-state Walkman? Its attempt to shove Digital Audio Tape (DAT) in consumer down the throat, and how Sony stuck with Betamax well beyond its expiration date?
Sony, for years, believed in its own mythology that proprietary technologies (or formats) are deeply ingrained in the company’s DNA, and to be completely different from others is the only way for Sony to win the world.
Call it Sony arrogance, or just a misguided management principle.
But that attitude–which morphed into a marketing tagline, “Sony like no other”–also encouraged keeping Sony’s rich “pioneering” spirit, which originated in co-founder Masaru Ibuka.
With that backdrop, Sony’s decision to go with X86 architecture in its PS4—which carries high stakes for the ailing Japanese company—was jaw-dropping to me and many other industry watchers. To build PS4 on a “supercharged PC architecture” as described by Mark Cerny, Sony’s lead system architect of PS4, would have been unimaginable during Ken Kutaragi’s reign over Sony’s computer entertainment group.
Of course, a lot has happened between now and then, in the market and in consumer behavior.
First, game play over the network (vs. playing packaged games on a proprietary gaming console) shattered the wall [in hardware differentiation], creating a level playing field for gamers, game developers and console designers.
Second, the game console is no longer the only place gamers play games. While Sony insists that its PS4 console box will be the “leading authority” in game play, consumers today live in a world of multiple devices–including smartphones and tablets. Any single-purpose device is definitely passé.
Third, consumers crave a much simpler, fluid “connected” experience. They want a smooth transition, for example, when switching between playing a games on a console in the living room and resuming play on a mobile device, while also talking to friends online, sharing tips with other gamers on Facebook, or even “spectating” on broadcasts of celebrity gamers.
If all the talk at the company’s press event is to be believed, when PS4 finally rolls out later this year, Sony will be taking steps in the right direction, meeting most of the gamer needs noted above.
But more than anything else, what gives me hope for Sony’s PS4 and Sony, for the first time in ages, is that the Japanese company is no longer hung up on developing a totally unique platform for PS4–just for the sake of being different.