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.
The PS4 has to do "PC like" stuff much better than the current PS3 to increase interest. I purchased the PS3 when I did because it was (at the time) an attractively priced blue-ray player and it also did gaming (which I really had very little interest in). If the PS4 doesn't do media sharing and streaming well and it can't easily do browsing, there is little reason for a non hard core gamer to give it a second look.
Using x86 doesn't make the PS4 any more or less able to compete with actual PCs than using the Cell processor did in the PS3. The PS4 isn't being sold as a PC replacement, it's being sold as a PS3/X-Box replacement. There is much to love in gaming consoles by developers. The model is fixed for 5-10 years. Piracy is less common. Consoles are sold specifically for gaming, so the developer has some real idea about the size of the market.
It's possible this will be hacked into a PC replacement by loading some other OS on it... one of the problems Microsoft had with the original X-box. But that's not impacting on the normal use of the console. Gaming consoles start out very, very competitive with desktop gaming PCs per dollar spent, often significantly better than PCs per dollar. But they don't stay that way: PCs change every year, PC games escalate to match. The fixed console, regardless of what's inside, starts out ahead, winds up behind. It happens every time.
"One sticking point is how Sony plans to maintain backward compatibility for all the classic games developed on PS2 and PS3."
Why does it *need* to?
If I'm a gamer, and I have and still play any of those classic games, it's because I have the game console to play them. If the PS4 won't play them, and I care that much, I simply keep the old console to play them. Many gamers have more than one game console.
If I'm Sony, I'm betting on an eco-system developing around the PS4, with new games being developed for it that will be compelling enough to drives sales of the console. (If I'm a game developer, I also have the possibility of games that can be developed for both console *and* PC because both use the same architecture and much of the code will be the same. This increases my potential market.)
Sony's announcement made clear this move was aimed at developers to have content available for the console. I think they made a smart move.
Unfortunately I don't own any Sony products anymore these days. Even 5-10 years ago, I had to have Sony camcorders, digital camera with memory sticks, TVs, CD player, walkman etc. Instead now I have iphone & Samsung Galaxy note, iPad/Samsung tablet, Samsung TVs, and I am thinking of buying a Microsoft surface tablet/PC combo product. The time has changed and Sony no longer produced things I need.
I think you are right that the big question is how they will compete with the Alienwares and other souped up PCs of the world. I suspect they won't.
The price to be paid for standards is commoditization.
Bye bye Kutaragi-san
I was absolutely disappointed of PS Vita memory card. I thought whether Sony has learned anything from its past product launch. Nowadays, consumers doesn't care the hidden benefit of a product. The convenience of the universal adaption matters more. The best example probably is the memory duo. It might support higher data rate. Yet, the fact is it cannot be used in the other devices w/o an adapter. Who would like to buy another set of memory once a new camera is bought?
Sony has made pretty good products. To this date, Sony high-end TV still deliver the best pictures among all brands. If money is not a concern, I will definitely go for it. Sony has made panorama available in digital cameras. It is the best feature that I have been looking for for years. Just like Yoshida said, there are multiple signs showing Sony has come out from Not Invented Here Syndrome. In addition, the fact that Sony has chosen x86 as the platform for PS4 is a very good sign. Now that Sony has understood ultimately consumers drive the success of a product, I hope the bright future ahead of Sony.
Yes, Sony has overcome the not invented here syndrome. The actual digital cameras, music players, ... support standard SD cards. These devices use standard protocols and file formats.
For that reason, no more no go for my wife and me. As a result my wife bought a Sony digital camera some half a year ago.
David Patterson, known for his pioneering research that led to RAID, clusters and more, is part of a team at UC Berkeley that recently made its RISC-V processor architecture an open source hardware offering. We talk with Patterson and one of his colleagues behind the effort about the opportunities they see, what new kinds of designs they hope to enable and what it means for today’s commercial processor giants such as Intel, ARM and Imagination Technologies.