Hi, D-FlipFlop. I apologize if it strikes you that I am intent on finding negative stories on Japan. Actually, I am not. But things are tough in Japan right now. Especially the nation's electronics industry. Hard to find a rosy picture right now.
Just thought about something... Could you prepare, for us readers, a graphical ecosystem of Japan's electronics industry and point out who is doing well and who isn't? I know it would be a tall order, but it would be very educational and interesting. May be something of that sort already exists, but I am not aware of it at least.
Allow me to address the flip side of your question by saying I can think of a few product developments from the old days at Motorola in which management tried to kill a project but certain engineers refused to let it die and it became a "skunk works" for awhile, only to later get resurrected, become a successful product and make some other manager a hero -- usually not the same manager who previously tried to kill it.
I think I better not answer that other than to clarify that the projects I'm thinking of were IP developments that had longer time horizons and thus were not part of the closely-watched, regularly statused pipeline of new product development -- at least not at the time some manager tried to kill them.
Later, after additional progress by engineers quietly working "in their spare time" to keep the IP warm and move it forward, and usually after the opposing manager had moved on, the IP development effort could be openly discussed again, officially resourced and included in a real product -- including some products that made real money.
Take heart. Even if that Sony tablet could have survived, it would have been built in China anyway. Just like iPads. I agree that the price point was way off, though.
I've certainly experienced clueless management that refused to invest development money in a product, and almost let it die. Fortunately for me, such managers do get replaced eventually, so it was a matter of keeping the product on life support until a better manager came along. And in my case, it was literally a case of cluelessness. An inability to see the product in the universe of similar, competing ones.
On this Sont product specifically, I couldn't tell from the description whether it used standard Internet Protocol over WiFi, or some proprietary Sony scheme. The mention of "15 Mb/s max" confused me, as that is not a maximum of 802.11 a, or b, or g. So if Sony was trying to sell a proprietary solution, as they have done in other products at times, that might also have contributed to its low appeal.
Interesting. Bert used the phrase "life support" and I said "skunk works", but I think we mean pretty much the same thing -- keeping it going until you find the right champion to allow it to come out of hiding and back to the front burner.
I wouldn't go as far as Bert and say clueless management. Intelligent people often disagree, and in the case of managers, that can mean different priorities in allocating limited resources (i.e., opportunity cost) and different assessments of risk vs. reward for a particular new product proposal. That doesn't mean one manager is a genius and the other is clueless -- just that they see things differently -- and unfortunately neither of them is clairvoyant.
If we had clairvoyant managers who knew exactly the revenues, costs and schedules for one product vs. another, our jobs would be easy -- just build the product that will make the most money!
Point taken, Frank. My use of "cluelessness" was not meant to imply lack of intelligence. However, the system in question, like any other of the same ilk, cannot survive without a constant infusion of R&D. Hardly unusual, these days.
The one manager assumed the company would milk the existing product for all it was worth, without investing R&D funds. Which would have meant a quick demise. Life support consisted of introducing new features "under the radar," on the cheap, until new management finally allowed more major upgrades. This system is alive and kicking to this day, multiple upgrades later.
I think the missing piece in that manager's logic was to see what exactly differentiated this product, and how/why those features that differentiate it were going to continue to be in demand.
The Ipad may have succeeded not because it was a better video player etc., but because a) the iPhone preceded it and it had a cornucopia of APPS available to run on it when it launched. The whole Appstore ecosystem changed everything.
An ipad with just a video player, and a web browser, especially in the year 2000, was useless.
Kazuo Hirai is not reassuring as the new Sony president and CEO. After all it was Howard Stringer who pushed for open standards and gave us the SD/microSD card in Sony's cameras, camcorders, etc., but Hirai who put yet another proprietary memory card inside the PS Vita.
Sony's new 1.6kg ultrabook is a poor attempt to protect the VAIO Z franchise, its excessive weight designed to match that of the VAIO S series with internal optical drive.
Whereas Samsung and Apple would not hesitate to integrate the best possible technologies at their disposal to put out a class leading product, Sony and Nokia seems to have their hands tied to internal politics and general confusion as to what they should hold back.
Looking at 3 (dubious) industry trends of glossy Gorilla glass displays, non-removable batteries, and non-expandable memory, you can see where each company stands: Samsung and Apple at the opposite poles, while Sony, Nokia, and others couldn't make up their minds where they want to be.
MCJW, you pointed out a good reason why Sony kept failing: proprietary this and that in products. However, in many ways, Apple is doing exactly the same but get away with success. Perfect example of Apple-proprietary is the connector which is used to charge the iPhone and iPod and iPad.
I believe that Apple's success is attributed to two factors: 1) binding love of a sizable worshippers to SJ/Apple, 2) ability to offer reliable and solutions that are more "complete" than those of competition.
Back in 2001, Sony's MP3 looks pretty from outside. But, owners of such device could only purchase Sony Columbia's music that are ATRAC-encrypted and came with Sony-proprietary software that could crash your Win95/98/2000/XP PC at the time!
Thank you for pointing out what Hirai has done with the latest PS Vita. Based on this, he is not going to save Sony.
I agree with most of what you wrote. The difference with Apple, IMO, is mostly that their toys support enough standards to continue to be useful even for operating outside the Apple walled garden. (Like, a real cell phone connection and real Internet over real WiFi. Not some closed off Sony-only garden.)
Not to mention, we are discussing this when Apple's star is still shining bright. People have a way of assuming that today's status quo will remain the status quo. Like, remember how economics had changed forever, back in the 2003-2007 timeframe? We were being assureed of this.
As to the faithful following, I have to disagree partially. Sony had just that same kind of blindly loyal follower, as do Toyota and Honda. As far as I'm concerned, ALL of this blind devotion is quite undeserved. I'm convinced it's just easier for many to put on blinders, believe some half-truths, and that absolves them of having to actually do some of their own investigating and thinking.
I had a sinister theory for success. The original PlayStation overtook Nintendo because it rode on a certain percentage of pirated CD-ROMs at the local store, at a time when Nintendo came out with the latest anti-piracy cartridges. Likewise, the iPod turned a blind eye on MP3 piracy, telling users "do not steal music" but _providing_ the simplest means to do it. It married the compact appeal of an MD Walkman and the "flexibility" of Rio or Creative's bulky HDD MP3 players. They both succeeded by destroying long-in-the-tooth business models.
Game cartridges and removable media were the reason companies like Sony could market hundreds of models of meticulously crafted products like Walkmans and Handycams, and later it was the apps in App Stores that subsidizes Apple's original iPad. The Airboard failed because it had no obvious recurring revenue stream, but was designed like it did, priced like it didn't. As physical media evolved to a generic digital microSD card without "Metal" "High-Bias" and "Normal" distinctions of tape, content, apps, and "services" became the dominant business model. Sony has Columbia, but content, apps, and services favor no one in particular, as opposed to, say, BetaMax.
So, you won't find a microSD card in iOS devices, and as long as people like thin, light, and magical, the battery will remain sealed (for a replicant-like 3 year lifespan). But more importantly, tech companies today are like the Panasonics, Aiwas, and JVCs of yore, getting their direction by the latest successful products and features Apple put out, as their predecessors followed Sony. All the while Samsung is bolstering their core components capacity, and Apple its manufacturing ability (exclusive arrangements with Foxconn).
We gotta think of a better strategy against this than voting with our wallets!
The success of iPad requires years of development in all aspects - business, market and engineering.IMO, Apple used iPod Touch to test the acceptance of Apps Store, tuning the capacitive touch to be perfection. iPhone, together with Apps Store, further drives the market into the direction touch, bright display. During the time, the whole Apple community is trying to build various great apps. I am sure there has been demand of better resolution and bigger screen for some type of application. iPad is an inevitable product for the demand. The anticipation of Apple Fans and Apple's ability to drive the market are crucial to the success of the product. Apple does it really well.
A couple companies, Sony and Nokia included, have tried MP3 players, smartphone, Tablet PC and portable TV, neither of them have penetrated the market as well as Apple have been. The question is how they can do it while others could not. Timing and pricing strategic may be an answer. The magic is how it can be done right.
Japan has tried various way and I believe Japanese won't give up so easily. One day, it will hit a jackpot again. Never give up and stay innovating.
Are the Japanese getting more complacent as well as outpaced by up and comers like So. Korea and China ?
As to Sony, a Company founded by a great Engineer like Akio Morita, it lost focus on intelligent hardware product development when it got too deeply into Entertainment software / Show biz - and brought in a very different set of people into its top management ( including non-Technical Englishmen - Kryptonite to making profit by honest hard work ). The very same thing happened at Motorola when a consumer product like Cellular phones became dominant, and Moto lost its Mojo.
Unlike Steve Jobs, not too many CEOs can span the vast gap between aesthetics / consumer marketing on one side and hardware development on the other and typically smooth - talkin' salesmen win over slow - poke cautious engineers - and then take the Co. downhill in a few quarters - to wit Carly Fiorina at HP and her most recent reincarnation in the Boardroom who is firing 27,000. The HP board seems to have not learnt anything from the Fiorina debacle.
Hopefully Sony and Japan in general are not so arrogant as Boards on this side of the Pacific and would change course and prosper again.