Sony Corporation has just filed a record loss of $6.4 billion. How does anyone lose that much money? Particularly, how does one of the biggest makers of electronics, movies and music lose that much money? Maybe it’s piracy. After all when they lobby governments for new media-control legislation, record companies talk as if every download is a loss of a sale. Perhaps they’re actually putting that on their balance sheet now.
OK, the real reasons are probably more complicated. Sony is a complicated company. (Did you know it has a financial services arm?) But I think this in itself causes much of their problems. Making the content and the equipment to play it on is a strategy born of the format wars. Sony’s technically superior Betamax design lost out to VHS, in part because its rivals had better deals for film distribution. So when it came to the the battle between Blu-Ray and HD DVD, Sony was better prepared; it now owns about one sixth of Hollywood.
But format is now irrelevant, an anachronism. Sony won a war over a wasteland.
The makers of audio and video equipment are, to put it crudely, on our side. They know we don’t want the machines we buy hobbled to suit Big Entertainment. So hardware makers quietly let slip the codes that region-unlock their DVD players, Apple decides to sell only DRM-free music through iTunes, so on. But as a maker of both content and equipment, Sony is a house divided against itself. The most notorious example: the day one of the world’s bigger PC builders also became a distributor of malware. If you bought music from them, they returned the favour by taking control of your PC. I haven’t bought a Sony product since.
They must choose now. Only by getting out of entertainment production – an industry already past its best days anyway – will they be able to return to doing what they always did best: Shiny things.
We have still to see any real Android challenge to the iPad. The simple fact is, they’re not as nice. Apple’s hermetic approach to design means that they can tweak the whole package until it’s really quite lovely. Almost every rival product so far feels like an inferior imitation.
It shouldn’t be this way. The advantage of the more open Android platform ought to be that, like Windows, it gets used on an interesting variety of hardware. That should allow creative manufacturers to experiment and innovate. Inexcusably though, most don’t. But just now and again someone lets loose, and the results justify the wait.
Sony simply call it the Tablet P, and though it looks like one of those concept devices that are demoed and then never seen again, it is actually coming to market – along with its more conventional sibling the Tablet S – any day now. I don’t even usually like Sony’s stuff; for my tastes it seems too shiny and insubstantial. But the idea of a folding tablet is just gorgeous.
Why? Well the iPad has been touted as somehow a replacement for print publications – even the potential saviour of the publishing industry. But it is not a device you can easily carry around with you to read in the places most people read casually: During journeys and commutes, sitting at a café table. Basically it’s too big; smartphones on the other hand are too small for comfortable reading. A device that has almost the same screen size as an iPad yet can be slipped into a jacket pocket or handbag makes sense in so many more situations.
Meanwhile, there are strong rumours that Amazon is about to enter the fray too, attempting to beat other tablets where so far there’s been a painful absence of competition – on price. So despite Apple’s courtroom tactics and the demise of HP’s Touchpad, it looks like competition is finally beginning to happen. The biggest upset though may be yet to come. So far, Microsoft has been noticeable in the consumer tablet market mostly by its absence. Are they having second thoughts? More soon…