Let's face it, Sony, you aren't doing much right. You can't keep the PlayStation Network online, which just happens to be your primary gaming and content delivery service. Your multitude of business units still seem to be at odds with one another. You're playing catch up or second fiddle in almost all of your major markets: computers, mobile devices, TVs, video games. What's most troubling is that your best ideas never seem to hit the market soon enough, or with enough polish, to actually move the needle.
Still, through it all, I still love Sony as a brand. It represents to me a tasteful, yet aggressively futuristic aesthetic, paired with the best technology money can buy. Even these days I can still see all those elements in place -- some beautiful hardware design here, some technical daring there, some can't-help-but-love-it world domination aspirations still lurking. So, what can be done to bring all these scattered pieces back together and build some truly great products that befit this storied brand? Well, I have some ideas.
Figure out your console jailbreak problem
First off, you have a big problem right now with security. You're "dealing with it," sure, but this isn't a new problem (oh, the rich history of PSP jailbreaks!), and I don't see what you're doing to fight the core issue. See, you don't just run the risk of hackers hacking and users using those hacks, you dare hackers to hack and dare users to use those hacks. You're never going to win in a straight fight, where you lose if your console gets hacked -- because it will. What has to be done is that you have to separate your services out from the core product. You have to make your services so valuable that people either decide not to hack in fear of losing them (which keeps most potential Xbox 360 hackers in check), and / or your services are separate, secure and distinct enough that even a user of a hacked device still wants to be in your ecosystem (which keeps many iPhone jailbreakers paying for apps).
Oh, and don't even get me started on the removal of Linux from the PS3. It was a slap in the face of users, whether they used it or not. In fact, you should really be going in the other direction. This is an opportunity you have to solve something that Apple hasn't figured out yet: letting users sideload non-blessed applications (and games!) that can take full advantage of your hardware (and even your SDK!) without going through your locked down (Sony-gets-a-commission!) channels. I know that sounds anathema to the concept of a software-subsidized game console model, but it also removes the primary impetus for your hardware to be hacked, allows for greater experimentation from up and coming developers, and gives users a choice they can't really get elsewhere. I think we've seen plenty of proof already that consumers will pay for convenience and curation.
Bring back the Walkman brand
"Walkman" is one of the most famous brands in all of consumer electronics. Maybe even the famous brand. I don't know who would win in a fight, iPod or Walkman, but I'd be rooting for Walkman. Anyone older than 25 can still easily remember wanting a Walkman cassette player, and then wanting a Discman CD player. That desire hasn't gone away, you just stopped putting the Walkman brand on anything we wanted. It's so diluted now it's almost unrecognizable. As a culture we've moved toward very specific objects of desire: I don't want an MP3 player, I want an iPod; I don't want an Android phone, I want an Evo 4G; I don't want a tablet, I want an iPad. The Walkman "line" doesn't mean anything, the word needs to be centered on one single amazing device that's iterated on every year or twice a year. I don't care if it's a tablet or a phone, but it should probably be one of those. Blow it out. Maybe rest the brand for a year and then explode on the scene with the best product and a huge marketing push. People will take notice.
Also, remember that when it comes to a designing a product (hopefully that product), you have something that very few of your competitors do: decades of design legacy. Use it! At some point, consumers are going to get tired of buying a crappy plastic phone every year and start looking around for something that can last. Phone and tablet internals are already plenty powerful for most people, what they want is something that looks and feels great, works flawlessly, has a long-lasting battery, and makes calls. Succeed at that and they'll want to hold onto the phone for years if actually build them something that can last. Aren't you tired of Apple's recent innovations popping up in the MoMA every few years? Do you want to build a slightly better chunk of plastic than Samsung, or build something whose design will outlast its technical relevance?
Need a little inspiration? Check out some of your triumphs from over the years:
Ship things well
One of your biggest problems is shipping things when you say you'll ship them. It's almost a running joke. "Oh, Sony said spring? So that means we'll see it in the fall. Hopefully." Obviously this is a much easier problem to point out than it is to fix, but you need to figure it out. Somewhere there's a disconnect between your ideas (which are usually great) and your execution (which is usually sloppy). Typically your hardware is pretty tight, but your software lags behind, either holding up a launch, or, even worse, making us wish you had held up the launch to iron out the kinks.
It's so painful to see great ideas wasted on poor execution. Take the PSP Go and Xperia Play, for instance. They're both great, forward-looking ideas, in principle. A real gaming console without a removable cartridge or disc! A phone with real buttons that can play real console-style video games! But of course the whole point of these things was that there would be software -- and there wasn't. What's better, a phone that can play some crappy app store games, of which there are thousands, or a phone that can play some great console titles, of which there are "one" or "a few."
Oh, and while we're on the topic of the Xperia Play: I think you have a great idea with the whole "PlayStation Certified" concept. Now let's make sure it's more than a concept, yeah? If this isn't easily accessible and compelling to all the myriad Android manufacturers out there, and new game developers as well, they're going to find some other way to get quality games in the hands of users, and you're going to be worse off than when you started.
A couple personal appeals
- Nilay asked me to ask you to build another huge-ass Clié like the PEG-NZ90 and send it to him. And a Vaio UX. Do you have his address? I can get it to you, in case you don't.
- I'd like you to restart your robotics program and sell me a Qrio. I guess I'd like an Aibo as well, but we all know the future is humanoids. How does next week sound?
- Joanna wants a Mylo phone. With a killer keyboard. I don't really think that's too much to ask.
- Chris wants you to reopen flagship Sony Galleries -- specifically, the beautiful one on Chicago's Magnificent Mile. Is there a better way to spend a lazy Sunday afternoon than playing with a bunch of Aibos?
- Oh, and Ross was wondering if you could revive the Intelligent Qube franchise. He says a quick, smart action-puzzler with 3D visuals is much better positioned these days than it was back in '97.
In summary, I just want you to know I'm rooting for you, Sony. You don't do a lot right, but I think your heart is still in the right place. You want to push things forward and build extravagant technology. I support that. I'll even buy an NGP when it comes out to show my solidarity. I just want you to do it well.