It looks like Sony might be narrowing its focus a bit — according to a Nikkei report, the company is contemplating selling its personal computer division to a Japanese investment fund, though it sounds like the VAIO brand would live on in a limited fashion. Sony would reportedly keep a small stake in a new venture built from the sale and continue to operate in markets where the brand is well-known — but otherwise it would exit the market in most countries. However, the VAIO business would continue to operate in Sony's home country of Japan, with a specific focus on the business market.
While the sale to Japan Industrial Partners (estimated to be between $391 million and $489 million) isn't a done deal yet, it sounds like it could be official by the end of March — which would result in the company losing money on its fiscal year for the first time in two years. As for the staff of 1,000 currently dedicated to the VAIO business, most would either be absorbed by the buyer or transferred to other parts of Sony; it doesn't sound like a major round of layoffs would immediately accompany this sale.
This comes at a time when Sony is trying to recapture the swagger and reputation for innovation it had during the 1990s — the company was an even bigger presence at CES 2014 than usual, with a number of innovative and unusual products on display. While Sony has been making a lot of noise with the PlayStation 4 and a renewed focus on mobile phones, things have been quieter with the VAIO business. The Nikkei reports that the company wants to continue putting more focus towards smartphones and that shedding the PC business, which is said to be a money-loser, would help facilitate that initiative.
Update: Anonymous sources speaking to Reuters and The Wall Street Journal have corroborated the Nikkei's report.
Update 2: Sony has acknowledged the reports while refusing to deny them. "Sony has made no announcement in this regard," reads a statement issued today. "As Sony has announced previously, Sony continues to address various options for the PC business, but Sony has no further comments." The company is due to report its third-quarter earnings tomorrow; we'll let you know if there's any further news on VAIO.