Skip to main content

Now we know why Sony is slow to announce new products

Now we know why Sony is slow to announce new products


It's not that Sony isn't making stuff, it's just being a bit more realistic about its place in the world

Share this story

Sony's CES announcements this year are neatly summarized by the void of nothingness between COO Mike Fasulo's hands in the photo above. The Japanese company that helped define mainstream consumer electronics in the '90s basically didn't bother to introduce any marquee products at the biggest consumer electronics show. And, judging by Sony's latest reported earnings, that was a good thing.

Every January at CES, I witness Sony launching more devices, more things, and more promises. And every spring after CES, I watch those same products failing to make a dent in the hyper-competitive markets that Sony is trying to penetrate. Whether it's an update to the Xperia smartphone line or a new Hi-Res Walkman, Sony's new devices launched at CES have never gone on to become commercial blockbusters. So when I saw the dearth of big new launches this time around, I was actually a little relieved. Sony won't have any new product tearing up the sales charts this spring, but it hasn't had one of those in many years of trying.

A humbler Sony is resisting the temptation of launching new stuff just because it can

The start to Sony's 2016 is unencumbered by new sins. There's no albatross hanging around Sony's neck, no moonshot that it has to figure out ways to sell and promote. And the end of the company's 2015 indicates that this more focused and limited Sony is a company that can thrive. The last three months of the year churned out a healthy $1 billion profit off $21.5 billion in revenue. Sony's no longer in the big leagues with Apple and Google, and it seems to be coming to terms with that reality well. It has spent the past few years shrinking down to only its most essential and potentially profitable businesses.

As far as the mainstream technology market is concerned, Sony might as well be known as PlayStation Inc. Sales of PS4 hardware and software account for nearly a quarter of Sony's income and continue to bolster the company's bottom line. But beyond the PlayStation? Sony offloaded its PC division in 2014 and spent much of 2015 trimming down its expenditure on mobile devices. Sony's smartphone portfolio is now smaller and focused on the premium end. The company still considers its TV and camera sales important, but neither is as much of a linchpin as the PlayStation.

READ NEXT: The PlayStation Company: why Sony should ditch almost everything else

Sony Pictures had a healthy last quarter to 2015 and Sony's insurance products remained a reliable profit driver. The universal thread tying together the positives to Sony's recent success has been a reduced reliance on hardware sales. The more hardware products that Sony and companies like it introduce, the more trouble they eventually find themselves in. TVs are commoditized. Cameras are commoditized. Headphones are commoditized. Smartphones are ridiculously commoditized. There are companies who find success in each of those spheres, but the profit tends to be concentrated into the hands of very few.

Sony is no longer a leader in consumer electronics hardware. It makes great camera sensors, and it supports one of the leading gaming ecosystems in the world, but it's not able to set its own price and rules the way it once could or that Apple now does with the iPhone. So now Sony has to be wiser and more sober. It has to pick its fights wisely, like it's doing with the PlayStation VR project where the new hardware is intimately tied to Sony's established PlayStation success.

Escaping commoditized markets is hard, but doable

At the same time, Sony isn't giving up on mass-market innovation entirely, as it continues to nurture projects like Life Space UX and its internal crowdfunding initiatives that produce things like the FES Watch. Those ideas, along with the one highlight to Sony's CES presser, the Hi-Res turntable, represent controlled experimentation — they are efforts by Sony to reassert its design and engineering acumen in a unique manner and in a way that people can relate to emotionally. None of them require the same grand ecosystem play that smartphones do, and though unlikely, each of them could be a success in a vacuum.

Significant reductions in marketing and research and development for Sony's mobile division may also signal further streamlining in the months ahead. Having been a perpetual also-ran in an Android smartphone market that's barely profitable even in good times, Sony could decide it's had enough of trying.

Sony quit trying to live up to its storied name and reputation at CES this year and now it has a blank slate to work with. If 2016 continues along the same path as 2015, the Sony brand may grow less visible, but the leaner and more focused company could well become stronger as a result.

Today’s Storystream

Feed refreshed An hour ago The tablet didn’t call that play by itself

Emma RothAn hour ago
Missing classic Mario?

One fan, who goes by the name Metroid Mike 64 on Twitter, just built a full-on 2D Mario game inside Super Mario Maker 2 complete with 40 levels and eight worlds.

Looking at the gameplay shared on Twitter is enough to make me want to break out my SNES, or at least buy Super Mario Maker 2 so I can play this epic retro revamp.

External Link
Russell BrandomAn hour ago
The US might still force TikTok into a data security deal with Oracle.

The New York Times says the White House is still working on TikTok’s Trump-era data security deal, which has been in a weird limbo for nearly two years now. The terms are basically the same: Oracle plays babysitter but the app doesn’t get banned. Maybe it will happen now, though?

Richard LawlerTwo hours ago
Don’t miss this dive into Guillermo del Toro’s stop-motion Pinocchio flick.

Andrew Webster and Charles Pulliam-Moore covered Netflix’s Tudum reveals (yes, it’s going to keep using that brand name) over the weekend as the streamer showed off things that haven’t been canceled yet.

Beyond The Way of the Househusband season two news and timing information about two The Witcher projects, you should make time for this incredible behind-the-scenes video showing the process of making Pinocchio.

Asian America learns how to hit back

The desperate, confused, righteous campaign to stop Asian hate

Esther Wang12:00 PM UTC
External Link
Russell Brandom4:29 PM UTC
Edward Snowden has been granted Russian citizenship.

The NSA whistleblower has been living in Russia for the 9 years — first as a refugee, then on a series of temporary residency permits. He applied for Russian citizenship in November 2020, but has said he won’t renounce his status as a U.S. citizen.

External Link
Emma Roth4:13 PM UTC
Netflix’s gaming bet gets even bigger.

Even though fewer than one percent of Netflix subscribers have tried its mobile games, Netflix just opened up another studio in Finland after acquiring the Helsinki-based Next Games earlier this year.

The former vice president of Zynga Games, Marko Lastikka, will serve as the studio director. His track record includes working on SimCity BuildIt for EA and FarmVille 3.

External Link
Andrew J. Hawkins3:37 PM UTC
Vietnam’s EV aspirant is giving big Potemkin village vibes

Idle equipment, absent workers, deserted villages, an empty swimming pool. VinFast is Vietnam’s answer to Tesla, with the goal of making 1 million EVs in the next 5-6 years to sell to customers US, Canada and Europe. With these lofty goals, the company invited a bunch of social media influencers, as well as some auto journalists, on a “a four-day, multicity extravaganza” that seemed more weird than convincing, according to Bloomberg.

James Vincent3:17 PM UTC
Today, 39 years ago, the world didn’t end.

And it’s thanks to one man: Stanislav Petrov, a USSR military officer who, on September 26th, 1983, took the decision not to launch a retaliatory nuclear attack against the US. Petrov correctly guessed that satellite readings showing inbound nukes were faulty, and so likely saved the world from nuclear war. As journalist Tom Chivers put it on Twitter, “Happy Stanislav Petrov Day to those who celebrate!” Read more about Petrov’s life here.

Soviet Colonel who prevented 1983 nuclear response
Photo by Scott Peterson/Getty Images
The Verge
James Vincent3:03 PM UTC
Deepfakes were made for Disney.

You might have seen the news this weekend that the voice of James Earl Jones is being cloned using AI so his performance as Darth Vader in Star Wars can live on forever.

Reading the story, it struck me how perfect deepfakes are for Disney — a company that profits from original characters, fans' nostalgia, and an uncanny ability to twist copyright law to its liking. And now, with deepfakes, Disney’s most iconic performances will live on forever, ensuring the magic never dies.

External Link
Elizabeth Lopatto2:41 PM UTC
Hurricane Fiona ratcheted up tensions about crypto bros in Puerto Rico.

“An official emergency has been declared, which means in the tax program, your physical presence time is suspended,” a crypto investor posted on TikTok. “So I am headed out of the island.” Perhaps predictably, locals are furious.

The Verge
Richard Lawler2:09 PM UTC
Teen hacking suspect linked to GTA 6 leak and Uber security breach charged in London.

City of London police tweeted Saturday that the teenager arrested on suspicion of hacking has been charged with “two counts of breach of bail conditions and two counts of computer misuse.”

They haven’t confirmed any connection with the GTA 6 leak or Uber hack, but the details line up with those incidents, as well as a suspect arrested this spring for the Lapsus$ breaches.

The Verge
Richard Lawler1:00 PM UTC
Green light.

Good morning to everyone, except for the intern or whoever prevented us from seeing how Microsoft’s Surface held up to yet another violent NFL incident.

Today’s big event is the crash of a NASA spaceship this evening — on purpose. Mary Beth Griggs can explain.

David Pierce12:54 PM UTC
Thousands and thousands of reasons people love Android.

“Android fans, what are the primary reasons why you will never ever switch to an iPhone?” That question led to almost 30,000 comments so far, and was for a while the most popular thing on Reddit. It’s a totally fascinating peek into the platform wars, and I’ve spent way too much time reading through it. I also laughed hard at “I can turn my text bubbles to any color I like.”