Two weeks back I started reading a book called “Made in Japan : Akio Morita and Sony” – nice book. The book made me realize that for a guy growing up in 1970s and 1980s Sony Corporation would have been what Apple Inc is for a guy growing up in 2000s and 2010s.

This article is about why I think Sony was the Apple of 1970s and 1980s. Idea was also to list out the interesting achievements of Sony Corp which can be easily missed by younger folks brought up on a staple diet of a similar innovative company called Apple Inc.

sony apple

Talking of Apple & Sony in the same sentence, you should know that both the companies changed the way we listened to music – Sony in 1979 by launching Walkman and Apple in 2001 by launching iPod.

Both the companies were initiated & driven by passionate individuals who believed in just one thing – only one thing. Sony’s cofounders Akio Morita and Masaru Ibuka’s focus was on Technological Innovation and Apple’s Steve Jobs focused on Usable Design. This pinpointed focus helped them and their companies stand out.

In their times (Apple’s time continues) products of both the companies have been considered stylish and much cooler than their competitors.

Since most of the people landing on this article would only associate Sony with a good quality Television but costlier than the Korean versions (Samsung, LG etc), let me first give a brief on Sony.

Post World War 2, Japan’s revival was based on a fledging Electronics Industry – back then Electronics was NOT yet a commodity as it is today. Some of the popular electronics brands all of us have heard have been Japanese: Citizen, JVC, NEC, Nikon, Hitachi, Pioneer, Nintendo, Kenwood, Mitsubishi Electric, Olympus, Panasonic, Fujifilm, Canon, Casio, Fujitsu, Seiko, Sharp, Ricoh, TDK, Toshiba and Sony.

Of all these brands, Sony stood out because of its DNA – that of innovation. The whole company didn’t care about profits as long as they were focussing on technology and releasing new miniaturized products into the market. Money would come automatically, was the thinking.

As a result Sony created newer markets, created products that people didn’t know they wanted – something Apple would start doing do a few decades later. Here are some of Sony’s innovations:

–       In late 50s, Sony folks knew the time was right for a good music product –rock n roll was popular, post war people were becoming prosperous again, and post-war baby boom had resulted in a lot of youngsters. They innovated/improved on the Transistor radio to improve its sound quality, miniaturize it and finally commoditize it.

–       A little later, Sony turned towards Televisions and improved them drastically by introducing numerous innovations. They made pictures clearer, they made the TVs last longer, and consume less electricity.

–       After improving Televisions, they innovated & introduced Triniton television tube, which drastically improved the Color Television watching experience.

–       Once colour Television was conquered they introduced Betamax, a video taping technology that unfortunately lost out to JVC’s technology VHS, which eventually became the standard.

–       They then introduced Camcorders, making everybody a Movie Director. If it weren’t for Sony you and I wouldn’t have been taking videos of our kids.

–       Sony introduced the first memory sticks (for their cameras) but unfortunately it got killed by the USB

walkman–       Who can forget the iconic Walkman, a mobile music system – all miniaturized so that people can carry music wherever they went. Ironically, it was Apple that placed the first nail on Sony’s coffin by introducing iPod and taking away Sony’s dominance on music play.

–       If you wondering who developed the Compact Discs, they were first developed for Walkman CD/DiscMan by Sony. They went on to become a rage and got used by people beyond the DiscMan.

–       Their last prominent introduction was a PlayStation.

 

Unfortunately, after the PlayStation Sony’s pipeline of exciting products has dwindled. I myself wasn’t much of a man to understand Sony and its World-conquering strategies in the 1980s (I was born in 1975) but experts believed that in the 1980s and 1990s Sony was expected to be the top company in the World – but as Japan faded, so did Sony. It would be fair to say; in the case of both Sony and Japan…the next generation was just not good enough.

So, what?

I think in the long term, Apple will also face Sony’s fate. Here are my reasons:

– Sony’s doom began when the founders were no longer part of the organization…Apple’s founder Steve Jobs is no longer there.

– I wouldn’t consider Macs a huge success because even after 40 years they still have sub-7% market share. So lets just focus on Apple’s Mobile Phones – which Apple was able to innovate on when mobile phones were still NOT a commodity. Exactly like Sony, when electronic goods WEREN’T a commodity yet. In the six years post first generation iPhone launch….mobile phones have become a commodity. Once any product becomes a commodity, innovations become difficult…which is why we see iPhones in different colors and prices being introduced.

– Sony refused to reduce the prices of their products citing better quality – this was even when their Korean counterparts introduced much cheaper products. As Electronics became a commodity, people’s mind-set changed from ‘wanting an electronic good for ever’ to ‘wanting an electronic good for now which can be replaced in a few years’…. high price for higher quality didn’t make sense. Similarly, Apple has refused to reduce their prices for long now. Their most recent attempt at introducing a cheaper iPhone 5C is too small a step, too late in the game.

– If you want to continuously succeed, one should never let go of the team that helped you succeed. Nobuyuki Idei, Sony CEO between 1999-2005 didn’t feel so and let go of some really important middle & top management engineers and executives who had been the corner stone of Sony’s early success. As luck would have it, Sony’s Korean counterparts like Samsung and LG welcomed these engineers & executives and bought their loyalty…soon they started coming up with Sony-like products, thus hastening Sony’s decline. Tim Cook, the CEO who replaced Steve Jobs has also done the same mistake. He has let go some important people such as Senior VP iOS Software Scott Forstall, Head of Retail John Browett since he has taken over. Though one could argue that Scott Forstall’s exit was waiting to happen – after iPhone maps fiasco.

Before we close, let me reiterate this is a long-term prediction for Apple – all signs seem to be pointing in the same direction.