Jobs had a fondness for Sony back in the day but if he could offer advice to Apple’s executives from beyond the grave, it’s likely that one snippet would be ‘Don’t be like Sony anymore.’ Yes, the former King of cool tech products has fallen on hard times, some of it at the hands of Apple.
Whatever Happened To Simple?
Back in the day, Sony’s high tech products were industry leaders and Jobs was a fan. That was then and this is now.
Today, it’s Apple which rules what Sony once had, and Jobs’ former tech influence struggles much as Apple did when the co-founder returned in 1997.
Nearly two years ago, Jobs biographer Walter Isaacson chronicled Apple’s co-founder in Smithsonian Magazine in a lengthy article about his love for simplicity and elegance; traits once embodied in every Sony product.
Today, Sony has fallen from grace as much as it has from a once stellar reputation as well as profits. Reuters highlighted the fall with details on yet another restructuring and the sale of Sony’s once vaunted Vaio PC business.
Around the turn of the century, long before iPod, iTunes, iPhone, and iPad, Steve Jobs toyed with putting the new OS X on Sony’s Vaio line of PCs, as chronicled by Nobuyuki Hayashi. Former Sony head Kunitake Ando was approached by Jobs with an Intel version of OS X (long before OS X became Intel only).
Ando liked Apple. He always felt Mac and VAIO were so close in philosophy. He especially admired the original iMac introduced in 1998. But the timing was bad for Sony, it is just about the time, Sony’s VAIO gained popularity and it is just about the time that VAIO team had finished optimizing both VAIO’s hardware and software specifically for Windows platform. Because of this, most of the VAIO team opposed asking ‘if it is worth it.’ And that was the end of story for this Mac-compatible VAIO.
Today, Sony is in the process of spinning off the company’s money-losing TV business. The money-losing Vaio PC business is being sold off. Sony’s multi-billion dollar losses have continued unabated for years.
What happened? Apple stayed focused on industrial design and product simplicity while Sony did not. Apple leveraged technology that disrupted industries, while Sony struggled with growing losses in once profitable product divisions that simply did not keep up with changes in technology.
Jobs most pertinent advice to Apple was echoed by CEO Tim Cook.
I asked him about different scenarios to understand how he wanted to be involved as chairman. He said, “I want to make this clear. I saw what happened when Walt Disney passed away. People looked around, and they kept asking what Walt would have done.” He goes, “The business was paralyzed, and people just sat around in meetings and talked about what Walt would have done.” He goes, “I never want you to ask what I would have done. Just do what’s right.” He was very clear.
Jobs might have added, ‘And don’t be like Sony. They blew it.‘