SONY PRODUCTS: THE WALKMAN, PLAYSTATION, 3-D, WEB AND FLAT-SCREEN TVS, ROBOTS, MUSIC AND ONLINE PRODUCTS

SONY PRODUCTS

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1950 tape recorder
An executive of a rival company summed up Sony strategy as bringing “to market every product they dream up and see what sticks.” Many say companies like Apple have found success by taking Sony technology and taking it a step further.

Sony produces about 100 million devices a year. With a design sense that is the envy of its competitors, it makes flat-screen TVs, robots, cordless phones, computers, laptop computers, video games consoles, boom boxes, surround sound speakers, memory sticks, DV-CD players, camcorders, universal remotes, Walkmans, Discmans and a lots of other stuff. Sony’s reputation allows the company to charge 20 to 30 percent more than its competitors for similar products.

According to the Guinness Book of Records, the world's largest television was a Sony Jumbo Tron color television screen used at the Tsukuba International exposition in 1985 near Tokyo. It measured 80 by 150 feet. Sony produced the world's largest screen at 2005 Aichi Expo. It was 2005 inches wide.

Sony has also produces the world's smallest cassette: the NT digital cassette used in dictating machines. It measures 1/5-by-4/5-by-1/5 of an inch. Sony also makes a waterproof radio powered by a hand crank generator. It is particularly useful in natural disasters and sells for $103.

Sony was less successful in its computer ventures than it would have liked. It introduced 3a .5 inch floppy disc, which became the industry standard but a joint venture with Apple didn't pan out. Only recently has found some success with its ultra-thin Vaio laptops.

Consumer electronics account for more than two thirds of Sony’s sales. The breakdown of earnings by division in 2004 was: 1) electronics ($47.1 billion): 2) games ($7.5 billion); 3) films ($7.3 billion) 4) financial services ($5.7 billion) 5) music ($5.4 billion) 6) Other ($3.2 billion).

The main focus of Sony business today is in gaming, personal computers, Blue-ray disc products, computer chips, LCD televisions, digital cameras and cell phones.

Websites and Resources

Good Websites: Sony.com www.sony.com ; Wikipedia article on Sony Wikipedia ; Sony History sony.net/SonyInfo/CorporateInfo/History ; Akio Morita Library akiomorita.net ; Walkman History pocketcalculatorshow.com ;Sony Aibo Europe sony-europe.com/aibo ; Wikipedia article on Sony Robot Wikipedia ; Sony Computer Science Laboratory www.sonycsl.co.jp ; Book: Sony: Private Life by John Nathan, a professor of Japanese Cultural Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara (Houghton Mifflin, 1999). It is a very good book.

Sony Video and Computer Games Sony Computer Entertainment www.scei.co.jp ;Japan Video Games japanvideogames.com ; Wikipedia article on Sony Computer Entertainment Wikipedia ; Offical PlayStation site us.playstation.com ; Sony’s wii latimesblogs.latimes.com

Links in this Website: JAPANESE ELECTRONICS INDUSTRY Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; JAPANESE ELECTRONICS COMPANIES Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; CANON, SHARP AND TOSHIBA Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; SONY Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; SONY PRODUCTS Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; PANASONIC Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; INDUSTRIES IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; JAPANESE COMPANIES Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; TRADE AND OVERSEAS BUSINESS IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; TECHNOLOGY IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; GADGETRY AND INVENTIONS IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; COMMUNICATIONS IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; CELL PHONES IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; VIDEO GAMES IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; SONY VIDEO GAMES Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; NINTENDO Factsanddetails.com/Japan

Good Websites and Sources on the Electronics Industry: Japanese Electronics and Information Technology Industries Association (JIETA) jeita.or.jp/english ; Google E-Book: The Japanese Electronics Industry books.google.com/books ; JETRO Report on Japanese Consumer Electronics jetro.org/content ; Nikkei Electronic Asia techon.nikkeibp.co.jp ; Gadgets and Consumer Electronics Blogs blogged.com/directory/shopping/consumer-electronics ; Companies Listed by Industry mizuho-sc.com ; Japan Shuffle, a blog with info on electronics japanshuffle.blogspot.com

Good Websites and Sources on Industry: Good Photos at Japan-Photo Archive japan-photo.de ; Companies Listed by Industry mizuho-sc.com ; Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry meti.go.jp/english ; Statistical Handbook of Japan Manufacturing Chapter stat.go.jp/english/data/handbook ; 2010 Edition stat.go.jp/english/data/nenkan ; News stat.go.jp

Sony Walkman

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early Walkman promotion
The Walkman miniature cassette player first went on sale in July, 1979. Inspired by pocket cassette recorders designed for dictation, it changed the way we lived by making music and electronics portable, personal and mobile. It changed the lifestyles and listening habits of millions and was particularly embraced by young people, commuters and joggers. In 1986, "Walkman" was added to the Oxford English dictionary. For a while it was used as a generic term for all portable music devices.

The Walkman was originally made as a prototype so that Sony co-founder Akio Morita could listen to opera on long-distance flights. The device, which was original marketed in Britain as the Stowaway, almost didn’t happen. “Everybody gave me a hard time,” Morita said in his memoirs. Sony engineers and executive said it was ludicrous to sell a tape-player without a recording function. It took a while for the Walkman to catch on. Sales initially were sluggish.

The Walkman has been described as Morita’s product and his greatest contribution to Sony. It was Ibuka who came up with the idea for product but Morita was the one who overcame resistance of senior Sony executives to bring the product to market.

The Walkman was the right product for the right time. It was the prefect device for the me generation era and the fitness craze. Its headphone output jack was originally named "guy" and input hole "doll." A famous Walkman ad from the 1980s featured a monkey (a Japanese macaque) listening to a Walkman with a very human-like relaxed, content expression on its face.

The Walkman was followed by Watchman mini television (1982) and Discman compact disc player (1984) and hundred of imitations by competitors.

As of 2004, 340 million Walkman had been sold and130 different Walkman models had been released. They included models that ran MDs and memory sticks. The first device to gain as much attention as Sony’s Walkman was Apple Ipod, released in 2004. In response to that Sony introduced a hard disk Vaio pocket and a hard disk Walkman.

In September 2009, after four years of being beat, Sony finally managed to top Apple in the portable music players sector with Sony having a 43 percent share of the market, compared to 42.1 percent for Apple. In October 2010, Sony announced it was cease producing conventional Walkman cassette players. They were done in by competition from MP2 players and Ipods. They lasted for 31 years.

New Sony Products in the Mid- and Late-2000s

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advanced digital camera
Sony had successes with PlayStation Portable and hoped to challenge Apples iPod and iTunes with new hard drive portable devices and online music service called Connect. Sony released Walkman S series in 2007 to compete with Apple’s iPod. In 2005, Apple had a 50 percent share of the portable music player market and Sony only had 20 percent. By 2007 Sony upped its share to 30 percent.

In July 2005, Sony introduced small lighter-size, I-Pod-like Network Walkman that give 3 hours of music with just a 3-minute recharge. It weighs only 37 grams and stores up to 50 hours of music.

In July 2006, Sony announced the first digital single-lens reflex (SLR) camera with interchangeable lenses. A year earlier it introduced an SLR that allowed the user to peer through the viewfinder and see the image you will shoot through the use of a sophisticated device inside the camera.

Sony was the No. 1 digital camera maker in 2005. It’s Cyber-shot digital cameras have been a big success.

In December 2009, Sony began selling the $399 Reader Daily Edition, an e-book capable of wirelessly download books. Thus far Apple’s $499 iPad and Amazon’s $489 Kindle has been more successful in racking up sales and attention than Sony’s e-books. As of January 2010, Kindle had a 60 percent share of the U.S. market and Sony had 35 percent.

Sony is a major producer of lithium-ion batteries which are widely used in laptop computers, cell phone and other electronic devices. In 2008 it produced 41 million battery cells a month and announced it would spend ¥40 billion to expand existing facilities and build new factories to boost production to 74 million battery cells a month by 2010. Panasonic and Sanyo are also major producers or rechargeable batteries.

Leaders in lithium battery market (percentage in 2008): 1) Sanyo (34 percent); 2) Sony (17 percent); 3) Samsung (15 percent); 4) Panasonic (9 percent); 5) BYD (9 percent); 6) Others (16 percent)

Sony Financial Holdings gets 90 percent of its revenues from its insurance business.

Tablets and Other New Sony Products in 2011

In May 2011 The Economist reported: in 2011 “Sony has unveiled new smartphones, along with a clever strategy to persuade developers to produce video games for them. The firm has designed innovative tablet computers that could compete with Apple’s iPad. Sony’s Vaio notebook computers offer an alternative to Apple’s laptops. The hardware is important because it is a gateway to online services, where Sony’s future is thought to lie. That is one reason why the cyberattacks hurt the company so much.” [Source: The Economist, May 26, 2011]

Sony is working on tablet computers similar to the iPad. “You’ll see many different products that you can probably compare with the iPad,” a Sony engineer told the New York Times.

In 2010, Sony began pushing its Reader e-book device to compete with Apple’s I-pad. The 5-inch reader Pocket and 6-inch Touch edition sold for ¥19,800 and ¥24,800 respectively.

In September and October 2011, Sony introduced the Tablet–S series---with a 9.4-inch screen and ¥45,000 price tag---and Tablet “P--- series---with a 5.5 -inch folding screen suit for cell phones and smartphones---as part of its effort to enter the tablet market and compete with Apple’s I-Pad. The Sony tablets utilize the Android 3.1 platform.

Sony Flat-Screen Televisions

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Sony entered the flat screen television market late but is now No. 1 in global market share thanks to its joints venture with Samsung. Sony sells about 10 million flat screen televisions a year. It initially concentrated on high-end models but now is aiming to expand its share in low-end models.

Flat screen television sales share in North America in 2009: 1) Samsung (26.9 percent); 2) Sony (14.3 percent); 3) Vizio (10.7 percent); 4) Panasonic (8.5 percent); 5) LG (8.3 percent); 6) Sharp (5.5 percent)

Sony flat panel television go by the name Bravia. As of 2005 Sony had a 20 percent share of LCD market and 30 percent share of the 40 inch or bigger LCD TV market but wasn’t making any money. Flat screen market share in North America in early 2008: 1) Samsung (21.9 percent); 2) Sony (17.3 percent); 3) Vizio (8.8 percent); 4) LG Electronics (8.3 percent); 5) Sharp (7.9 percent); 6) Matsushita (6.4 percent); 7) Toshiba (5.4 percent); Others (24 percent).

Sony stopped making cathode ray televisions in 2008, four decades after their launch, to concentrate on flat-screen televisions. Sony ended television production in the United States in February 2009, closing its plant in Pittsburgh, leaving it facilities in Baja in Mexico as sole television manufacturing location in North America. It also closed a videotape factory in France and stop making rear-projection televisions.

Sony sold 10.6 million Bratvia flat-screen televisions in fiscal 2007. It hoped to sell 17 million in fiscal 2008. As of 2009 the company was still losing money on flat screen televisions.

Sony’s Blue-Ray remained in the red until 2008 but started to become profitable after that. Sony began selling $600 blue-ray players in the summer of 2007. Before that they cost $1000. Sony hopes to ¥1 trillion of Blue-ray products in 2010.

Sony almost reached its goal of selling 25 million televisions in 2010. It hopes to sell 30 million in 2011. Sony launched 3-D televisions in June 2010. In December of that year the company said it would make 3-D technology standard on it high-end flat-screen televisions and that sales of 3-D televisions almost reached the company’s target of 10 percent of total television sales.

3-D and New Sony Television Technology

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Sony plans to release a aline of 3-D ready televisions in 2010 capable of synching with sensing unit and “active shutter glasses” for 3-D viewing. At the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in 2010, with Taylor Swift performing at the press conference, Sony CEO Howard Stringer said, “We intend to take the lead in 3-D. We want to provide the most compelling 3-D content possible”.

Sony has teamed up with Discovery and IMAX on a 3-D television network and with ESPN to broadcast soccer and golf matches in 3-D. Sony plans to begin selling 3-D LCD televisions and 3-D blue-ray disc players in 2011.

Sony introduced a 70-inch flat television, the largest commercially available at the time, and 14 other new Bravia models in September 2007. The 70-inch model sold for $35,000. Sony also produced the world’s slimmest LCD television. The 40-inch ZX1 series is 9.9 millimeters thick and weighs only 12.2 kilograms. It has a wireless system and doesn’t need a cable and can be hung from a wall The ¥150,000 Bravia KDL-32JE1 is a “green” LCD television which consumers 82 watts of energy while operating compared to the normal 125 watts.

Sony began selling the world’s first televisions using organic light-emitting diode technology (OLED) in December 2007, with the release of an 11-inch model that is only three-millimeters thick and sells for about $2000. The technology---which features panels made of a material that lights up when electricity is passed through it---can be use to make slimmer television as OLED displays because do not have to be backlit as is the case with liquid crystal displays. Sony launched OLED research in 1994. In February 2008, Sony said it would invest ¥22 billion developing larger OLED panels.

Sony is starting to sell organic electroluminescense (EL) televisions, with a display as thin as three millimeters, in the United States. These machines does not need to be backlit and continue to show images even when bent. Sony hopes to use them to make electronic paper. In January 2007, unveiled a new ultra-thin EL television that was less than 1 centimeter thick at its thinnest point.

In the autumn of 2008, Sony began delivering feature films and television shows directly to Bravia television sets without using satellite or cable distributors, but through the Internet, an industry first.

In September 2011, Sony unveiled the world's first 4K home theater projector -- the same standard currently used in full-size cinemas---that displays images foour times finer than high-definition resolution. The company plans to start shipping it in December via their network of custom installers. The VW1000ES will offer 2,000 ANSI-lumens of brightness, a million to one dynamic contrast ratio and support for both 2D and 3D anamorphic films. By the way, the binary term 4K refers to the 4,096 pixels in each of its 2,160 rows. According to our calculators, that makes 4K's resolution about 4 1/4 times that of (1920 by 1080) HDTV, suitable for towering 2-story home theater screens. [Source: Discover News]

Sony Web Television

Sony is working with Google and Intel on Google TV, a platform for a new generation of televisions and set-top boxes that will make it easier to browse the Web on TV screens. The first devices featuring the technology went on sale in 2010. Sony, Intel and Google hope their version of Web TV will become a fixture of many people’s homes. Under their plan Sony will build devices, marketed as Sony Internet TV, with a search button that accesses Google’s search engine.

Sony “Google-TV’s with a Google Android operating system and Chrome browser, Intel Atom processor and Wi-Fi wireless Internet access were introduced in October 2010. “Sony Internet TV is the world’s first HDTV that combines the big screen impact of television and full Internet search to deliver unrivaled entertainment experience, Sony Vice United States Mike Abary said.

In April 2006, Sony introduced “LocationFree TV,” a gadget that allows people to watch your favorite local television program even if you are thousands of kilometers away from your home. The book size devices works through broadband Internet and Wi-Fi systems by converting signals from your home antenna to MPEG-4 digital code that can be carried over the Internet. It cost ¥32,000, including the software run it on a PC, laptop or PlayStation Portable.

Sony’s Online Products

Hiroko Tabuchi wrote in the New York Times, “In early 2010 Sony introduced a new online service that will eventually let users download music, television shows, movies and games from the company’s extensive library onto gadgets like computers, Blu-ray players, televisions, game consoles and digital cameras. The network, tentatively called the Sony Online Service, will be based on the company’s existing PlayStation Network, a game download site with more than 40 million accounts. [Source: Hiroko Tabuchi, New York Times, March 28, 2010]

Sony has launched cloud-based music and movie streaming services with the hope of overtaking Apple as the leader in the field. In the spring of 2010, Sony started a video distribution service in the United States. In the fall it started Qriocity, a video and music streaming service, in Europe.

“Sony tried to marry its hardware with content” before, Tabuchi wrote. In 1987, Sony bought CBS Records for $2 billion and followed through two years later with a $3.4 billion purchase of Columbia Pictures. By the late 1990s, Sony was pushing what it called a “ubiquitous value network,” in which gadgets would seamlessly communicate with one another, beaming back and forth music, movies, messages and phone conversations.” But the idea didn’t really catch on back then.

Sony Video Games

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PlayStation
Sony was a late arrival in the video game business. The company brass regarded Sony as strictly an audiovisual company and regarded entrance into the "game and toy" market as embarrassing.

The success of Sony’s game consoles have been credited to Ken Kutaragi, a former engineer and the CEO of Sony Computer Entertainment and the “the father of the Playstation.” He was the one that convinced Sony to go into gaming alone after the deal with Nintendo fell through. He assembled a team that developed PlayStation from scratch in the 1990s. His team outdid itself with PlayStation II, which was made with components made from scratch (in the past consoles were made with off the shelf parts).

Sony PlayStation

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checking out Play Station in 1994
Sony was a late arrival in the video game business. The company brass regarded Sony as strictly an audiovisual company and regarded entrance into the "game and toy" market as embarrassing.

The success of Sony’s game consoles have been credited to Ken Kutaragi, a former engineer and the CEO of Sony Computer Entertainment and the “the father of the Playstation.” He was the one that convinced Sony to go into gaming alone after a deal with Nintendo fell through. He assembled a team that developed PlayStation from scratch in the 1990s. His team outdid itself with PlayStation II, which was made with components made from scratch (in the past consoles were made with off the shelf parts).

Sony PlayStation

PlayStation and its sequel Playstation2 were invented by a team led by Kutaragi. Sony's success was based in part on the wooing of independent games designers, who were tired of being manipulated by Nintendo. PlayStation sold well and games played on it sold well.

Sony PlayStation was launched in 1994. It was introduced to compete with Nintendo’s Super Famicon, which had debuted only weeks before. The irony is that Sony developed the game console after Nintendo pulled out of a joint venture.

In 1998 PlayStation1 earned Sony $5 billion and 40 percent of its profits. By 2000 one in every four U.S. households had one. The 100 millionth PlayStation was shipped in May 2004. Of these about 70 million were PlayStation2s But by that time sales had slowed to a point that Sony’s net income was hurt.

Sony PlayStation2

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PlayStation 2
Sony's Playstation2 was one of the most anticipated products ever made. Retailing for $300 and applauded for it stunning graphics, it was a combination video game, DVD and CD player and personal computer and contained a chip so advanced and fast that U.S. defense officials worried about it falling into the hands of enemies.

The Playstation2 console actually coast more to make ($390 to $440) than it sold for. Sony made money selling the games ($50) and additional hardware like a second controller ($35), memory cards ($35 a piece), a remote for the DVD player ($20) and other stuff. Sony also sold digital cameras and printers designed work with the multimedia machine. In late 2003, the price dropped to $250.

Playstation2 was introduced in Japan in March 2000. Huge crowds waited outside stores, anxious to get their hands on one, and one million units sold out in less than 48 hours. An American, explaining why he was waiting in line in Tokyo for a Playstation2, said, "In gaming terms, this is up there with the invention of the steam engine." Playstation2 debuted in the United States in October 2000. Lower than expected quantities were sold because of a delay in the delivery of key components. The initial supply of 500,000 sold out in hours and many people who wanted a unit for Christmas had to wait until the following spring.Playstation2 debuted in Europe in November 2000. Rowdy crowds lined up and jostled for space outside Paris department store that began selling at midnight at the start of the European launch.

After the initial rush, sales leveled off. Playstation2 games contained impressive graphics but were no more fun to play than the old games. Sony was criticized for creating technology that was too complicated to make games for and not being accommodating to independent game makers as it had done with Playstation1. The cost of producing a games for Playstation2 was $5 million to $10 million, compared to $800,000 to $1.7 million for Playstation1. Sony was initially unable to make big profits by selling games. There was also an embarrassing recall and production delays.

Sony recovered from early mistakes. By May 2001, Playstation2 had sold 3 million units in the United States and 10 million around the world and a third of U.S. households contained a Playstation1 or Playstation2. As of 2003, 17.9 million PlayStation units had been sold, compared to 8.4 million for Microsoft’s Xbox and 6.4 million for Nintendo’s GameCube. As of 2007, 41 million Playstation 2 units worldwide. PSX was Play Station II’s successor

PlayStation Portable

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advanced PlayStation Portable
In May 2003, Sony announced it entrance into the portable game market with a portable device intended to directly challenge Nintendo’s Game Boy. It also announced a deal with Electronic Arts Co., the industry’s top game publisher, to make on-line games, a challenge to Microsoft which had similar plans.

Sony’s PlayStation Portable (PSP) game console and music and movie player sold out quickly after its debut on Tokyo in December 2004. In some places more than 1,000 people waited in line for stores selling it to open. Some waited all night, The PlayStation Portable was introduced in the United States in March 2005.

The PSP has 3-D graphics adopted from PlayStation2, good quality music and movie capability the best picture quality of any handheld game device. Not only can it be use to play games it can be used to watch films, listen to music, surf the Web and chat online. It also boast impressive vitals: a wide screen display that shows more than 16 million colors and chips as powerful as those used in PlayStation.

PSP was Sony’s first entry in the hand held market, traditionally dominated by Nintendo. It initially sold for $189 and was released 10 days after Nintendo released its DS portable player. Sony sold 1.95 million Playstation Portables in 2005, compared to 7.53 million DS units sold by Nintendo.

A new lighter, slimmer Play Station Portable was introduced in Japan in September 2007. It had a number of new features, twice the memory and sold 1 million units in two months. A newer PSP was introduced in October 2008 with an advanced liquid crystal display and the ability to receive “one-seg” television broadcasts and be used as a mobile extension to PlayStation 3.

In June 2009, Sony launched the PSP Go, which uses a flash drive instead os storage hardware and is 50 percent smaller and 40 percent lighter that the PSP. It was designed to compete against Nintendo’s DS and Apple’s iPhone and iPod Touch.

PlayStation3

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PlayStation 3 Slim
Playstation3 went in sale in November 2006 in Japan and the United States. The lines waiting to buy were unruly. There were stabbings, shootings, hold ups and beatings linked to the release. One man was badly beaten after being robbed of a new Playstaion3 he had just bought. The police in some places had to be called in to quiet the crowds waiting on line to buy it. Many potential customers went home empty handed because of a shortage of supplies. Some of those who got their hands on them resold them for a tidy profit. After getting his hands on one a Tokyo gamer said, “I’ll play it all through the weekend. No time for meals.”

Playstation3 has high-definition graphics and broadband connectivity and more combined processing power than Xbox, GameCube and PlayStation2 combined. It is powered by the Cell chip which was developed by Sony, IBM and Toshiba and features Blue-ray DVD technology. The prices was slashed by nearly ¥13,000 to ¥49,980 so it could compete with Nintendo’s Wii and Microsoft’s XBox360

Playstation 3 and Nintendo’s Wii were launched around the same time. PlayStation 3 trailed badly behind Nintendo’s Wii after its release. In this first month after Playstation3 was released it sold 470,000 units in Japan, compared to 990,000 units for Wii. One clear reason Playstation3 didn’t do so well is the price. It cost twice as much Wii. People also complained about the lack of games that could be played on it.

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Playstation 4 prototypes
In 2006, in the United States Xbox 360 outsold Wii which outsold Playstation3 but surprisingly all of these were outsold by Playstation2, which analysts said showed the importance of low prices. In the month of December 2006, Xbox 360, which sells for between $299 and $399, sold 1.1 million units; Wii, , which sells for $249, sold 604,000; Playstation3, which sells for $499 or $599, sold 491,000 and Playstation2, which sells for $129, sold 1.4 million Playstion2. .

In 2007, Sony lowered the price of Playstation3 to around $400, introduced slimmed-down version and reduced prices for software development from around $10,000 to $5,000 to encourage gaming companies to make games for the device. Sales of the Playstation tripled in the United States at the end of 2007 after the price cut, finally outselling Nintendo’s Wii

In 2007, Sony sold 3.97 millon Playstation2s and 2.56 million Playstaion3s. Playstation2 sales were boosted by the high price of Playstaion3 and the fact that Nintendo Wii’s were hard to get. About 10.5 million Playstation3s had been sold as of April 2008.

In October 2008, Sony introduced an 8-gigabyte Playstation3 that sold for about $400. At the end of 2008, Sony launched a “PlayStation Home” virtual-world service that allows users to play games and chat through game characters. PlayStation Networks, an online service that lets users play games online and surf the Internet, was made available to PlayStation 3 and PlayStation portable users. As of 2008, Sony was still negotiating with Hollywood studios on distributing movies online using Playstation3.

Sony Film and Television Programming

In the late 1980s Sony purchased Columbia Pictures for $3.4 billion. At first it seemed like a bad decision as it seemed the only thing the studio could put out was huge money-losing films.

In 1994, Columbia knocked $3 billion off Sony's profits. One its films, Last Action Hero (1993) lost more money than any other film in history. It cost $124 million to make and grossed only $44 million for a loss of $80 million. Sony was also hurt by a string of other money-losing films and a $400 million contract payoff to Hollywood producers Jon Peters and Peter Gruber.

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professional cameras
Late Columbia had successes with Spiderman, Men in Black, Stuart Little, Men in Black II, Stuart Little II, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and Black Hawke Down.

In September 2004, a group headed by Sony purchased MGM for $2.85 billion and took in $2 billion of the company’s debts. MGM had fallen on hard times. Iit was no longer producing many successful new releases but its library was regarded as very valuable in the booming DVD market. It also owns the rights to the James Bond films.

Sony posted a profit of ¥163.84 billion in fiscal 2004, up 85 percent from previous year due to the record operating profits of its movie division, which produced popular films like Spiderman 2. In 2006 Sony had hit with Superdbad, Casino Royal, The Da Vinci Code and Spider Man 3.

In 2008 Sony began moving aggressively to expand its domestic and international television business, acquired top production companies and offering local-language content, making it the largest television producer not directly connected with a broadcast network.

Sony has shows on the air or in development for all the major US. network and several cable operators. It produces Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune as well as FX’s Damages, ABC’s The Unusuals and creates international versions of popular American comedies such as Married with Children in places like Russia.

Sony is working with YouTube to release full-length films on the Internet. It shows old films and classic television shows on its Crackle.com. Sony is also working with Google on a project to make hundreds of e-books available on The Internet

Sony to End Free 3-d Glasses

In September 2011, Sony’s movie studio told theater owners it will stop paying for 3-D glasses next May, AP reported. Sony Pictures suggested in letters sent the last few days to U.S. theater owners that they adopt a "guest ownership model" prevalent in Europe and Australia and charge patrons separately for the glasses, which they can re-use on future visits. [Source: Ryan Nakashima, AP, September 30, 2011]

The move is expected to save Sony millions of dollars per movie. RealD Inc., one of the main suppliers of glasses, said a pair in Europe sells for about a euro, or around $1.36 at today's exchange rate. Most patrons spend more than $3 on popcorn and sodas each, according to major theater chain Regal Entertainment Group, and the average ticket to a 3-D movie already costs a few dollars more than a ticket to a traditional showing. There also are designer 3-D glasses that run more than $100 a pair.

The change Sony's planning would come just before Sony is to release its 3-D blockbusters for next summer, "The Amazing Spider-Man" and "Men in Black III," although some of Sony's 3-D movies, including "Arthur Christmas," come out earlier. Sony Pictures spokesman Steve Elzer said in a statement that "there are constructive ways to deal with the cost of 3-D glasses that will not adversely impact consumers and can also help the environment." He called on theater owners to come to the table to work out the issue.

While movie studios have paid for 3-D glasses and the cost of digital projectors and equipment---expecting to save on film printing costs in the future---theaters have paid for 3-D add-on technology and labor costs.Sony's Elzer said there has never been an agreement that studios would always bear the cost of 3-D glasses.

The squabble comes amid changes in the movie business that have hurt studios' profits. People are buying fewer DVDs and aren't paying enough for Blu-ray discs, on-demand movie downloads, or online subscriptions to make up for the decline. Studios are trying to cut costs by laying off workers and cutting movie budgets.

Sony Music

Sony Music is Japan’s largest record company. In the late 1980s Sony purchased Columbia Records Group for $2 billion. Like Columbia Pictures, its record was also spotty, and has included disputes with big stars like Bruce Springsteen, George Michael and Michael Jackson.

In 2002, Michael Jackson had a widely publicized legal battle with Sony. With Johnnie Cochran and the Rev. Al Sharpton acting as advisors, he called Sony music racist and called the head of Sony music the devil, drawing a picture of him with horns and a pitchfork, and blamed the company for not promoting his new album. The move was widely seen as an attempt by Jackson to win concessions from Sony, which co-owns Jackson’s valuable music catalogue, which includes his hit songs as well as many songs by the Beatles.

In the late 1990s, Sony tried to jazz up its image. A 1997 Sony Music Entertainment ad in a British rock magazine went: "Three essentials for a great holiday. Sex, drugs, and rock and roll. We'll provide the rock and roll. You take care of the rest."

In 2004, Sony and BMG (Bertelsmann) merged to create the world’s second largest music company after Vivendi Universal Music.The new company was called Sony-BMG. The new company had $4.5 billion to $5 billion in annual sales and embraces artists like Aerosmith, Beyonce and Britney Spears.

In August 2008,Sony agreed to buy Bertelsmann’s entire 50 percent stake in Sony BMG music for $900 million and took full control in October 2008. The decision ended the four-year Sony-Bertelsmann music partnership that was characterized by the New York Times as “more dissonance than harmony.”

Share of U.S. music album sales: 1) Vivendi Universal Music (32 percent); 2) Sony and BMG (25 percent, with Sony 15 percent and BMG 10 percent); 3) Warner Brothers (21 percent); 4) EMI Music (9 percent); and Independents (14 percent).

Sony Artists include Jennifer Lopez, the Dixie Chicks, The Offspring. BMG artists include Avril Lavigne, OutKast, Usher, Foo Fighters, Elvis Presley, Miles Davis, Johnny Cash and Stevie Ray Vaughan.

Sony Smart Grid

In October 2011, Sony announced it has joined the “Pecan Street Smart Grid Demonstration Project” in the United States. As a participating company in this smart grid demonstration experiment built around home applications and consumer electronics, Sony is evaluating and developing Home Energy Management Systems (HEMS) that enable continual use of energy for practical and experimental uses. [Source: Sony]

Smart grid approach involves connecting smart meters (next-generation electricity meters), such as those installed in households, to a network. This provides a real time picture of electricity demand, thus optimizing the supply and usage of electricity. The main objectives of this approach are to make the production and supply of electricity more efficient. In an aim to create end-user benefits, Sony decided to participate in the Pecan Street Smart Grid Demonstration Project, which places a strong emphasis on producing benefits to end-users.

Sony Electric Car Batteries

Sony Corp. is in talks with several automakers inside and outside of Japan to make lithium-ion batteries for electric vehicles from the middle of the 2010s, a company executive said. “We will consider building factories, including one overseas, if demand becomes full blown,” Sony Senior Vice President Shigeki Ishizuka told reporters at a new factory for building battery devices in Motomiya, Fukushima Prefecture. The company will also consider developing batteries for gasoline-electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids, Ishizuka said. [Source: Kyodo, July 13, 2011]

The Japanese electronics maker is currently developing a lithium-ion battery with a long life that is resistant to deterioration even when recharged repeatedly. Sony has developed 1.2 kWh energy storage modules using rechargeable Li-ion batteries with olivine-type lithium-ion iron phosphate as the cathode material. (Earlier post.) Used in conjunction with a control device, the module can be as a backup power supply for data servers or cell phone reception towers. Alternatively it can be an energy storage system for residential use.

In addition, the module can be incorporated into recharging stations for electric vehicles as the technology for the built-in rechargeable olivine-type lithium-ion iron phosphate cells facilitates rapid recharging and high power output.

Sony Human Robots

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In the early 2000s Sony introduced the 50-centimeter-tall, 5-kilogram SDR-3X. Looking like like a mechanical spacemen and built from many of the same parts as Asimo, it could dance, kick soccer balls, speaks a few word, pick the right color, and do the splits. SDR stands for Sony Dream Robot.

SDR-4X was 60 centimeters tall and could recognize faces and voices and sing in perfect harmony with SDR-4Xs. If it fell down it could pick itself up. Equipped with two cameras and seven microphones so it could see and hear better, it could dodge obstacles, remember people’s names, use 60,000 words and can carry on limited conversations.

In demonstrations, SDR-4Xs danced in unison, sang a four-part harmony and balanced themselves on tilting surfboards. SDR-4X II had an expanded vocabulary and musical repertoire Sony gave up marketing SDR is 2002 because the price of owning one would be equivalent to an expensive imported car.

The QRIO robot, which looked like SDR-4X, was unveiled in December 2003. It could “run” at speeds of 0.84 kilometers per hour, jump, move sideways, make circling movements, roller skate, dribble a ball and get up by themselves when they fell down. Although difficult to detect with the naked eye, the robot’s two feet come of the ground for .02 second when it runs and .04 second when it jumps.

The version of QRIO that came out in late 2005 It could also walk heel to toe as humans do, negotiate obstacles, disco dance, balance on one leg, do tai chair movements, conduct Beethoven’s 5th Symphony and find a golf ball and putt thanks to an improved ability to recognize three similar objects. It could also pick up a block and place it on a target on the floor, using a third eye---a camera with 180-degree view---to determine the shape and right spot. Its rental fee was around $200,000.

Sony pulled the plug on the QRIO robots and Aibo in 2006 as parts of its move to streamline the company and shed unprofitable divisions.

Aibo

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Aibo, a robotic dog with hound dog ears, was introduced by Sony in June 1999. Created by Sony engineer Toshi Doi, it is about the size of a medium-size terrier and it has 18 electric motors in its joints, a camera in its nose and a micro chip in each detachable leg. It took five years to develop. Aibo is the Japanese word for "buddy." It also stands for Artificial Intelligence Robot.

After pushing Aibo's start up button a speaker in the mouth chest produces an electronic chime. Aibo comes to life after about two minutes of uploading digital data. Once activated Aibo wags its tail, sits, heels, raises and licks its paw, and spins its limbs completely around. It can climb on its feet when its on it back and chases a ball but can not pick it up.

Aibo has absolutely no practical applications. He moves around without the orders of it owner and has a mind of its own. Its eyes go red if you pay him too hard. If you takes his ball away he gives you a dirty look. Aibo look and acts so much like a dog even real dogs are captivated by its presence.

Even though Aibo sold for $2,500, all 3,000 units sold out in Japan within 20 minutes after Sony began accepting orders for it after its introduction. In November 1999, Sony announced it had received 130,000 orders for 20,000 additional Aibos. In the United States, Sony's Internet server crashed as millions tried to get their hands on the 2,000 Aibos allocated for the United States.

By 2006, about 150,000 Aibos had been sold, 90 percent of them in Japan. By then it was selling for about $700.Aibo spawned numerous websites and fan clubs and even a magazine called Aibo Town. He was featured in a Janet Jackson video and a National Geographic article. One woman in Tokyo treated her two Aibos like real dogs. She prepared meals for them and rapped them in scarves when it was cold. Another couple bought an Aibo after their daughter moved out of the house.

Website: www.aibo.com

Aibo II

Aibo II, officially known as ERS-210, was smarter, cheaper and more interactive than its predecessor. Modeled after a lion cub, it recognized voice commands, responded to his name, wiggled his ears, learned from experience, took photographs with the camera in its head, danced a little jig, had increased brain power and greater "free will," and could express joy, sorrow, anger, surprise, fear and dislike. Released in Japan in November 2000, he sold for less than $1,000 but required about $500 worth of extra software, battery chargers and gadgets to get the most out of him.

Aibo II waved it paw when it heard its name. Its voice-recognition software allowed it to learn up to 50 commands such as "Give me your paw." While the first Aibo was regarded as a stand-alone machine, Aibo II was regarded as a entire platform for robotics. It contained a 64-bit microprocessor and 32 bytes of memory. An editor of Aibo Town called the two robots as different as a word processor and computer.

One Aibo owner told the Daily Yomiuri, "When I communicate with my Aibo, its kind of a mirror of my own emotions. I project my emotions onto Aibo, and the reflection comes back to me. So to communicate with robots is really to communicate with ourselves." An owner of 40 Aibos said, “I love them, they’re great. I think of them as dogs.”

New Aibo Models

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advanced Aibo
The forth generation Aibo, ERS-220, boasted new hardware that enabled it to communicate and respond more expressively. Selling for $1,500, plus $250 for additional software and card, it looked more robotic and displayed its emotions with more lifelike movements and had 19 lights that flashed red or blue.

In October 2001, Sony began marketing Aibo LM, a cuter, less robotic-looking version of Aibo that came in two varieties: a white robot named Latter and a gray one called Macaron. They sold for $850 each and were put on the market around the same time a cartoon about them began appearing on television.

The new Aibo ERS-7, released in 2003, had “eyes” and was programed to act like a watch dog. Using Bluetooth wireless technology, it could transmit messages such as “I’m tired” and “Play with me.” This Aibo had better image-recognition functions and an improved body mechanism for more fluid motions, It had 28 multicolored light emitting diodes on its face to mimic emotions and a speaker to replay sounds. Owners could download software off the Internet. It sold for $1,700.

The last Aibo could “learn” by becoming more adept at certain actions over time. It could speak and understand 1000 words, including some in Spanish. A camera in its could relay images to a laptop so laptop users could have the dogs point of view.

Sony ended production of Aibo in 2006 as parts of its move to streamline the company and shed unprofitable divisions. The plug was also pulled on the Qrio robots.

Other robot dogs out there include Lil Scratch from Trendmaster ($60 a pair), iCybie from Tiger Electronics ($130), Poo-Chi from Tiger Electronics ($28), Robotic Puppy from Fisher-Price ($100), Me and My Shadow from MGA ($60) and Tekno from Manley Toy Quest ($30)

Image Sources: Sony except PlayStation 4 protoypes ( Sony Guru blog)

< Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Daily Yomiuri, Times of London, Japan National Tourist Organization (JNTO), National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

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© 2009 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated October 2011

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