Sony vows new innovations to overtake tech rivals

New CEO promises to foster a culture of risk-taking to shake off years of complacency


Sony’s chief executive Kazuo Hirai has vowed to shake off corporate complacency to put the Japanese electronics firm back in the game against archrival Samsung.

A day after the Koreans stole a march at Berlin’s IFA tech show with the Galaxy Gear, overshadowing Sony’s own smart watch offering, Mr Hirai said he was determined to stamp out “death by committee” for new products.

Sony has always been famous in the past for taking risks with its product portfolio so I have tasked all business units to foster that culture of risk taking once again,” he told The Irish Times at the IFA in Berlin.

His innovation push did not mean Sony would chase every passing trend, he said, warning that wearable tech –the buzzword at this year’s IFA – was still in its “infancy”.

With Apple likely to follow Samsung and Sony into the smartwatch market next week Mr Hirai said companies were feeling their way forward in the dark over features. Wearable tech faced another hurdle he called the “high cost of real estate” – no one is going to want to wear more than one smart watch or pair of glasses. “You want to make sure strong product that cuts through the clutter, a product you will really use,” said Mr Hirai.

He took over as Sony president and chief almost 18 months ago from Howard Stringer, the company’s first non-Japanese head, on whose seven-year watch the share price dropped more than half.

Core areas
The former PlayStation boss has promised to focus on the conglomerate’s three core areas – mobile, gaming and digital imaging – while reviving the flagging television business.

He has spent the last year visiting company plants in 16 countries to preach his “one Sony philosophy”, an attempt to join the corporate dots and overcome rivalries that resulted in Sony producing products that were obsolete before they hit the shelves.

“The days of working within a particular business unit are over where, if Sony mobile communications comes calling, Sony digital imaging gives them technology from two years ago,” he said.

The Sony chief said it was too early to predict the effect of Microsoft’s takeover of Nokia’s mobile division. Some 18 months after completing its buyout of Ericsson, that other one-time Nordic mobile giant, Mr Hirai said Sony was unlikely to develop its own mobile operating as it was happy with its Android co-operation with Google.

‘One Sony’
Sony’s hall at the IFA gave a taste of the new “one Sony” philosophy: 4K televisions offering a picture four times higher resolution than standard HD, with speakers from its high-end audio division and pre-loaded films from Sony’s Hollywood studio company –and other content available via a new Sony download service.

Its most talked-about products were the QX100 and QX10 detachable camera lenses which can be linked to smartphones to take pictures with 20 and 18 megapixel resolution respectively. Users can either bolt the battery-powered lens on to their Android or Apple phone or hold it separately in their hand – to take pictures where no smartphone can go.

Necessity was Sony’s mother of invention for this new product category: years of decline in the entry-level camera market as users settle for snaps from their smartphones. It’s a risky but bold avant garde bolt after years of creating competent also-ran products.