Sony CEO: We Could Have Beaten Apple

By  |  Monday, May 11, 2009 at 1:46 pm

sonylogoBoxing in customers is rarely a good idea, and Sony CEO Howard Stringer says he’s come around to that reasoning.

In an interview with Nikkei Electronics Asia, Stringer spoke of how his company didn’t take open technology very seriously in the past, pointing to the failed Sony Connect music store as an example. The site’s tunes came in the proprietary ATRAC format, which only worked with Sony’s music hardware and obviously displeased freedom-seeking customers. Connect was phased out beginning in 2007.

Stringer blames the store’s failure on a type of proprietary digital rights management. “At the time, we thought we would make more money that way than with open technology, because we could manage the customers and their downloads,” he said. “This approach, however, created a problem: customers couldn’t download music from any Websites except those that contracted with Sony. If we had gone with open technology from the start, I think we probably would have beaten Apple Inc of the US.”

The interview, published this month, seems slightly dated, as Stringer talks about Apple’s use of FairPlay DRM and how Sony can maybe exploit that weakness. Of course, Apple removed DRM from iTunes last month.

Beyond Stringer’s “open vs. closed” epiphanies, the interview’s other main takeaways deal with the Playstation Network. He drops some hints about an expansion of the network “to hardware other than the PS3” and speaks of “evolving the PS3 into a platform for Web services,” but doesn’t elaborate in specifics.

With the exception of Bravia TVs and maybe the revamped Walkman X-Series, I don’t see much room for expansion. Owners of a Playstation 3 and PSP can already transfer movies and TV shows between the two, and the PS3 is the only home console that can access Hulu, albeit through the machine’s Web browser. That’s not to say those two pieces of hardware wouldn’t benefit from an online media store.

And besides, Hulu and video downloads are relatively recent developments anyway, taking hold in the second half of last year. Perhaps Stringer’s shift in thinking began a while ago.


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11 Comments For This Post

  1. drew Says:

    This reminds of a story out of Russia in the 1990s that the USSR could have beaten the US to the moon with a system ready to go if it were not for some “setbacks”. So Sony could have beaten Apple, but they did not.

  2. Ian Says:

    “This reminds of a story out of Russia in the 1990s that the USSR could have beaten the US to the moon with a system ready to go if it were not for some “setbacks”. So Sony could have beaten Apple, but they did not.”

    Hence, the title: “Could have.”

  3. Hindsight Says:

    I could’ve been a millionaire if I had invented the pet rock.

  4. apple has nothing to beat sony is king Says:

    apple is already beaten wht they produce is all overhyped. sony is best a walkman sounds better than apple . even an walkman phone sounds btter than any apple tht is reality and all know who hv both walkman and apple

  5. tom b Says:

    Sony would not have had the expertise to deliver a piece of software as good as iTunes, even if they hired a bunch of people.

    Plus, MSFT would have CRUSHED them for daring to compete against the Zune. MSFT has ways of making it painful for Windows vendors who annoy them, though they have to be more subtle about it, post-DoJ.

  6. Mike van Lammeren Says:

    Everything Sony does is about Philips.

    In the 1980s, Sony invented the Walkman, which was very much the iPod of its day. However, the cassette tape was created by Philips. How many times did Sony kick themselves for not inventing their own cassette tape, so that they could reap royalties on each unit?

    Next, Sony’s CD Walkman was all the rage, playing Compact Discs, also created by Philips.

    Everything Sony did after that was about Philips, and about trying to lock in customers to both the hardware device and the medium. First, DAT, then MiniDisc, then Memory Stick, then UMD. Unfortunately, none of those worked out for them!

  7. IcyFog Says:

    Open? Sony should install open source software on its computers then I might consider them

  8. Tim Hammond Says:

    I wonder if anyone notices that there exists a 5-10 year gap between the technology that apple is producing and everyone else out there? Most of the “latest thing” products that come out of apple have been in development for 5 or more years then it takes microsoft and the rest about 5 more years to create a lame knock-off of the technology that apple created in the first place!
    Could have beaten apple? I think not.

  9. Historian Says:

    2drew: USSR has already beaten US by sending the first man in space; it was not in a hurry to send a man to the moon since it was already sending several robotic space missions to the moon before any American has reached it. To the example would be US could have beaten the USSR by sending the first man in space; but they have not.

    The problem with Sony was DRM – remembers the resident programs on DVD that would not allow to copy content? That’s what killed Sony in a race with Apple.

  10. Bane Unreinen Says:

    hindsight is often 20/20.
    Would’ve, could’ve and should’ve.

    The simple point is that there are several companies, that had the opportunity to embrace a more open product driven business model.

    imho, trying to lock people into a product restricted by hardware choices is a very bad idea.

    Hence, I am waiting for OnLive 🙂

  11. drew Says:

    I disagree. The Soviets put a great deal of effort into getting a man on the moon between say 1965-1973 or so, but were unable to pull it off.

    The Soviets achieved great leaps forward with a man in space and lunar robots, but the prize was a man on the moon.

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