Since its founding in 1946, Sony has produced some of the biggest hits in consumer electronics. Brand names like Walkman, Handycam and Trinitron helped define the company as a giant in the industry and more recent hits like Cybershot, Vaio, Bravia and PlayStation have helped keep it there.
But no success story is failure-free. Let’s take a look back at some Sony products that didn’t win consumers’ hearts and minds.
Sony’s cute Aibo robot dogs, created by its Digital Creatures Laboratory and introduced in 1999, could move in a somewhat stilted fashion as far as their batteries would allow. They could express happiness, sadness, anger, surprise, fear, and dislike–and deep-pocketed consumers snapped them up despite a sadness-, anger-, surprise-, fear-, and dislike-inducing $2500 price tag. Aibo pooches continue to be loved by their owners today, but the price barrier prevented these robopets from going mainstream and conquering the world. Sony ended the project following a recent corporate restructuring.
Original story: Sony Shows Pet Robot, May 11, 1999.
Sony created the portable audio market in 1979 when it launched the Walkman brand. Then Sony beat Apple to market in digital music by two years–but its first products bombed. The company’s biggest misstep was its reliance on ATRAC, a proprietary file format used with Sony’s MiniDisc. After 2000, digital music was all about file-sharing, and it was all MP3. Couple that mismatch with confusion within Sony–its VAIO PC division brought out products (including the MusicClip) that competed with Walkman digital players–and Sony set itself up for a stumble.
Original story: Sony Debuts MusicClip MP3 Player, Nov. 15, 1999.
In 2001, many companies were betting on Internet appliances–dedicated terminals for accessing the Internet and browsing the Web. Sony’s eVilla was just such a product. With a built-in 15-inch CRT monitor and a 56-kbps dial-up modem, it was designed to provide access to e-mail and to the Web. But it launched just as many competitors were giving up on the market and as many consumers were deciding to buy new PCs for Windows XP. Less than three months after the product went on sale, Sony pulled the eVilla.
Original story: Sony Launches EVilla (Not a Net Appliance), June 14, 2001.
Original story: Sony Drops EVilla After Two Months, August 31, 2001.
Ten years before people began gushing about watching TV on the iPad, there was Sony’s Airboard. The tablet device had a 10-inch screen and connected via Wi-Fi to a base station that included an Internet connection and TV tuner. Users also enjoyed access to the Web and to e-mail. They could even multitask, thanks to a picture-in-picture TV function. But the Airboard never achieved mass penetration, and many people mistakenly considered it nothing more than an expensive portable TV. The Airboard never launched in the United States.
Original story: Sony Launches Tablet TV, Oct. 3, 2001.
In 2003, battered by fierce competition, Sony sought to reinvigorate its brand with Qualia–a line of expensive products that emphasized Sony’s engineering prowess. Among the featured products were the tiny Qualia 016 digital camera ($3220), the Qualia 004 high-definition projector ($20,000), a Super Audio CD player, and a Trinitron monitor. To buy one of these items, you had to make an appointment at a Qualia showrooms or have a “Qualia concierge” visit you. But the concierge mostly stood around waiting for calls that never came, and Sony quietly killed the line in 2005.
Original story: Sony Shows High End, High Price Gadgets, June 10, 2003.
In 2003, Sony’s PSX jammed a PlayStation 2 and a digital video recorder into a single box. You could play PS2 games and record TV shows onto hard disk or DVD, but this only-in-Japan device was heavy, much bigger than a PlayStation 2, and far more expensive than the PS2 game console. Compared to digital video recorders of the time, its price was attractive, but that selling point wasn’t enough to attract consumers.
Original story: Sony Unveils Video, Gaming Device, Oct. 8, 2003.
In 2006, one of the hottest mobile phones was T-Mobile’s Sidekick, which offered a full keyboard for text messaging, could access e-mail, linked to AOL and MSN instant messaging, and included a digital camera. The Sony Mylo attempted to do the same things. Though the Mylo worked only on Wi-Fi, it included Skype software plus a Web browser and a messaging client. Unfortunately, the lack of a cellular connection hobbled the device just as it has the iPod Touch. A second-general Mylo launched in 2008; but it, too, failed to catch on.
Original story: Sony Unveils Wi-Fi Personal Communicator, Aug. 9, 2006.
Original story: New Sony Mylo Communicator Emphasizes Wi-Fi, Jan. 8, 2008.
One of the quirkiest devices ever to emerge from Sony, the Rolly “audio entertainment player” rocked and rolled to your music. Two motorized rings around its egg-shaped body enabled it to spin in time to a song played from two speakers mounted at either end of its body. Users could program their own routines and share them online, too. The Rolly always drew a crowd, but few people bought it. Sony released an updated version a year after its 2007 launch, but the Rolly didn’t live to see a third edition.
Original story: Sony Shows Off Rolly Audio Player, Sept. 10, 2007.
Launched with much fanfare at the E3 gaming expo in 2009, the PSPgo was supposed to be a major refresh for the PlayStation Portable. It did away with the UMD (Universal Media Disc) format used in previous PSPs in favor of a sleeker look, but that meant gamers couldn’t play titles they already owned. And because it was more expensive than previous PSP models, many gamers saw no compelling reason to upgrade. A recent price cut may stimulate demand, but at this point the PSPgo rates as one of Sony’s few gaming flops.
Original story: Sony Unveils PSPgo, New Prices on Development Hardware, June 3, 2009
Not every product that fails does so because consumers aren’t interested in it. Consider Sony’s XEL-1, the world’s first OLED TV. When it arrived in late 2007, it wowed everyone. The OLED screen produced images with deeper, brighter colors than LCD panels could generate, and it allowed Sony to make the 11-inch TV superthin. Most people who saw it wanted one–until they noticed the $2000 price tag. To date, no manufacturer has succeeded in delivering larger OLED TVs. Sony pulled its version off the market earlier this year.
Original story: Sony Unveils First OLED TV, Oct. 1, 2007.
Martyn Williams covers Japan and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Martyn on Twitter at @martyn_williams. Martyn’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org