SpoonFed: For Sony, the Silos Can’t Dissolve Soon Enough

When I think about a lot of Sony’s 2009 mobile products, my reaction is the following: meh. For instance, the company has a slick looking netbook coming out soon, but it costs $100 more than most competitors, and doesn’t integrate with Sony’s movie or eBook services. And it has a beautiful Walkman with an OLED touchscreen that just launched, but it can’t play PlayStation games. Basically, it seems as though Sony CEO Howard Stringer hasn’t yet made good on his promise to break down the proverbial silos between the company’s various units. And this is critical for Sony’s survival. Based on a recent interview with Mike Abary, vice president of Sony’s Information Technology Products Division, the walls are finally starting to come down. He told us that the VAIO team is now under the same electronics group as PlayStation, Walkman, and Reader. And upcoming VAIO notebooks will indeed support the PlayStation Network for downloadable movies and TV shows. In fact, as part of a re-organization, Abary now heads up the Reader team in the U.S., which is a sign convergence is accelerating at the lumbering CE giant. The question is, when will see the fruits of this integration, and what’s taking so long? Abary acknowledged in our interview that consumers are “second-guessing” Sony across the board, from netbooks to TV, when it comes to how much the brand is worth. And I say Sony needs not only to demonstrate that it has moved beyond slick industrial design, but that it can deliver exciting consumer experiences that transcend hardware. Just go to any mall where there is both an Apple store and a Sony store. At the former you’ll probably see tables full of customers trying out products (and busy cashiers). At the Sony store you might see one or two people wondering why they’re not at the Apple store. Sony Ericsson is a mess unto itself, and up until now it’s been treated as the red-headed stepchild of the organization. In late June, Sony said it was considering putting together a team that would combine its PlayStation Portable with a Sony Ericsson handset. By the time such a device materializes, the iPod and iPhone touch will have already cornered the mobile gaming market. Or the Zune HD could swoop in—assuming Microsoft continues to break down its own silos. For me, Sony’s make-or-break showcase will be this year’s CES. Showing us TVs with widgets or notebooks that fit in your pocket doesn’t wow anymore. It’s time for Sony to prove that those silos have been completely obliterated. To truly be like no other, there needs to be one Sony. Editor-in-chief Mark Spoonauer directs LAPTOP's online and print editorial content and has been covering mobile and wireless technology for over a decade. Each week Mark's SpoonFed column provides his insights and analysis of the biggest mobile trends and news. You can read SpoonFed here each week or have even more industry news delivered to your inbox with the SpoonFed newsletter.  You can also follow Mark on twitter.

Mark Spoonauer
Responsible for the editorial vision for Laptopmag.com, Mark Spoonauer has been Editor in Chief of LAPTOP since 2003 and has covered technology for nearly 15 years. Mark speaks at key tech industry events and makes regular media appearances on CNBC, Fox and CNN. Mark was previously reviews editor at Mobile Computing, and his work has appeared in Wired, Popular Science and Inc.