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(Nikkei BP Group)

(No.1 High-Tech News Site in Japanese)

  • Sony Senior VP Says Company is Brimming with PC Biz Ideas
  • September 17, 1998 (TOKYO) -- With Sony Corp.'s thin notebook personal computer a big hit on the market, the company managed to establish an invincible position in the PC industry.
    In combination with its audio-visual products, what kind of new device will it come up with next?

    Chief Editor Shunichi Fujita of Nikkei Personal Computing interviewed Sony's Corporate Senior Vice President Kunitake Ando, who heads the company's personal computer division.

    During the interview, Ando said, "We're full of ideas we want to realize on the personal computer."

    Kunitake Ando

    Born in January 1942, Ando joined Sony Corp. in 1969. After serving as vice president of Sony Life Insurance Co., Ltd., he was appointed senior executive vice president of Sony Corp. of America in 1992. He became Sony's Information Technology Company President in 1996, and in June 1998, he was named Sony Corp.'s senior vice president.
    (Photo by Kazutoshi Murata)

    Nikkei Personal Computing: When the VAIO series AV-oriented personal computers hit the market last summer, did you feel apprehensive about how consumers would react?

    Ando: It would have been meaningless for us to come into this market if we were to produce the same kinds of PCs as other companies. How to stress Sony's characteristics in working on an open platform was an important issue for us in entering the market.

    Rather than having the personal computer operating on its own, ours were made to be connected with an AV apparatus as much as possible so that in total, our products would be worthy of the name Sony. I feel that during the past year, we proved we were right in that concept.

    Our efforts wouldn't have drawn much attention if they were in the days when the PC market was growing at a rapid pace. But it was when the growth was at a standstill and the industry as a whole was wondering what to do that VAIO made its debut.

    I assume the users gradually came to understand that it was not just the color that was different. The world we were heading for was different. Office products such as word processors and spreadsheet programs are not bundled.

    Ours are entirely different from PCs developed on the business extension line, but are entertainment-oriented products.

    By the time VAIO notebooks began to win high appraisal, we felt confident about hammering out entertainment-oriented ideas.

    The other day, one of the women's magazines had a survey article, "What do you plan to buy with your next bonus?" Mixed among fashion brand name goods such as Prada and Gucci, I found VAIO listed around sixth place.

    Hit items are a kind of fashion. Young women who have had nothing to do with PCs now feel that walking around with a VAIO would be fashionable, is easy to use and want to buy one if they get a bonus.

    I feel very much flattered that our products were evaluated in such a way. Seeing those types of reactions, I feel encouraged to push ahead along this line.

    Nikkei PC: It's a fast-moving industry, and something very similar will soon be coming to market. What will Sony's next move be?

    Ando: We'll continue along the same line as in the past, but we are also thinking of a new type of "visual communication."

    Just recently, we displayed at a PC exhibition a new concept product consisting of a portable personal computer with a CCD camera attached (Note AsiaBizTech). Conventional portable PCs are not made to send motion pictures or voice freely by e-mail. We want to make that come true.

    If we can connect a CCD camera, a display or a speaker to the PC, it will be possible to take in or send the sensations human eyes and ears can see and hear. By attaching a digital video camera (camcorder), MD or DVD, each product will have a new life and the market will grow at a quick pace.

    What's wonderful about the PC is that we can come up with so many ideas in rapid succession. We think it's like a vast spreading wilderness. As long as we have the engineering power, we are just full of ideas we want to materialize.

    I don't understand why people keep making plain, ordinary PCs when there are so many exciting things to do.

    Whether you like it or not, personal computers are going to come into your home. I have no doubt about that.

    Sony is working on that premise. Ideas are endless, and that's why I think the PC industry is exciting.

    Nikkei PC: Spreading personal computers among ordinary households is the most difficult part for all PC manufacturers. Will that difficulty be solved anytime soon?

    Ando: As long as PCs are purchased in a way that users must chose a certain processor or hard disk drive, ordinary families are not going to accept PCs in the true sense of the term.

    The concept of the trial product I mentioned a while ago is to have someone think, "I'm going on a trip shortly, and I want to share that sensation with her. So all I have to do is take 'that' along."

    One of Sony's hit items is the "passport-size" 8mm video camera. Before it, video cameras didn't have many opportunities, except children's athletic meets or student concerts.

    But the minute "passport-size" is mentioned, consumers realize it's a must for traveling abroad with. I think that's what "application" means.

    Study CPU and HDD first and buy a PC to learn to use it -- that's going backward from natural human thinking. When people begin to buy a PC without being conscious of getting a PC, people will surely use PCs at the office, use a notebook type at home and personal digital assistants (PDAs) outside the home. There are already some people doing that, and the time will come very soon when one person has three or four devices.

    Nikkei PC: Some of the makers think a PC at home should be placed in the living room and shared by everyone. What is your take on this?

    Ando: We're trying not to appeal to the public in such a way. WebTV or a large display should sit in the living room.

    We often use the expressions "desktop entertainment" or "private entertainment" just to avoid being confused with something to be used in the living room.

    Even in commercials, we've never shown a PC being used in the living room. If you look carefully, you'll note that a PC is used in a private room, connected to an MD or a video.

    When digital TVs or telephones become common, each private room is going to need a new TV set. When that time comes, people won't need two displays, one for TV and another for a PC. If they have to choose one, they'll probably pick a PC.

    Nikkei PC: For the fusion of AV apparatus and personal computers, cooperation from other companies within your organization (what Sony calls independent business departments) would be indispensable. We've noticed that a virtual company called the "VAIO Center" got started last January to cover all those companies. Please explain it.

    Ando: VAIO Center is designed to determine the general direction, exchange of information and promotion of business. Commercialization will depend purely on each of the companies. We started MD that way.

    Thanks to the VAIO Center, the fences between the companies seem to be lower than in other firms.

    We put on the market just the other day the "Memory Stick" as a medium for exchanging data among PCs and AV apparatus. That was one of the things the VAIO Center promoted.

    (Note: AsiaBizTech) Sony introduced a notebook type PC mounted with a CCD in September.

    Related stories: Sony Releases 1.1kg VAIO Notebook PC with CCD Camera
    Sony Develops Mini-Notebook PC with CCD Camera

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    (Nikkei Personal Computing)

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    Updated: Wed Sep 16 18:24:21 1998 PDT