Sony's Fall from Grace
With all the hype around Apple, it can be hard to remember that companies like Sony also once elicited devotion and awe. We forget the revolutions of the Walkman personal tape player and the Trinitron television. Sony was an early innovator in transistors that went into radios and televisions. Some of its formats for storing data were revolutionary, such as the 3.5-inch floppy disk, while others, like Betamax videotape and the MiniDisc, were flops. Today the company is on the ropes, driven home by a Nov. 2 announcement that it expects a $1.2 billion loss in the coming fiscal year due to falling prices on televisions, floods in Thailand, and a stronger yen, according to Bloomberg. The company announced it would revamp its TV unit, and its stock hit a 24-year low on Nov. 16.
Click here to take a trip through Sony's best and worst products to see if the future will be reflected in the past.
Type G Tape Recorder Launched: 1950
With 10-inch reels, the Type G was so-named because units were issued to government offices such as the Supreme Court. It was Japan's first tape recorder.
Transistor Radio (TR-55) Launched: 1955
This was an early handheld radio with five transistors developed at Sony. Three years later, Sony launched the smallest transistor radio on the market. It was one of many times that Sony helped Japan become synonymous with miniaturizing popular electronics.
Micro TV (TV5-303) Launched: 1962
The Micro TV, designed for use in cars, was sold with the not-so-catchy slogan "Transistors have changed TV."
Trinitron (KV-1310) Launched: 1968
The first color Trinitron was launched in 1968 with a brighter picture, better color, and simpler controls. When the patent ended in 1996, Sony had sold more than 100 million Trinitrons in various models.
Tape Recorder (TC-50) Launched: 1968
Used on early Apollo missions, the TC-50 was a sturdy production-model tape recorder that was an early blueprint for the Walkman.
U-Matic (VP-1100) Launched: 1971
A videotape format that Sony developed, called U-Matic, helped change the way news was gathered for television. Producers were able to get breaking news more quickly by switching from film to videotape.
Betamax Videotape (K-60) Launched: 1975
Now known as a massive flop, Betamax videotape for home use went head-to-head with JVC's VHS format and lost. The war between Beta and VHS has become a cautionary tale. Beta was smaller and had higher quality but suffered from being a closed, proprietary technology; VHS was licensed free to manufacturers, allowing wider adoption and cheaper production.
Walkman (TPS-L2) Launched:
Beloved in the '80s, the original Walkman revolutionized the way people listened to music. The brand name is still on audio and video players made by Sony. But Sony didn't invent the Walkman. It took a 25-year legal battle for Andreas Pavel to be recognized as the inventor
, according to the New York Times
3.5-Inch Floppy Disk Launched:
This computer-data storage disk might have gone by the wayside but for an industry group that helped standardize the size and, in 1984, Apple Computer teaming up with Sony for the Macintosh computer. As recounted by early Apple employee Andy Hertzfeld
, "The Sony drives eventually worked out great, and it's hard to imagine what the Mac would have been like without them today."
Betacam (BVW-1) Launched: 1982
Sony's professional-quality Betacam video camera became the standard at television stations, network studios, and high-end production companies. It began a run that lasted through the late '90s.
World's First CD Player (CDP-101) Launched: 1982
Sony launched the CD era with a player priced at the princely sum of $900. The format would go on to revolutionize data storage. The Sony numbering system would have normally named this device the CDP-100, but it was instead named the CDP-101 in honor of the digital format of ones and zeros.
Discman (D-50) Launched: 1984
The first portable CD player helped push the format into the mainstream, though the first model was expensive and clunky. In the next few years, Sony produced the digital audio tape (DAT). But it didn't take in the same way as CDs.
MiniDisc Launched: 1992
Executives and engineers at Sony may have forgotten about DAT and Betamax when producing the MiniDisc, another flop. The MD Walkman that went along with the MiniDisc also was not a success.
PlayStation Launched: 1994
The PlayStation was initially developed with Nintendo, but in the cutthroat world of big business electronics, Nintendo later pulled out of the deal. When the PlayStation finally came out in Japan in 1994 and the U.S. in 1995, it helped kill the cartridge-game console by moving to CD-ROM technology. Though the Nintendo 64 was released the next year, the PlayStation took market share in the industry and eventually became the first game console to sell more than 100 million units.
Vaio (PCV-90) Launched: 1996
The first Vaio-branded computer was a desktop that featured a 200-MHz processor. A laptop quickly followed in 1997. Today the brand is stamped on Sony laptops, desktops, and other devices.
Broadcast HD Camcorder (HDW-700) Launched: 1997
The market for professional-quality video cameras was never the same after Sony introduced the first high-definition camcorder. At two megapixels, the resolution was meager by today's standards.
PlayStation 2 Launched:
By Jan. 31 of this year, Sony had sold 150 million PlayStation 2's and 1.52 billion games for the console. That makes it the best-selling console of all time, according to Eurogamer
. And it's still going strong today, with the company expecting sales to continue even though the PlayStation 3 has been on the market for five years.
Blu-ray Launched: 2006
The format war of the mid-2000s was over high-definition video. Sony entered the race with Blu-ray and helped itself by launching the PlayStation 3 with a Blu-ray drive installed. In 2006, the format war was still anyone's game.
PlayStation 3 Launched: 2006
The latest version of Sony's game console was highly capable but not cost-effective for the company. In sales, the PlayStation 3 lags behind the Xbox 360 and Nintendo Wii.
XEL-1 Television Launched:
By 2007, Sony was looking for a way to reestablish its role as a technology leader. It had lost badly to Apple in personal music devices and the new PlayStation was getting hammered by Nintendo. Its short-lived answer: a limited run of the world's first organic light-emitting diode (OLED) television. Ryoji Chubachi, president of Sony, told the New York Times
, "I want this world's first OLED TV to be the symbol of the revival of Sony's technological prowess." Sony later discontinued the OLED TV and today, does not have one on the market. The company announced it would revamp its TV unit in early November