Sony might very well be the most recognized brand name in the world, regardless of industry. Besides its renowned motion picture and recorded music concerns, Sony, from purely a consumer electronics standpoint, holds the rare distinction of achieving not only tremendous financial success, but also groundbreaking innovation and daring market leadership dating back to its very inception.
Founded in 1945, Sony started its reputation for creativity in leadership with its very name. A combination of the latin word "Sonus" (meaning "sound"), and the universal term for a smart boy (Sonny), co-founder Akio Morita resisted the idea of adding an electronics moniker next to the name, wanting instead the exclusivity, uniqueness, and insulation of the single word "Sony". Sony built its foundation by helping to popularize the transistor radio during the 1950s. Sony then began a long period of earthshattering innovation with its introduction of Trinitron CRT technology for televisions, producing a quality of picture that has indefatigably defined its reputation through every ebb and flow in consumer electronics. Sony invented the Betamax recording format in 1975 and, while ultimately losing the format war to JVC and its VHS format, actually achieved the superior performance and helped to pioneer the concept of watching movies and recording in the home.
In 1979, Sony introduced one of its single most important inventions: the "Walkman" personal stereo. The Walkman's revolutionary combination of performance, aesthetics, and ergonomics pretty much spawned the personal electronics category, which continues to flourish today through multimedia phones and iPods.
Sony then embarked on another period of remarkable innovation starting in 1983 with its development (in conjunction with Philips) of the Compact Disc, followed shortly thereafter by its Video8 and Hi8 camcorders, and Digital Audio Tape (DAT) and MiniDisc (MD) formats. Following that, into the 90s and the new millenium, came the Memory Stick, SACD, and Blu-ray formats, along with the Playstation and PSP gaming systems.
In the late 1990s, Sony experienced its first real downturn, fueled mainly by its inability (or, some say, unwillingness) to embrace the burgeoning digital television standard and flat panel television movement. Its relative inaction during this period allowed companies like Samsung to gain critical market share and push Sony down in the public's consciousness. Not surprisingly, however, Sony eventually rebounded with a dominating line of LCD and proprietary SXRD displays that put it back at the top of the high performance television market.
One of Sony's fundamental ingredients to its secret sauce traces back to its founder Akio Morita, who pledged to "do what has never been done before." This begins with Sony's top secret Design Center, source of the magic ergonomic formulas that execute the company's grand technology and create the world's greatest consumer electronics products. Sony pioneered the now-ubiquitous concept of "lifestyle" products, offering slick, elegant execution of simplicity and functionality, back when such features seemed ludicrous and unnecessary. No company in the world pushes the design envelope like Sony, whose constant fresh stream of "cool" defies explanation in business terms.
Mr. Morita's founding philosophy equally extends to the company's technological efforts and associated marketing extensions. Sony constantly goes against the grain and attempts to set its own trends and establish its own formats. Sony stood by Betamax even in the face of powerful market forces. It produced 32" televisions while everyone else produced 31" and 35" models. It pushed MiniDisc in the US despite it losing ground to cassette (albeit while flourishing overseas). It developed the MMCD format to compete with Toshiba's SD format for the DVD format title, and lost. While the company's enormous successes certainly more than offset these "failures" in establishing major formats and trends, the fact that Sony continues to embrace these gigantic tasks and associated risks in the name of its simple founding philosophy endures as one of the greatest unsung stories in the history of consumer electronics. More than any other factor, Sony's 100% pure competitive spirit and undying tradition of innovation ensure that the world will continue to benefit from its consistent stream of greatness well into the future.
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