Everybody’s Gettin’ Bitch-Slapped by Sony

The Giant Squid Battles SailorsJapanese electronics maker Sony is like that giant squid in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. I mean, the company is enormous. Everything seems to have the Sony logo on it these days: cell phones, stereos, televisions, telephones and, of course, the famous Walkman.

But Sony’s got its fingers – I mean, tentacles – in everybody’s business in more invisible ways, too. And, like the weight of the squid pulling the Nautilus to the ocean floor, that’s really starting to screw things up for a lot of people.

For quite a while now, Sony’s appeared to be a company in slow decline. Quality problems have nagged them for years. Their technology isn’t as cutting edge as it once was. And as they expand ever-further into untapped markets they are diluting their brand and reducing its relevance.

So in seeming desperation, for the first time Sony’s board recently reached outside of Japanese culture for a leader. Welshman Sir Howard Stringer became the company’s CEO last June. Since then things have just gone from bad to worse for the beleaguered company.

The most recent spate of screw-ups clearly can’t be blamed on the new guy, however. But they do serve to highlight that the electronics industry really needs to back away from this giant accident waiting to happen.

Dell recently recalled over 4 million laptop batteries after discovering a manufacturing defect that threatened to turn computers into great balls of fire. For the same reason, Apple Computer has also issued a recall of over 1 million of its laptop batteries. Coincidence?

Well, not really. Sony designs and manufactures laptop batteries for both of these companies, and the defect are related to factory production issues. Sony actually manufactures batteries for pretty much every laptop in existence, but the problem appears to be limited to Apple’s and Dell’s products.

It’s of particular interest to note that there’s no recall on Sony’s laptop batteries. Do I smell fish? Oh no, it’s just that darned squid hanging off the submarine.

Or maybe the Beastie Boys have a clue: “Oh My God, It’s A Mirage – I’m Tellin’ Y’all It’s Sabotage!”

Speaking of recording artists, remember last November when Sony used music CDs to spread their version of a computer virus around the world?

That was another big fish flub. Somehow they believed that installing a “rootkit” – the digital equivalent of a spycam – on their customer’s computers would protect the rights of their artists.

Actually, it more demonstrated how poorly that company has its head screwed on: Sony’s still reeling from the support cost of trying to remove their custom-made virus from computers everywhere.

Then just before that was the whole deal with CCD sensors in digital cameras. As with laptop batteries, Sony designs and manufactures image sensors for many photographic companies’ digital cameras. Late last summer Canon, Fujifilm, Konica Minolta, Ricoh, and Olympus all had to issue consumer advisory notices to their customers in regards to flaws in Sony-made CCDs in their cameras.

The CCD is the component in a digital camera that actually captures an image when you press the shutter button. Problem with these ones from Sony was that, well, they didn’t capture anything at all, which is clearly not good for photographers. On the bright side, the flawed CCDs didn’t blow up or catch fire.

Despite this, Nikon and several other camera companies continue to use Sony’s higher-end CMOS sensors in their flagship cameras. I guess they figure lightning never strikes twice.

Well, actually, I’d say they need to wise up. The plot is thickening as these days Sony’s rocking the submarine with some blue laser action.

Blu-Ray and HD-DVD are two of the hottest new technologies in the consumer electronics market. They are competing to replace the standard DVD we all know and love with higher resolution and sharper imaging. However, both are struggling to get off the ground in spite of one another and, it would seem, in spite of Sony.

Oddly, the blue laser device that’s used to read disks in both Blu-Ray and HD-DVD drives is suddenly in short supply, forcing manufacturers like Toshiba and Samsung to delay shipments and cancel new products.

Avast, Matey! ‘Tis pirates have stolen these blue laser thingys!

Sorry, Captain Nemo, it’s just that darned squid again.

As it turns out, Sony is the primary manufacturer of the high definition blue laser. And Sony’s hogging them all so they can ramp up production of their soon-to-be-released PlayStation 3 video game station, which features a Blu-Ray drive.

You’d think that after getting bitch-slapped around by Sony so much, other technology firms would wise up and try to cut this slimy behemoth out of the food chain.

As it turns out, they’re doing just that.

On September 13 Apple and Dell are meeting along with some other PC manufacturers to discuss how to set safety standards for mobile device batteries. Word on the street is that Sony’s just not welcome there.

Perhaps, after all, the submarine will wrestle itself free of the giant squid’s tentacles and cruise to clearer waters. Alas, methinks the monster will just blast us all with a black, inky cloud of marketing (can you say “Playstation 3”?) and wrap its tentacles tighter still.

First published in the Yukon News on Friday, September 1, 2006.

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