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Sony VAIO won't be last PC industry casualty

Andy Vandervell

by

Sony Vaio

OPINION Sony is selling its VAIO PC business to a Japanese investment fund that will focus solely on the Japanese market. This makes the VAIO brand one of the first big-name casualties of the global decline in the PC market, but it certainly won't be the last.

For Sony, selling its VAIO PC business makes perfect sense. The company made a loss of £665m in 2013 despite a strong Q4, with the PC division and its TV business (the latter is being spun off as separated wholly owned subsidiary) weighing down the successful imaging (photography), mobile and gaming parts of the business.

Sony has never been a huge player in the PC market - it has never been among the top five PC makers - and 2013 saw the worst decline in that market in its history. Within three years the PC market has gone from healthy growth of 13.8 per cent in 2010 to a huge decline of 10 per cent in 2013. Being a niche player in a declining market is a trend that is unlikely get Sony shareholders excited.

But you don't care about shareholders, do you? I don't either. What I do care about, however, is choice. And the sale of Sony VAIO and its impending retreat from the global PC market is, I think, merely the first sign that we're going to enjoy a great deal less choice in future.

Fine, Sony wasn't a huge PC brand in the way Dell, HP and market leader Lenovo are, but it's often been at the forefront of innovations in portable computing. It had an uncanny knack for producing small, powerful laptops - the TrustedReviews Recommended Sony VAIO Pro 13 being the most recent example. Its discontinued Z-series was a firm favourite, too.

Where Sony always struggled was competing in the low-end of the market where the likes of Acer, Asus, Lenovo, HP and others do battle. It tried to offer value laptops, but its laudable dedication to quality often prevented it from competing on price and features. That's fine so long as the high-margin laptops are doing ok, but clearly the advent of the iPad in 2010 and resultant surge in Mac sales can't have done Sony any favours.

Looking forward, it's hard to imagine Sony will be the last to take such drastic measures. Acer, a company that enjoyed a brief netbook-fuelled sojourn as the no.2 PC vendor in 2009/10, has been haemorrhaging money for a long while. In 2011 it recorded a $225 million loss, which sounds bad until you discover it lost nearly double that ($446 million) in Q3 of 2014 alone, and according to IDC lost 21.4 per cent of its market share in 2014.

Could it suffer a similar fate? It's too early to say, but the omens aren't great, and this is just another example of the challenges facing Microsoft's new CEO.

Next, find out about the best laptops before half the big names stop making them

Gareth Barber

February 6, 2014, 5:21 pm

What year we in?

Sony's lower end laptops sadly didn't have that great a build quality and appeared to rely on brand as the selling point.

Top end ones, and innovative form factors have always been something they've excelled at, but support especially software support has always been patchy.

As much as I love my 2010 Z and 13 pro, their mainstream offering was often poor compared to the competition and it looks like niche top end wasn't enough to survive one. Sadder still is that they produced a huge variety of truly ground breaking machines, that got little recognition but Apple pretty much copied and get plaudits from all, including here.

Sony X http://scrapetv.com/News/News%... was/is lightest fullsize laptop probably ever made, in the days of the original air made it look like a faty and their persistence with clamshell models http://cdn.cultofmac.com/wp-co... over several generations, and tablets with slide out keyboards http://regmedia.co.uk/2006/05/... that still look somwaht futuristic. They brought chiclet keyboards to the for with a design that several years later was all but ripped off by the air (tiny/light and wedge shaped), X505 http://www.extravaganzi.com/wp... .

Great hardware often hamstrung by running windows in the 00's, they finally got to use some of these with Windows 8 which is more touch friendly, with the like of the Duo,but it looks like it is all too late.

Compared to everyone else making bog standard boxy, heavy and generally ugly laptops they were a breath of fresh air, I had my hopes up for a new generation of discrete graphics toting Z super laptops.

danielfrisbee

February 6, 2014, 7:40 pm

My first laptop was an SZ and it was great, if overly expensive. It died, and I went without a laptop until the Duo 11 came out. It has issues, but is far and away the best product for my needs. It will be a shame if these innovative designs fade, as I cannot see going back to a traditional laptop- touch screens, tablets/convertibles with pen input feel a lot more useful and liberating. Sony stands out as one of very few companies with some actual design happening, rather than firing out glossy plastic thoughtless blocks.

I am unanimous in that

February 6, 2014, 11:14 pm

Shame. I've always been a fan of their kit. Working from home, I've used their all-in-one Pc's for many years. On the whole good reliable machines, although I've had the odd issue with hard drives playing up. In the last few years it has been fairly clear they weren't competing very well on spec or prices with anyone, and some of the more recent kit looked fairly flimsy.
It's a bit of a worry about the laptop market, an ipad is fine for browsing the net, email and the odd app but not much use for producing content. Perhaps Lenovo will keep upping their game and that will be my next all in one.

Cal

February 7, 2014, 11:06 pm

Man, they lost money in Q3 of 2014 already? Damn the future is a tough place to be getting sales figures from...

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