Sony’s track record of game-changing inventions—the transistor radio, the Walkman, the Trinitron—led it to believe that success lay in self-sufficiency and absolute control. Sony’s ideal future was one in which just about everything—TVs, DVD players, cameras, computers, stereos, handhelds, digital songs—bore the Sony brand. The company became an exemplar of what’s sometimes called the “Not Invented Here” syndrome: if it wasn’t invented at Sony, the company wanted nothing to do with it.
“Not Invented Here” is an old problem at Sony. The Betamax video tape recorder failed in part because the company refused to coöperate with other companies. But in recent years the problem got worse. Sony was late in making flat-screen TVs and DVD recorders, because its engineers believed that, even though customers loved these devices, the available technologies were not up to Sony’s standards. Sony’s cameras and computers weren’t compatible with the most popular form of memory, because Sony wanted people to use its overpriced Memory Sticks. Sony’s online music service sold files in a Sony-only format. And Sony’s digital music players didn’t play MP3s, which is a big reason that the iPod became the Walkman’s true successor. Again and again, Sony’s desire to control everything kept it from controlling anything.
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