As a red-faced, red-haired infant who was close to her hands-on stepfather, the metaphor invoked by activist investor Dan Loeb that Sony treats its entertainment business like a “red-headed stepchild” has no personal resonance.
But I get it. Leaving aside any gripes from the ginger brigade, his accusation that the company treats this part of the group with disdain is clear.
This comes just days after the forthright statement from Mark Cutifani, chief executive of Anglo-American, condemned the mining company’s performance as “constipated” and promised to “get our arses into gear and start making a difference”.
Video game designer Mark Cerny talks about the new platform of the Playstation 4. Getty Images
Perhaps there is a method to the madness but I find Sony’s so-called launch of the PlayStation 4 without producing the games console peculiar.
Its executives revealed all kinds of technical details about the new console in New York on Wednesday evening, but did not unveil the thing itself. As the New York Times reported the event:
The console itself was never shown during the two-hour presentation. No release date was given, although before the Christmas holidays is a good possibility. No price was mentioned.
Sony sells its New York HQ. Getty Images
Sony’s sale of its New York headquarters, 550 Madison Avenue, is one of those moments that have deep symbolism, whatever the substance. It is a neat reversal of Mitsubishi Estate’s purchase of the Rockefeller Center in 1989, which led to an outbreak of concern that the US had lost its edge.
The second event that promoted the idea that the surging Japanese economy was enabling a US takeover was Sony’s purchase of Columbia Pictures in the same year, for $3.4bn. Sony still owns the Hollywood studio, although its problems with its electronics operations have weighed the whole down.
Sarah Gordon points out that Nokia and Sony have a set of problems that undermined their capacity for innovation. But they are far from alone in being victims of Apple’s success.
In fact, the list of Apple victims is long and stretches across the media and technology. Since Steve Jobs unveiled iTunes and the iPod in 2001, starting Apple’s decade long rise to dominance in consumer technology and electronics, his company has left many of its competitors wounded.
The message from Kazuo Hirai, the new chief executive of Sony, appears to be “more of the same”. After Howard Stringer, whom he has succeeded, steadily shrunk the Japanese electronics group, Mr Hirai is carrying on cutting.
As first reported by the Nikkei newspaper, Mr Hirai plans to outline about 10,000 further job cuts at Sony. That reinforces the impression that the company that once dominated consumer electronics has yet to come up with a solution to the twin onslaught from Apple and lower-cost competitors.
Fujitsu’s plan to enter the European smartphone and tablet market has a 1980s ring to it. By the early part of that decade, Japanese companies had already grabbed large shares of the markets for televisions, hi-fi units, calculators, electronic toys and digital watches. These days, Europeans are more used to hearing about new Chinese, Taiwanese and South Korean entrants.
But in phones, Japanese manufacturers have largely concentrated on domestic consumers, using country-specific technology and features. It will be interesting to see how many of these features travel, and how many have to be tailored to local tastes, as Japanese phone makers break out of their national silo. (There have been reports that Panasonic is also planning to launch a mobile phone for the European market* and Sony Ericsson – already present – is, as of last week, wholly owned by Sony.)
Sony’s launch of its first tablet devices is bound to excite unflattering comparisons with revolutionary Sony products of the past – particularly because it falls in the same week as the death of Norio Ohga, the Japanese company’s former chairman and chief executive.
As every retrospective of Ohga’s extraordinary life has pointed out, he was the Sony executive who helped establish and drive the compact disc. By contrast, Sony’s “S1″ and “S2″ (their temporary names, thank goodness), already seem doomed to be mere “iPad rivals”.
The wave of suicides at the vast plant near Shenzhen owned by Foxconn, the Taiwan contract manufacturer, where 300,000 workers are employed, raises questions about the sustainability of China’s use of migrant workers from rural areas.
The FT was allowed unusual access inside the Foxconn plant in Longhua, which has in the past been kept out of view of reporters, and Kathrin Hille’s video interviews with Foxconn employees, as well as the company’s spokesman, are fascinating.