Aibo, a symbol of the rebirth of Sony


It did not take 30 minutes on the 1st of November for all the copies of Aibo, the dog robot by Sony, are reserved. A commercial success despite a price of more than 1 500 euros, not counting the monthly subscription of 25 euros to make it work. Aibo returns by far. “11 years ago exactly, the situation led us to stop the production of Aibo, the first model was launched in 1999,” said, during a press conference at the headquarters of the group, the CEO of Sony, Kazuo Hirai. Become a boss 5 years ago, it has campaigned to reverse this decision, taken by its predecessor, the American Howard Stringer.

Since he is in command, Kazuo Hirai has made other choices, sometimes dramatic (such as the sale of the division Vaio PC or from that of the lithium-ion batteries), but with more success, as shown by the results of Sony in the first six months of the current financial year : the group is now expecting an operating profit of new to the whole accounting year, spraying, if applicable, a record 20-year-old.

The flagship of the japanese electronics has become very cautious in its forecast in recent times, after having experienced years of setbacks. “My mission was to save the very existence of Sony “, often insists Mr. Hirai, in which the action is being hailed by analysts. Many are those who, in Japan, welcome the renewed health of Sony, a national emblem, even if the financial results are far from those of the south-Korean Samsung, able to emit in a quarter of an operating profit double that of its rival nippon in a year.

Target the high-end

Of course, not everything is wonderful, the divisions are not all in great shape, but the boss man in his fifties (which is rare in a large japanese firm, where leaders of more than 65 years of age are legion) can congratulate himself on at least three things. First, the success of the video game console PlayStation 4 and contents or associated accessories, a success which he must share with the British-something oriental Andrew House. Then, the crushing domination of Sony in the field of image sensors, CMOS to equip all digital cameras, smartphones (including Apple iPhone), tablets, surveillance cameras… The demand for this type of semiconductors is increasing, and Sony to grow its factories dedicated to Japan.

Finally, Kazuo Hirai managed to straighten the branch of the audiovisual general public, and in particular the segment of tvs. The recipe ? Eliminate the basic models, to focus on the top of the range, even if that means losing market share. The cost-effectiveness of television, high-value-added is much better and the competition in this niche is less strong than the simple LCD models that groups of chinese and taiwanese flock to tower of arm and market at unbeatable prices. A tactical concentration on the high-end has been applied to the cameras. Sony, who, unlike his fellow Canon, Nikon, Fujifilm or Olympus, was not present on the market for film cameras has managed to carve out a fine reputation in the digital versions for amateurs and even professionals. Admittedly, he has bought the know-how of Minolta (who threw in the towel), but not overused.

Rejuvenate the image

Considering himself a spiritual son of the founders of Sony, of which the best known is Akio Morita, Kazuo Hirai is repeating to the envi in the past five years that he wants to give back to the firm born after the war, its soul of yesteryear, the company that released the product recognizable at first glance, worthy of tv Trinitron or Walkman (1979). An aura that had faded : Sony had become a mark banal… and dear, the purpose of which was to gain market share, even in pure loss.

Kazuo Hirai managed to reverse the trend of self-destruction. He cites the TV Bravia and PS4, but not only. For the past five years, he invites his interlocutors to ” taste the its hi-res audio “, which Sony has been the spearhead. Audiophiles music-lovers swear now more than by the quality of restitution, which far exceeds that of the CD.

Most of all, Mr. Hirai is proud also to have been revitalised and remotivé the teams of Sony. The renaissance of Aibo is proof of this. “Many engineers in the group wanted to develop robots,” explains the head of the section for artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics group, Izumi Kawanishi. Many of them had been poached by other companies, such as Toyota, the automaker which did not hesitate to recruit heads in the electronics rout (Toshiba currently has the costs). But, with Kazuo Hirai, some are income. “The technological advances in the eleven years that the Aibo today is naturally more efficient,” says Kawanishi.

But this is not all. The economic models also have evolved. Sony has changed in philosophy : the group is more open to partnerships, and the software part of the Aibo evolves with the help of third-party developers of applications. And then the CEO, whose culture is half american (he has long lived in the United States), more confidence in the young people that the most executives of large japanese companies, including the thought pattern (progression, seniority) remained rooted decades back. In recent years, several Sony products are born out of the imagination of young employees called to launch ideas freely : those considered most relevant are submitted to the public and financed by crowdfunding. These are not the main products of the group, but these successful initiatives (a diffuser of aromas of pocket watches to analog contactless chip, etc) create emulation within the group and are revamping the brand image.

Put AI everywhere

With this balance sheet, Mr. Hirai, can he rest on his laurels ? No, because, to be honest, Sony is also helped by the economic climate. The favourable exchange rate of the yen against the euro for several years (the effect of japanese monetary policy) dope as the gains of the group, which cash the bulk of its revenue abroad. It is not at all immune to a crisis : 10 years ago, Sony was doing pretty well, but the plunge in international financial of 2008-2009 has rolled. It seems to be delivered, but at the cost of sacrifices and many job losses, through the sale of divisions basically.

It also remains a thorn in the foot of Mr. Hirai, one of the smartphones. Sony may well have a range Xperia strong, the group is not able to initiate the supremacy of the Samsung – despite the setbacks in the Galaxy Note 7 – and Apple. Even if some people hope that robots will one day be as numerous in the homes as smartphones, this is not Aibo, which will ensure the future of Sony. Kuzuo Hirai knows that, by the way : Aibo, it is for the showcase. In the Face of Google, Apple and other giants threatening, it is necessary to advance in other areas, such as medical techniques, and you can stay the artificial intelligence and robotics a little bit everywhere. “We are carrying out multiple concurrent projects in this direction”,-he said.

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