Sony's PC implosion a lesson for Apple?

Sony priced itself out of the market. And consumers' flight from premium laptops could mean some pain for Apple.

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Sony Vaio Pro. If Sony's PC business can fail as miserably as it has with great designs like the Vaio Pro, it's probably more than just a Sony problem. Sony

This week Sony said its PC business is even worse off than the bleak estimates it made earlier in the year. Is there something going on here that's larger than Sony's failings?

Sony announced on Thursday that net losses will grow to a whopping $1.25 billion in its fiscal year. This is the third time Sony has cut its guidance for fiscal 2013. Once again, slumping PC sales are a major factor -- an additional 30 billion yen ($293 million) in PC-related "restructuring expenses" -- in the wake of the sale of its PC business to Japan Industrial Partners back in February.

Obviously, part of the problem is that consumers and retailers have abandoned the Vaio brand because of the high-profile exit from PCs. But the whole PC fiasco began with Sony pricing itself out of the market. And the flight away from premium consumer laptops is only accelerating.

This week, Apple cut prices on updated MacBook Air models to as low as $899. That prompted retailers to slash prices on 2013 Airs (11.6-inch) to around $800.

So that puts the pricing of the prior 11-inch MacBook Air model (2013) below the 64GB iPad Air LTE tablet ($829). That's not good news for other premium laptop products like the Vaio Pro 11, an MBA rival, which is still priced above $1,000 at retailers like Amazon.

And note that the iPad is rising: the 128GB iPad Air LTE model is now priced at $929, more than the updated (2014) 128GB 11.6-inch MacBook Air.

The takeaway? Apple sees the writing on the wall: cut prices or perish in the laptop market.

As a backdrop to all of this, Apple had negative 7 percent growth in shipments in the first quarter of this year, according to IDC's survey of the US consumer PC market. One way for Apple to fix that is to cut prices -- as it did -- on one of its most popular MacBook models.

And it makes you wonder how much longer PC vendors like Toshiba ($1,500 Kirabook 13) and Samsung ($1,449 ATIV Book 9 Plus) can keep their Quad HD+ (3,200x1,800 resolution) consumer laptops priced in that rarified realm.

It also makes you wonder where Apple will price its rumored 12-inch Retina MacBook and whether it's time to rethink the pricing on its Retina MacBook Pro, which starts at $1,299.

That time may come sooner than Apple would like.

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2013 MacBook Air models were being sold this week for as little as $800. Apple

About the author

Brooke Crothers writes about mobile computer systems, including laptops, tablets, smartphones: how they define the computing experience and the hardware that makes them tick. He has served as an editor at large at CNET News and a contributing reporter to The New York Times' Bits and Technology sections. His interest in things small began when living in Tokyo in a very small apartment for a very long time.

 

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