There was a time when Sony was the first name in consumer electronics. The company's Trinitron TVs dominated the TV market for decades. In 1975, Sony's Betamax was the first widely adapted consumer video recorder format. The Walkman hit the market in 1979 and changed the way people listened to music, creating the personal audio market category. In 1982 the CD, which the company developed jointly with Philips, changed the way we listened to music even more. Sony extended its reach when it purchased CBS Records in 1988 and Columbia Pictures in 1989, and scored a triumph in the home videogame console realm in 1994 with the first PlayStation. More recently, Sony backed Blu-ray and quickly dispatched the only other HD video challenger, HD DVD.
Like Apple, Sony's styling was always ahead of the pack. Sony's market share, products, and technologies were more widespread and influential than Apple's are now, but Sony's luster is fading fast.
Even in the best of times, though, Sony's track record was far from perfect. There was an ongoing series of format flops and missteps, like the Digital Audio Tape (DAT or R-DAT) format in 1987; following rather than leading with plasma and LCD display technologies; and the woefully ill-conceived Super Audio CD. Betamax may have been the first VCR format, but VHS quickly surpassed it, and by 1980 VHS accounted for 70 percent of the North American videotape market. Sony totally missed the boat with MP3 players, and pushed the ill-fated MiniDisc format, so it never even came close to challenging the iPod. Rather than use the MP3 format for MiniDisc players, Sony developed its own audio compression technology ATRAC, but the market wasn't interested.
It's funny, when you look back on it, the iPod was exactly the sort of product Sony used to create. Sony even owned a giant record company, Sony Music Entertainment, but that didn't make it any easier for Sony to make a viable iPod competitor. While Sony may not be the giant it once was -- it announced earlier this year that it would.
Tomorrow is the 30th anniversary of the introduction of the CD. I'll look back on its history in tomorrow's blog post.