Sony's digital technology and computer development has a long history. The first computer-related product was the SOBAX, a desktop calculator introduced in 1967. However, Sony withdrew from this market in 1972 due to a severe price war. Utilizing transistors as the switching element, SOBAX had the potential of carrying Sony into the portable computer market. Yet Sony was unable to develop this product into a business model (see Part I, Chapter 13
Influenced by the co-development of the microprocessor with Intel Corp. in 1971, personal computers (PCs) were introduced a few years later and the world set off toward digitization. However, Sony's management firmly stood by the belief that "the core of Sony's electronics business will always be audio and visual equipment for the masses" and suppressed its R&D efforts in the computer field.
Yet Iwama, who became president in 1976, had a strong feeling that any company without a deep understanding of computers would be unable to survive in the 90s. PCs debuted in 1975, and in 1978 Toshiba launched the first Japanese-language word processor. Iwama supervised the gradual development of computers at Sony. Toward the end of the 1970s, a group led by Yoshiro Kato and Kenji Hori began computer-related product development in the office automation (OA) and microcomputer (MC) fields.
In December 1980, Sony's efforts in the OA field eventually led to the introduction of the "Series 35" English-language word processor and the portable "Typecorder" typewriter, which featured a liquid crystal display. Both were targeted at the US market. In the microcomputer field, the SMC-70 Series, a microcomputer with high quality graphics capabilities, was introduced in September 1982. That year, Japan experienced a belated OA boom. The facsimile machine, PC, word processor, and copy machine began to be known as "the four sacred tools of OA." In the home PC field, the Sony "HIT BIT" model, which conformed to the Microsoft-led MSX standard, was commercialized in November 1983.
All these products followed Sony"s policy of offering compact size with portability. The "Typecorder," in particular, incorporated a unique concept by way of its compact size and convenience of use. In retrospect, this was the first step toward the introduction of laptop computers. In addition, the compact and large-capacity 3.5 inch micro floppy disk (MFD), first developed for use with English-language word processors, became an industry standard worldwide.
An interesting point concerning these Sony products is that they were never intended to be linked to computer products. The design and development of each product was based on Sony's traditional strengths in audio and video technologies such as magnetic recording and optical disk. Sony's business at that time was strictly related to traditional technologies, and Sony management had created a certain environment within the company which was not receptive to deviating from this strategy.
At one point, an attempt was made to integrate Sony's computer-related development efforts with the audio and video equipment businesses. This proposal was made to create an AVCC (Audio, Video, Computer and Communications) integrated systems business. The end result was the establishment of the MIPS (Media Information Products and System) Business Group in May 1983. Takao Ohira, who had joined Sony from Oki Electric and had extensive knowledge of telecommunications, was appointed MIPS general manager and Nobuyuki Idei, who was instrumental in the development of MSX and was knowledgeable about both computers and AV technologies, was appointed as his deputy. At the time, Ohga had just become president, and expanding into new business fields was one of Sony's main priorities. An aggressive step into the OA and telecommunications fields was part of his management strategy.
Unfortunately, in the middle of the new media boom, Sony was unable to establish a presence in this market, despite continuous efforts by the development team. Sony's computer-related products launched in the 1980s were eventually discontinued due to a lack of interest in the market.