The Fall of Giants: Sony and RIM Continue To Lose Ground

I wasn’t surprised to hear that both Sony and RIM are spiraling into market irrelevancy. It’s been an inevitability since about 2009 that Sony would see declining fortunes and it’s been clear for months that RIM is near death. I’m just sad to see both of them go.

Sony is losing because it lost the popular imagination. Once upon a time, Sony build solid, popular products for the world. However, with the rise of mobile technology and the ridiculous Sony Ericsson partnership that effectively hobbled Sony in the cellphone race, Sony lost much of its cachet and could make its money in what folks would term “CE” – TVs, sound systems, and the like – leaving little else in terms of high-turnaround items with an acceptable (but not amazing) margin like laptops, phones, and media players.

Sony, in short, fiddled while Samsung, Apple, and Dell/HP took its markets away one by one. Sony was known for music players. They haven’t had a best selling player in years and Apple has. Sony was known for laptops. They haven’t had a compelling laptop in years and Dell/HP have. Sony was known for selling good TVs and sound systems. Samsung is slowly creeping up in that regard. Sony, in short, can’t make a living doing the things at which it used to excel.

Then there’s RIM. They, too, lost the popular imagination. Now that the IT market and the consumer market have converged, there’s little draw for a phone that prides itself at being the pride of businessmen. You used to buy a Blackberry because your IT team made you. Now you buy a Blackberry because your IT team is lazy or scared and doesn’t want to support new standards.

Joel Johnson wrote a nice series on Sony back in 2010 outlining everything wrong with everything at Sony. In short, the biggest problem was the rise of proprietary formats, which Joel noted were a “screw job.” The same goes for RIM – RIM locked up its network and locked in its customers. Now those customers want out.

But I don’t want to excoriate these guys too much. Sony and RIM redefined computing in their own ways, adding technologies and techniques to the techno lexicon that didn’t exist before they created them. The compact disc, the keyboard phone, mobile messaging, HD video – these are all things that Sony and RIM introduced to a benighted world. But they rested far too long on the laurels of temporary success. Companies at their apex – Apple and Samsung included – would do well to learn from their mistakes.

[Image: Danomyte/Shutterstock]