Why Sony couldn't make PCs work any more

Sony Vaio
Could things have been different without the Windows 8 debacle?

It's really hard to make money out of PCs. There are a lot of them about. And when you're a company battling massive losses and struggling with a business unit that's no longer core to what you do, then it's time to call it quits.

And that's what Sony is doing – it has decided to sell its PC business to investment fund Japan Industrial Partners.

The deal is slightly unusual in that Vaio isn't being sold to another big PC brand – Sony previously said it was discussing a joint venture with Lenovo.

The timing of the sale may prove prescient. Things are only going to get tougher: as alarming as it is to admit, we all know the PC market is in huge decline – even though a whopping 316 million PCs were sold in 2013, the market was down by 10%.

Down time

"Even though a whopping 316 million PCs were sold in 2013, the market declined by 10 per cent"

Announcing the sale, Sony itself bleats about the "drastic changes in the global PC industry". Sony fully admits that smartphones and tablets are where it's at for the company – even though it's hardly a leader in tablets.

We shouldn't be surprised by the move. And we shouldn't be surprised to see more huge names doing the same, either, as the industry moves towards the big box shifters that can make the slender margins work.

It was big news when IBM sold its PC business to Lenovo in 2004/5 and it seemed unthinkable when HP threatened to do the same in 2011, but for Sony it doesn't feel the same. Its strengths lie elsewhere.

Only in Japan for now?

The interesting thing about the move is that, although Vaio will continue, it won't necessarily be in all markets, with the new company initially concentrating on Japan before deciding whether to go further afield.

The Spring 2014 Vaios will be the last made by Sony.

Sony has always struggled with Vaio. The laptops, all-in-ones and even the netbooks looked great, but for the most part it charged a premium for them. And that's a hard sell when everything underneath is, essentially, the same as any other laptop.

It is a shame, because though the products tended to have a premium price, they also had a premium design. Using a Vaio said something about you. And – by and large – Sony made terrific machines, especially in the ultraportable segment. Sony made lightweight PCs aplenty long before Apple's MacBook Air appeared.

But even though it's sad that Sony is no longer involved with one of the two key consumer electronics products of the last 30 years, we can't afford to get too nostalgic. The PC market is changing and we just have to live with it.

A final thought: could things have been different without the debacle of Windows 8? We shall never know.


Dan (Twitter, Google+) is TechRadar's Former Deputy Editor and is now in charge at our sister site T3.com. Covering all things computing, internet and mobile he's a seasoned regular at major tech shows such as CES, IFA and Mobile World Congress. Dan has also been a tech expert for many outlets including BBC Radio 4, 5Live and the World Service, The Sun and ITV News.