Sony eats netbook humble pie

Sony Vaio W netbooks
Sony joins the "race to the bottom"

Ah, Sony, Sony, Sony. Just last year your VP of IT products mocked netbooks, describing them as "a race to the bottom". So what do we have here? My goodness! It's a netbook!

How things change. Sony's initial response to netbooks was typically Sony: the Vaio P series, which looked like a netbook and cost more than a house.

Sony didn't like it if you called it a netbook: as TechRadar's Adam Hartley reported at the time, "The product guys physically wince at the mere mention of the term."

Essentially Sony was saying to the PC-buying public: "You think you want a netbook, but you don't really. That's because you are dumb and we are clever."

And now it's making netbooks. W Series? Humble Pie series, more like.

So why the change of mind? Quite simply, the netbook market has become too big for Sony to ignore. The P Series is a great little machine, but it isn't a netbook - and netbooks are one of the few cheerful bits of the computer business just now. Like all companies, Sony likes making money. Right now, that means making netbooks.

We've been here before

We can't help thinking that Sony's initial reaction to netbooks was very similar to its attitude to MP3 players.

"We want MP3!" cried the Napster generation. "Okay!" Sony said. "Here's a whole bunch of MP3 players that don't play MP3! And also, they must use The World's Worst Music Software! Where are you going?"

Sony kept that up for six years, by which point we were starting to wonder whether Sony's digital Walkman business was designed to help Apple sell more iPods. Now, it's making the X-Series Walkman, a superb bit of kit that most people will ignore on their way to the Apple Store.

Its approach to netbooks was much the same. "We want small, cheap computers!" we cried. "Okay!" Sony said. "Here you go! Nine hundred quid, or nearly one thousand three hundred if you get some accessories! Where are you going?"

But at least it only kept that up for nine months, not six years.

And let's be fair: the W Series looks great. It's got a nice screen, a decent keyboard and if it's like other Vaios, the build quality will be excellent - although of course if it's like other Vaios, it's going to be significantly more expensive than equivalent machines from rival firms.

While some people will pay extra for nice design and a Sony logo, the netbook market is too price- and spec-sensitive for the W Series to dominate - but it should still sell in decent numbers.

And when a big hitter such as Sony enters a market, it encourages other firms to raise their game. That's good news for everyone.

Carrie Marshall

Writer, broadcaster, musician and kitchen gadget obsessive Carrie Marshall (Twitter) has been writing about tech since 1998, contributing sage advice and odd opinions to all kinds of magazines and websites as well as writing more than a dozen books. Her memoir, Carrie Kills A Man, is on sale now. She is the singer in Glaswegian rock band HAVR.