13 amazing facts you never knew about Sony
THE Japanese gadget giant is everywhere but did you know its first product was a flop, the Walkman was almost scrapped and a guinea pig helped change its fortune?
FOR almost 70 years Sony has been the poster boy of electronics. It rocked the world with its Walkman and turned everyone on to TV with its Trinitron sets. It’s amassed a fortune and is proud of a company spirit embodied by a golden guinea pig.
That last statement might be a fact you didn’t know about the old grand master of tech. Here are 12 more:
1. The name Sony may bring to mind shiny flat screen TVs and consumer gadgets galore but its first foray into electronics was actually a rice cooker. It failed to be a commercial success because it mostly made undercooked or overcooked rice, but had it done well we may very well have seen a different Sony today.
2. When founded by Akio Morita and Masaru Ibuka in 1946 it was called TTK or Tokyo Tsushin Kenkyujo (Tokyo Telecommunications Laboratory). It took 12 years for the company to be known as Sony.
3. The name Sony is based on the Latin word sonus, which means ‘sound’. It also refers to the word ‘Sonny’ for a youthful boy and was chosen as it could be easily pronounced in almost any language. It was actually the name of its first transistor radios and as they became more popular and a household name, Morita and Ibuka adopted it for the company name.
4. Sony’s fortunes could have been completely different if wasn’t for a student. The musical pedigree we associate with Sony today can be attributed to an opera student at the Tokyo Academy of Art, who complained to the founders about the sound quality of its first audio recorders. They were impressed with the critique and subsequently hired him to come on-board and help develop better equipment.
5. Executives at Sony were never keen on the idea of a Walkman but it was a good job no hasty executive decisions were made as it revolutionised personal music and continued to be sold for 31 years. Initially it was sold as “Soundabout” in the US, “Stowaway” in the United Kingdom, and “Freestyle” in Australia. Overseas sales companies objected to the name “Walkman” as they felt it was too much of a Japanese-English name, and proposed others. Sony America initially suggested “Sony Disco Jogger” because both disco and jogging were then all the rage in America.
6. One of Sony’s more bizarre creations that never made to market was the Chorocco, a mini plastic VW campervan that sat on vinyl records and played the track through its speaker as it “drove” around it.
7. Issey Miyake designed Sony’s staff uniforms (worn in Sony factories and by many staff) during the late 70’s and early 80’s. (Steve Jobs tried to do the same with Apple employees) both Akio Morita and Steve Jobs were friends and fans of Miyake.
8. Perhaps one of Nintendo’s biggest mistakes was asking Sony to develop an add-on for its video games consoles that could play compact discs. Sony did just so, but after a falling out over software licensing Nintendo broke it off and Sony decided to make its own console instead. Unfortunately for Nintendo, but fortunately for gamers, this was turned out to be the PlayStation and it instantly eclipsed Nintendo’s market share.
9. Not just a peddler of shiny electronics to improve our living rooms, Sony has produced electronics for those behind bars. The prison issue Walkman SRF-39FP (that FP stands for Federal Prison) comes with a see-through case so inmates can’t hide any contraband inside. But despite not being able to stash dodgy goods, these are highly treasured pieces of kit as they can run for 40 hours on an AA battery and pick up radio reception even through those prison walls.
10. In 1998 Sony made a bit of a boob by releasing camcorders with a night-vision mode that could see through clothes. Anyone wearing darker clothes would be exposed as infra-red light created an x-ray effect. The company had no idea so had to recall the product despite selling over 700,000.
11. Sony’s first portable television (TV8-301, launched in 1960) was tested for durability by driving around in an employee’s sports car, on bumpy country roads.
12. In the late 1950s the company was producing pocket radios. Described at the time as the world’s smallest, they actually were a bit too big to fit in shirt pockets. In order to keep its marketable description Sony salesmen had shirts custom-made with larger front pockets so they appeared “pocketable” (a word invented by a Sony employee according to its company history).
13. Sitting in the Sony archives in its HQ in Tokyo is a golden guinea pig figurine. This is out-of-place object is a famous piece of Sony’s history and serves as a company emblem and for its spirit. It stems from an article that claimed Sony was a ‘guinea pig for transistors and other companies were besting them’. The founders then took this swipe as motivation for innovating ideas and indomitable spirit. A golden guinea pig was given to the Sony founders from employees.