Two decades ago on this very date, the Sony PlayStation was released in Japan. After a long life, with a lot of ups and downs, the brand is in fine form.
Much to the excitement of Sony Corp (ADR) (NYSE:SNE) (TYO:6758) executives the PlayStation 4 has surpassed expectations in its first year and there is much to celebrate at Sony HQ, however a truly groundbreaking innovation in the same mold as the PlayStation has not been seen from the company in the past 20 years.
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The launch of the original PlayStation has been likened to the iPhone as a demonstration of how to force your way into an established market and ruffle some feathers. At the time the console market was dominated by Nintendo and Sega, while a planned 1991 collaboration between Sony and Nintendo was cancelled because of disagreements over revenue sharing. Sony went back to the drawing board and just a few years later released a product that blew competitors out of the water.
The fact that the Sony PlayStation was conceived with the idea of using CD-ROM discs and 3-D graphics was revolutionary at a time when the Nintendo 64 was still using cartridge technology. Of course the Sega Saturn used CD-ROM’s too, but was doomed by high-pricing and poor 3-D performance. Developers looking to attract older audiences with more realistic games found the perfect vehicle in the PlayStation.
Despite numerous technical advantages, the N-64 found itself losing both customers and developers to the PlayStation, whose CD-ROM’s could store more data and were cheaper to produce. The ease with which developers could experiment with new products meant that before long the PlayStation software library was unrivaled.
The PlayStation 2 continued the trend, as eventually did the PlayStation 3 after a rough start, however no Sony product has had such a significant impact as the original PlayStation.
Although there is so much to celebrate today, commentators have been left wondering when Sony will release its next genuinely revolutionary product. It would seem that the company has lost the knack that it developed with the release of the Walkman, Trinitron, Handycam and PlayStation.
While not wishing to take away from the achievements of the maturing PlayStation, would it be unreasonable to expect something more innovative from one of the giants of consumer technology?