There are certain companies and brands out there that over time develop a strong connection with their customers, an almost cult-like following, if you will. The three that come to mind for me are Lenovo with its Thinkpad, Apple and the MacBook Pro, and Sony's VAIO line. What all of these companies have is an unwavering strategy to provide a great product and experience, without the constraints of meeting a low target price by compromising on features. But sometimes this leaves the most coveted customer, the average user, out in the cold.
Now we have news that Sony is revamping its VAIO brand by adding a "division two" tier of products that will be designed and produced by its partners, as compared to the "division one" products that Sony handles from start to finish. Most die-hard VAIO fans are probably cringing at the mere thought of brand dilution, but I think it's a fantastic idea, especially if it can help revive Sony's handheld line.
I've never owned a VAIO UX series device, but I always marveled at what Sony was able to cram in there, and the specs even today are still right in the ballpark. But the price was always prohibitive to the person looking at a pocketable computer for the first time, whereas the gadget geeks snapped them up no matter what. Imagine what could be done with "division two," where a new UX or something similar could possibly be priced $300 less than what it would normally be.
Take out a few features here and there, like the backlit keyboard or the included dock, and the price drops. Maybe the partner manufacturers have a different take on certain component designs or have less-expensive avenues to acquire parts. Sony would still retain final say on all designs, but the main difference is that now any new devices could be better positioned to achieve mainstream acceptance instead of remaining niche products.
The same thing could apply to a new version of the VAIO P series, which suffered from the outset because of high pricing, at least in comparison to the perceived netbook comparison. The 8-inch 1600 x 768 ultra-res screen is great and all, but it's a screen that only Sony uses. Would the user experience be that much worse with a screen running at a slightly lower resolution, one that could possibly shave $150 or more off the final price?
The UX and the P are just two examples of what Sony could eventually farm out to the new "division two," but if it also wants to get into the tablet market as it has hinted, the company will have no choice but to keep the price down in this new segment. There are plenty of companies like ASUS and Acer that will be working on Android-based tablets, so Sony would be smart to hook its wagon to one of these designs and reach a larger market, rather than starting from scratch and coming out with a $999+ device that flops.
For any of the VAIO owners out there, what are your thoughts on the prospect of new and lower-priced Sony models, and would this diminish your view of their quality? Since most companies rarely manufacture what they sell, I applaud Sony for making a change that will hopefully lead to some exciting UMPCs or tablets that will enable them to stay competitive.