MEET YOUR MAKER -- SONY
When did it all begin?
During the Second World War an engineer called Masaru Ibuka
ran a firm called Japan Precision Instruments. In October 1945, together with a
Akio Morita, a young navy lieutenant and heir to a long-established Sake
brewing company, they established Tokyo Tsushin Kogyo or TTK.
What did they make?
After an uncertain start one of TTK’s first products was a professional studio console,
built for NHK, the national broadcasting company. Through a contact in the US occupation
forces Ibuka was shown a military tape recorder, which he immediately
identified as a product the company should be manufacturing. At that time the
only plastic magnetic tape was made by 3M in the US, and in very short supply. The
resourceful Japanese company developed their own paper tape, then Ibuka and
Morita set about designing a precision deck mechanism, to use the fragile paper
tape. Their first tape recorder was the Type G in 1950. Initially sales were
poor but they persisted and it became popular in restaurants and bars, some
were sold to courts but the big success came when they managed to sell them to
More tape recorders followed. In 1954 they were granted a
licence to manufacture transistors. The world’s first transistor radio the
TR-55 followed in 1955.
How about the Sony name?
The change from TTK to Sony happened in 1958. According to
Akio Morita’s biography, they were trawling through dictionaries looking for a new,
more manageable name for the company and came across the Latin word sonus,
meaning sound. It clicked immediately with the phrase ‘sonny boys’, contemporary
Japanese slang for whizz-kids. That quickly evolved into Sony, a word that didn’t
actually mean anything but it had favourable connotations, and it worked in any
What else have they developed?
It’s a very long list. It includes the first all transistor
TV in 1959, first transistorised video tape recorder in 1961 and first portable VTR in 1963. The Trinitron
picture tube arrived in 1968, in the same year Sony UK was established. The
U-Matic video cassette system was introduced in 1972, Betamax followed in 1975 and
the Walkman was launched in 1979. They originated the concept of AV integration
back in 1978, with the Profeel System. In
1980 they showed the first prototype camcorder and still video camera and in a
joint venture with Philips, announced Digital Audio Disc or DAD, later to be
known as Compact Disc. Since the early eighties there’s been 8mm and Hi8 video
tape formats, MiniDisc, DAT, Plasmatron, DVC, DVD and countless other consumer,
business, broadcasting and industrial technologies.
But why is their stuff so expensive?
They pour literally millions of yen, dollars and pounds into
research and development, in fact they spend proportionately more on R&D than
any other consumer electronics company, helping to keep them well ahead of the
pack. Their products are generally built to a higher standard; at least bits
don’t drop off quite so easily, and they have a good reputation for longevity
What about the future?
You name it, they’re involved, from communication to telecommunications,
display-screens to video games, and not just on the consumer side, they’re
leading players in the recording, broadcasting and movie industries. They’ve
got so many fingers in so many pies that it’s almost impossible to say what’s
coming next. However, the recurrent theme is the steady integration of consumer
electronics and home entertainment through digital technology. They’re the
first to admit they don’t know where it’s all leading, but you get the distinct
impression they’ll be the first to find out.
R. Maybury 1997 1403