"I loved that little dog," said my pal. "What's more amazing is that my parents did too. They begged me to keep it, even though I'd told them that I couldn't, and when it got taken away they were really sad."
I blinked. "Who took your dog away?"
"Oh, the PRs, of course."
I've seen PRs do some bad things. I've heard they do worse. But stealing a guy's dog? I express my condolences, seasoned with incredulity.
"That's OK" he said. "But now they've killed off the entire project, I'll never get another."
"This dog," I said, "wouldn't happen to be…"
"An Aibo, yes."
Ah. Yes. Sony's killed off its robotic projects — presumably because they're not going to make any money, ever, which seems like a reasonable call to me — and some of its MP3 development. It's sacked the man who brought us the rootkit, and it's back in the game in laptops. Is it a new company?
No. The stench of doom is beginning to puddle around the PS3 for the simple reasons it will cost too much and do too little while being too late. It might have a better chance if it didn't come with Blu-Ray, which is going to drive the cost up dramatically without really delivering a huge advantage, but Sony retains its blind spot on media.
Take the otherwise awesome PlayStation Portable. Around a year old, it still retains the aura of alien technology delivered to earth by designers of superhuman power. The screen is so good, it ruins other devices in the same room even when turned off: forget about the Video iPod, this is by some way the right way to watch video on a portable device.
Yet you can't. You have to buy content on Sony's own ultra-controlled and ridiculously named Universal Media Disc format. These are a cross between minidisks and DVD, with the difference that you can't buy burners for them. The only people who can make them are Sony licencees, and they have to follow Sony's strict rules. The result — the format is dying as a video distribution channel. The films aren't selling, the retailers are taking them off the shelves and that whole side of the PSP is shrivelling on the vine. Sony thought that everyone would be happy to pay again for DVDs they already own — as the PSP has no video or TV output, you can't play a UMD on anything with a bigger screen, so you'll always need to buy both DVD and UMD. Oddly, everyone is not happy.
Sony has been successful in maintaining control over the standard. There are no piracy problems. It has complete DRM in place on the PSP's video capabilities, nobody can take information off it or play information on it without Sony's OK. According to the industry, that's what you need to ensure big profits and a compliant audience. According to the audience, that stinks.
Are there signs of Sony changing policy? Sadly, no. So I'd hold off on the 'Sony is a new company now' theories — Aibo may yet have died in vain.