Wow - Sony’s *killing it* in cameras and elsewhere! (Plus, a really cool headset-trainer-thingie.)

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posted Thursday, September 17, 2015 at 6:28 PM EDT

Sony Electronics has been through some pretty heavy changes in recent years, but they’ve seemed to be doing pretty well with imaging and cameras, despite problems elsewhere in the corporation. I had no idea just how well until this past Tuesday, when I got to hear a presentation on their year-to-date progress. It's pretty amazing. (I also got to see the cool non-photo gadget being modeled in the photo above right; scroll to the bottom to learn more about that.)

Sony Corporation's travails and 2014 blood-letting (they laid off 10,000 workers in 2014; 5,000 of those in the US alone) are well-known, but it's looking like this is going to be a turnaround story for the record books.

I attended a "President's Roundtable" meeting in New York yesterday, where we heard from Sony Electronics US President and COO Mike Fasulo and other executives, with an update on their corporate fortunes and some new/recent-product discussion.
 

 
This somewhat busy graphic breaks down the financial details for Sony Electronics' current fiscal year. Sales are up nicely, but probably even more important for them is the amount they're contributing back to Sony corporate.

The story's a pretty impressive one; particularly given how quickly the turnaround has happened. The graphic above breaks things down for Sony Electronics as a whole, which covers TVs and Audio as well as Cameras. ("PY" in the chart means Prior Year) So far this year, sales are up 25% over last year, costs are down, and Sony Electronics contribution to mothership profits is up 36%.

That last is particularly important: Our strong sense is that Sony Corporate is waking up to the potential of Sony Electronics in general, and the Digital Imaging group in particular, which will mean more corporate resources directed there. We've been impressed by what Sony's DI team has cranked out over the last few years; it seems like even greater things are in store for the next few. (One of the people I met at the event was a DI product planner from Japan; boy, what I'd give to know what's in his head!)
 

 
This chart shows industry trends vs prior year on the left, and Sony's sales figures on the right. Cameras like the A6000 and A7 series have helped Sony significantly outperform the market.

As good as the overall Sony Electronics numbers are, the ones for interchangeable lens camera (ILC) sales are even more dramatic. The chart above shows industry trends for the 2013 through June of this year on the left, and Sony's ILC sales on the right.

Looking at the industry trends, it's pretty clear that the trend for SLRs continues its downward trajectory, although year to date hasn't been quite as bad as the last two. Mirrorless suffered along with everyone else in 2013, but since then has posted steady gains, albeit from a much lower base.

Sony's results, though, show just how well they've managed to ride the mirrorless wave. The presentation included stats from market research firm NPD, stating that Sony has been the #1 mirrorless camera maker for the last four years running. As with everyone else, 2013 was pretty awful, but check out the numbers since then. For the first half of 2015, their ILC sales were up 42% over 2014. Let's underscore that: 42 freakin' percent growth, in a generally down market. 

While bad news for their competitors, this is good news for photographers. Sony has shown an impressive ability to develop technology and innovate, and I guarantee that the results the DI division is turning in will translate into even more investment there going forward. I have no idea what's coming next, but am confident that the next few years will see even greater advances than we've seen in the last few.

Stay tuned, its going to be an interesting ride!

And now for something entirely different...

This is really waaay outside our wheelhouse, but I had to at least note the one brand-new product Sony announced at the roundtable event, a gadget they're calling the Smart B-Trainer. (I have no idea where they come up with these names, unless B perhaps stands for Bluetooth.) 

 
It's only a little bigger than two conventional Bluetooth headsets, but the Sony Smart B-Trainer packs in a 16GB music player, GPS, compass, accelerometer, gyro, barometer and heart-rate monitor. I can see it being a pretty appealing gadget for runners.

It's kind of like a 2015 fitness-obsessed version of the Sony Walkman, but that doesn't remotely do it justice. It's a headband/earbud setup, with 16GB of memory inside to hold your favorite workout tunes. That's just the beginning, though; this thing practically bristles with sensors, with a heartbeat sensor, accelerometer/gyro, GPS, compass and barometer (for altitude measurements, I'd imagine). 

Here's the cool thing; you can upload workout programs into it (through either iOS or Android apps), and it'll not only talk you through them via a synthesized female voice, but will automatically change the songs you're listening to, to encourage you to either pick up your pace with faster numbers, or slow down with slower ones if you're hitting the heart-rate threshold you've set.

 
No, the Smart B-Trainer won't make you look this good, but at least the device itself is pretty sleekly designed :-)

Sony's partnered with sports giant ASICS to bring this to market; it'll first show up in specialty running stores, later making its way to mass retail. At $250 a pop, it's far from cheap, but is just so cool that I don't think they're going to have any trouble selling boatloads of them. I haven't been a runner for more years than the model above has probably been alive, but might buy one anyway, as an inducement to getting myself out walking regularly, vs sitting at a keyboard 12 hours/day...

All in all, a pretty impressive morning for Sony.