Sony vs. Sonos: Comparing Apple battle plans

sony-s1-s2Something interesting is happening in the tech market. Companies that generally might compete with Apple are choosing instead to partner with them. Both Sonos and Pioneer are becoming Apple partners to leverage the iPad, iPhone, and iPod products, while companies like Sony and Samsung are competing with the company. Sony is putting a lot of effort into its new S1 and S1 tablets to run against the iPad, while Panasonic and Sonos use the tablets and Airport express to improve their own offerings. I’ve always thought, given Steve Jobs used Sony as a template when he rebuilt Apple, that Sony of all the vendors should have the best chance to win in a head-to-head fight. But it never has.

Let’s contrast the different strategies.

Competing with Apple

Taking Apple on head-to-head is daunting, as no one vendor has successfully done it outside of Microsoft (in certain product offerings) and even Microsoft has been unable to catch Apple from behind in the last two decades. Apple is currently unbeatable in MP3 players, and only faces real competition in the smartphone market because it is limited in terms of carriers and weaker overseas than in the US. Apple has over a year lead in the tablet space and total dominance right now.

Watching vendor after vender try to bring out a competing tablet over the last year has been a painful exercise as each has fallen woefully short, much like the iPod vendors did nearly a decade earlier.

sony-s1Sony recently announced its new S1 and S2 tablets, which are a case in point. Attractive, but their big differentiating features are the ability to run PlayStation 1 games (which are based on technology now two decades old) and include the ability to act as a remote control (at least for the S1) for Sony TVs, or for the S2 to be foldable.

Sony will undoubtedly spend a ton of money like Motorola did with the Xoom, but it is unlikely the company will sell many in what appears to be a repeat of the failed iPod strategy a decade earlier. It almost feels like folks are going through the motions, wanting the excuse when they fail that they just didn’t care that much about the fight.

Partnering with Apple

This is what Sonos and Panasonic are doing. Both are using the iPod line as remote controls, and are now integrating with Apple’s AirPort Express access point and related services to stream iTunes music to their devices. This is a “if you can’t beat them, join them” strategy, but there are clearly risks. Apple will block any functions they think are competitive and, at some point, they might look at what Sonos is doing in particular and decide to move in and take the business. I think it’s doubtful they will want to challenge Pioneer though, and build receivers.

On the other hand, if Apple doesn’t see Sonos as a threat or an attractive runaway success, which it doesn’t, Jobs and company are likely to leave Sonos alone and cooperate reasonably well with them. Neither Sony nor Sonos has to spend dear R&D dollars to develop iPods, iPhones, or iPads. Every owner of one of those devices already has a controller, and is at least part way to becoming a Pioneer or Sonos buyer. That’s part of why I chose the new Pioneer VSX 1021-k receiver for my new 3D setup; I already had two iPads I could use as controllers for it, and didn’t need to buy another expensive one. The app is free, making this an attractive deal. With the Sony approach, I’d have to buy a Sony receiver and an S1 tablet, paying twice as much for the same experience. That’s an easy choice.

Sony or Sonos, who wins?

It really comes down to whether you think you can win. Sonos and Pioneer are far too small to take Apple on, and it just makes much more sense to partner with the company. Sony believes it is big enough, and in fact I agree if Sony employees can put their mind to it and focus as a company, they would have a shot at kicking Apple’s butt. Only right now, they just aren’t bringing their “A” game.

I haven’t seen Sony focused enough to take on Apple in decades. If the S1 played PlayStation 3 games, or the S2 played current PSP games, I could see a fight. But Sony isn’t even coming to market with its best stuff in order to protect the other franchises. Maybe Sony’s size is working against it, and management simply doesn’t have the balls to take Apple on. “Could” and “will” are two very different words. Sonos and Pioneer know they can’t take Apple on, so are forced to make the right choice.

In the end, the lesson for any company looking to take on a goliath vendor that dominates its market is clear, whether that company is Microsoft, IBM, EMC, Oracle, Apple, Cisco, or Intel. Bring your “A” game. If you aren’t willing to play at that level, partner with them or go home.

The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not reflect the beliefs of Digital Trends.

Business

Apple loses battle to use Intel modems in Germany in latest clash with Qualcomm

Apple is following the Federal Trade Commission's lead and has sued Qualcomm for a massive $1 billion in the U.S., $145 million in China, and also in the U.K., claiming the company charged onerous royalties for its patented tech.
Computing

Get ready for new AirPods, MacBooks as rumored dates for Apple WWDC 2019 emerge

Apple developers and fans alike look forward, every year, to the company's World Wide Developer Conference, WWDC, and for this year, we already have the rumored dates that might bring us Apple's latest tech announcements.
Deals

Need a new tablet? Here are the best iPad deals for February 2019

In the wide world of tablets, Apple is still the king. If you're on team Apple and just can't live without iOS, we've curated an up-to-date list of all of the best iPad deals currently available for December 2018.
Deals

It’s time to check out the best Apple Watch deals for February 2019

The Apple Watch has surged to prominence in recent years. If you're in the market for an iOS wearable, we've sniffed out the best Apple Watch deals available right now for all three models of this great smartwatch.
Computing

These are the 6 best free antivirus apps to help protect your MacBook

Malware protection is more important than ever, even if you eschew Windows in favor of Apple's desktop platform. Thankfully, protecting your machine is as easy as choosing from the best free antivirus apps for Mac suites.
Mobile

The Apollo Traveller is the fastest recharging power bank we’ve ever used

Power banks are getting better all the time, but the Apollo Traveller from Elecjet hits new heights in terms of charging and recharging speeds thanks to the use of a graphene composite for cooling. Here's what happened when we tried it out.
Computing

This Mac keyboard is slim, dark, and clicky, but it’s still not perfect

There aren't many great mechanical keyboards for Macs. The Keychron K1 is just the latest attempt to join that hallowed group, but does its blend of style and substance tick all the boxes?
Computing

These 30 useful apps are absolutely essential for Mac lovers

There are literally hundreds of thousands of great software programs compatible with MacOS, but which should you download? Look no further than our list of the best Mac apps you can find.
Mobile

Need a date for Valentine's Day? Cozy up with the best dating apps of 2019

Everyone knows online dating can be stressful, time-consuming, and downright awful. Check out our top picks for the best dating apps, so you can streamline the process and find the right date, whatever you're looking for.
Computing

One of these monitors will look great next to your new MacBook Pro

Apple doesn't make its beloved Cinema Display monitors anymore, which makes finding the best monitor for the MacBook Pro more difficult. In this guide, we break down some of our favorites and offer something for every size and budget.
Mobile

Smartwatch sales soared in 2018, with Apple leading the charge

The NPD Group, a market research organization, has reported smartwatch sales soared in 2018. Apple is leading the charge, but it's clear there's still room in the market for competitors, as Samsung and Fitbit also did well.
Mobile

Worried about extra data charges? Here's how to check your usage on an iPhone

It's common to get a little nervous about nearing data limits. Keep your peace of mind by checking how much data your iPhone is using. Our guide on how to check data usage on an iPhone helps you stay in control.
Mobile

New Apple patent hints clamshell-style foldable phone may be in the works

Apple has filed a patent for a foldable phone that suggests the company could be following in the footsteps of the likes of Samsung and Huawei. The patent describes a clamshell-style foldable phone with two separate sections.
Home Theater

Hi-res streaming audio service Qobuz arrives in U.S., threatens Tidal’s monopoly

For several years, Tidal enjoyed a monopoly on hi-res music streaming in the U.S. Now, French company Qobuz is here to offer some competition with a variety of monthly plans starting at $10 a month.