- Sony Chief Executive Howard Stringer
bristles every time he gets the question: Why can't the Japanese electronics giant be more like Apple?
The maker of the iPod, iPhone, and Mac computers consistently delivers supercool gadgets that are easy to use, while Sony sells music players, TVs, and cameras that get mixed reviews and often don't even work well with other Sony (SNE) products.
"Sony is a very big company," Stringer says by way of explanation. "Our toughest competitors are niche organizations."
Stringer is quick to admit, though, that Sony may face a troubled future if it can't rival Apple (AAPL) in creating simple software that makes its gadgets fun and in giving consumers easy access to music and videos.
Apple's iTunes store has long made filling iPods a cinch, but Sony's consumer electronics and PlayStation divisions have only recently started to integrate their offerings with those of the company's movie studio and music label. That's one likely reason why Sony's products earn profit margins of 10% or so, compared with the 30% margins that Apple's devices command.
So Stringer went straight to the source. Three years ago, he hired Tim Schaaff, a top lieutenant of Apple CEO Steve Jobs, and created the title of senior vice-president for software development...