Sony CEO: We're making 'baby steps' to strong products

Kazuo Hirai, who took the top spot at Sony last year, says his company is now product-oriented again

Nine months into his stint as Sony's CEO savior, Kazuo Hirai says the company is once again focused on the sleek gadgets that made it famous, but results will take time.

"We need to make sure that we have products that ... wow people, that move people emotionally," he told reporters at a group interview in Tokyo.

"We're making baby steps in that regard."

Hirai said Sony, coming off of a US$6 billion loss last fiscal year, needs to also start making money again, but "just being profitable probably isn't going to be enough."

The bilingual CEO said he has traveled around the world six or seven times visiting Sony's facilities since he took his post in April of last year. He now hand picks products that looks promising and actively supports their development.

"I'm shepherding several of those projects personally, myself, to make sure that they don't get held up in bureaucracy or don't suddenly fade away," he said.

While Hirai hasn't been in charge long enough to see such new products reach the shelves, he said he has had direct input on some existing projects. He cited the Cyber-shot RX1, a $US2800 digital camera with a full-frame 24 megapixel sensor.

Sony is in the midst of a restructuring that includes reducing its workers by 10,000 and closing factories, as well as investments in areas like mobile and imaging. The company says it is on track to return to profitability this fiscal year through March, but has struggled to come up with high-margin hit products.

The PlayStation Vita handheld game, first launched in 2011, is a key product that has not been as popular as the firm hoped. In November, Sony slashed its global target for portable game consoles, which also include the older generation PlayStation Portable, by 17 percent.

"It's probably on the lower end of our expected range," Hirai said of the Vita, adding that it is a platform that can only really be judged after it has been on the market for several years.

Hirai has also personally taken over the company's struggling TV business, and showed a 56-inch prototype of a 4K OLED TV at the CES exhibition earlier this month. Sony has a development partnership with Panasonic for OLED technology, but said mass production is still a ways off.

"At some point we do need to sit down and say, 'What's the manufacturing strategy?' but we haven't got there yet," he said.

He added he is open to alliances with other firms, as long as the right partners are included.

While there have been rumors that Sony is looking to sell off its entertainment holdings, Hirai said he likes the businesses because of its profitability and the synergies it offers with other areas. Sony is the only major manufacturer with music and movie holdings, which include James Bond and Spider-Man titles.

With a dearth of native content for the coming wave of 4K TV sets, which have four times the resolution of high definition, Sony will look to push its content out in the higher format and drive demand.

Sony is due to report its latest earnings for the holiday quarter next month.

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Jay Alabaster

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