Sony scores smash hit with new form factor Vaio

If Sony Corp.’s recently launched Vaio W computer was a song, it would have debuted at number one on the Billboard chart with a bullet.

As it is, the new computer, a desktop machine that tries to compete with the laptops for size, has been sitting pretty at the top of Japan’s PC sales chart for a month now and such is the demand that getting one is proving to be a major headache for consumers. The success of the product proved a surprise for Sony, which sold in a single day what it had expected to sell during the first month.

Behind the machine’s success are its form factor, functions and surprising price.

The company began work on the machine after market research showed that, while more than half of Japanese consumers were buying laptop computers, they were not buying them for mobility but because they took up a small amount of space — an important consideration in the type of one-room or two-room apartment in which young Japanese typically live. Figures from IDC Japan Ltd. for the fourth quarter of 2001 estimate 58 per cent of all consumer PC sales in Japan during the period were laptops — around double that of most other countries.

When not in use, the Vaio W takes up less space on a desk than a notebook computer. This is thanks to a keyboard that folds up to cover the lower half of the display when it is not needed. Sensing this action, the PC will automatically shut itself down and a software clock will appear in the half of the display that is not covered. The main body of the machine is also built into a case behind the monitor, and the screen can be pushed to a vertical position when not in use, further saving desktop real estate.

The machine is based on Intel Corp.’s 1.2GHz Celeron processor, a value chip that helps keep the price low, and has 256M bytes of main memory, a 40G-byte hard disk drive, CD-RW/DVD-ROM combo drive, TV tuner, Ethernet port and IEEE1394 i.Link port. It is also loaded with Sony’s GigaPocket LE software, which emulates a VCR and allows users to record TV programs using the hard disk drive, and so can do duty as a PC, DVD player, TV and VCR all in one.

All of this has led to stellar sales. A closely followed local sales chart, which draws data from point-of-sales systems at 561 stores of 12 major retail chains, gave the Vaio W a 20 per cent market share during the third week of February. That’s one in five of all desktop machines sold, not just Sony machines. The top-ranking machine in the chart usually achieves somewhere around a 5 per cent or 6 per cent rating and PC manufacturers usually claim a hit product when they achieve a market share of around 8 per cent.

“They are selling very well,” said Kumi Shingyouchi, a senior PC market analyst at market research company IDC Japan Ltd. “I have to say, this is a very special case for one model. Even the iMac didn’t sell this well.”

Sony says the attractive design and features are pulling prospective customers into PC shops just to look at the machine and, when they see the price, turning them into actual customers. At