Sony enters business PC market

Sony Corp. is making an aggressive move into the business computing market with the launch in Japan on Wednesday of the “Vaio Business” brand and a lightweight laptop computer that’s the product of feedback from more than a thousand business people.

The company, which is already one of Japan’s top laptop PC makers, hopes to expand its enterprise business by 50 percent year-over-year between now and 2009 so it accounts for 30 percent of its domestic computer sales in 2009.

Sony ranked ninth in the enterprise laptop market in the second quarter of this year with a 2.4 percent share, according to data from IDC. The market leader was NEC Corp., which enjoyed a 23.1 percent share, followed by Fujitsu Ltd. (16.4 percent), Toshiba Corp. (14.3 percent), Dell Inc. (12.8 percent) and Lenovo Group Ltd. (10.4 percent), the market research company said.

To kick-off its more aggressive push to enterprise customers, Sony will begin selling on Dec. 2 the Vaio Type G laptop. The computer is the product of feedback from about 1,300 people and is also the lightest laptop with a 12.1-inch screen on the market, according to Sony. At 898 grams the computer’s light weight surprised most people who picked it up at a Tokyo news conference on Wednesday.

The secret to the Type G’s lightness comes in part from a Carbon body. Sony has also employed Carbon in the heatsink for the processor and graphics chips to reduce the size and weight. The machine will work for about six hours on a fully-charged standard battery and will survive a drop from a table without damage, said Sony. There’s also a light AC adapter that is the same thickness as the computer so it won’t cause a bulge in a bag.

“The small, thin and light market within the business market is growing and that’s the area where we can show our strength in terms of product and technology,” said Yoshihisa Ishida, a Sony senior vice president and head of the company’s Vaio business, in an interview.

Sony has also prepared a package of aftercare services to cater to business users. These include a help desk dedicated to Vaio Business customers, a 3-year guarantee and — for the legions of Japanese salarymen who take frequent business trips — the promise that a service technician will come to wherever the customer is should that be necessary.

In its battle for the enterprise market Sony might have an ally in business users.

“From the commercial user’s survey, Sony laptops were ranked number one,” said Masahiro Katayama, PC research manager at IDC Japan, in e-mailed comments. “So Sony has a good image among business customers especially from the design point of view. But from the reliability point of view, not only for laptops but also other products, customers don’t have a good image of Sony. The recent battery recall hasn’t helped that.”

Vaio Business as a brand will initially be restricted to Japan, said Ishida. In some markets, such as the U.S., the company already promotes laptops to enterprise users under names like Vaio Professional.

“I think it’s not easy to do,” Ishida said about the difficulty Sony might face in convincing Japanese companies that its machines are just as suited to business as they are to consumer use. He noted that Sony has been getting into the business market in other countries for several years and enterprise customers make up a “pretty high revenue share” of its total business in some countries.

Sony doesn’t have any plans to sell the Type G machine overseas at present, he said.

When it goes on sale in Japan on Dec. 2, it will cost between

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