TIME Turnarounds

How Sony Got Up and Out of Its Death Bed

President and CEO of Sony Corporation Hirai speaks at a Sony news conference during the 2015 International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas
Steve Marcus—Reuters President and CEO of Sony Corporation Kazuo Hirai speaks at a Sony news conference during the 2015 International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, Jan. 5, 2015.

For the first time in a decade, the electronics company has a shot

In the annals of consumer electronics companies that have slipped from great heights, none has taken a bigger fall far from its glory days than Sony. But after years of struggling to right itself, the company is finally making real progress on a turnaround.

Just as Apple helped revive itself in the early 2000s with the iPod, Sony built much of its success on the idea of helping people carry music around in their pocket–first with the transistor radio in the 50s and 60s and later with the Walkman portable cassette player. Those products, coupled with smart engineering, made the Sony brand synonymous with peerless quality.

In the early 2000s, Sony began to lose its competitive edge. Rivals like Samsung had emerged to undercut its higher-priced TVs and stereos. Sony couldn’t get a foothold in new markets like mp3 players. Its earlier expansion into new areas like insurance and its overspending on film and music studios left it with a structure that was at once bloated and siloed.

Sony named Howard Stringer as CEO in 2005 to turn things around. Stringer cut a charismatic figure, but couldn’t speak Japanese and, as a lifelong media executive, lacked an engineering background. Stringer tried to conjure a convergence of electronics and media properties that never quite gelled. (Stringer is on the board of Time Inc.) Meanwhile, further setbacks struck: the global recession in 2009, the Fukushima earthquake in 2011 and a stronger yen that hurt Japanese exports.

MORE: How Apple Just Save Best Buy

Sony has posted net losses for six of the past seven years. As a result, the price of its ADRs traded on the NYSE fell from $55 in early 2008 to below $10 in late 2012. (An ADR is a stock that trades in the U.S. but represents a specific number of shares in a foreign corporation.) Its credit ratings eventually fell to near junk levels. But then things began to look up: After bottoming out below $10 in 2012, its ADRs have risen back near $33 this month, a rally of 238% in the last two and a half years.

The change came after Sony replaced Stringer with Kazuo Hirai in early 2012. Hirai was a Sony veteran known for wringing profits from troubled businesses like the PlayStation gaming division. And like Stringer, Hirai didn’t fit the mold of the Japanese salaryman. Hirai grew up in Japan and North America, giving him a fluency in English and also a gift for being plainspoken, like when he told the Wall Street Journal on taking the job, “It’s one issue after another. I feel like, “Holy shit, now what?”

Hirai began an ambitious restructuring of Sony over the three years that followed. He quickly announced a “One Sony” structure that built on Stringer’s convergence with an emphasis on communication and joint decisions among siloed divisions. He focused the electronics business on mobile, gaming and imaging products. Over time, he cut thousands of jobs, sold off the Vaio PC unit, separated the ailing TV business into its own company and overhauled the smartphone lineup.

All of this added to financial losses with restructuring charges and made for a tumultuous 2014. But the low point came last November, with the infamous hack that left sensitive documents from Sony Pictures Entertainment in public view. But it was just around this time when some analysts began voicing their conviction in a Sony turnaround. The turnaround painstakingly plotted by Stringer and Hirai was finally bearing fruit.

That became more evident when Sony reported its most recent earnings. There were encouraging signs in the past year’s finances, like revenue rising 6% and the TV business posting its first profit in 11 years. But the better news was in the cautious forecast for the coming year.

MORE: These Are the Fastest Growing Cities in America

The bulk of the restructuring was behind Sony, CFO Kenichiro Yoshida said, and while revenue may decline 4% this fiscal year, operating profit would rise fourfold to $2.6 billion, its highest profit since 2008. Hirai had earlier projected net income to rise above $4 billion by 2018, which would be its biggest profit since 1998, before the great fall began.

There’s still some restructuring to do. The revenue decrease this year will come largely from Sony’s move away from mid-range mobile phones to focus on the high end of the market. While camera sales continue to decline, Sony is seeing strong growth in imaging sensors used in smartphones. Overall, Sony will be a smaller company in terms of revenue but with bigger sales and slow, steady move from aging markets into growing ones.

A turnaround needs more than cost cutting and restructuring. Sony has a long road ahead to go from playing catch-up in technology markets to playing a leading role in new ones. That step requires a lot more work, but Sony’s return to profitability makes a major turnaround as feasible as it’s been in more than a decade.

TIME Gadgets

Ultra-Cheap Chromebook Laptops Are Killing it This Year

Inside The Google Chromebook Store
Bloomberg via Getty Images An employee demonstrates a Samsung Electronics Co. Chromebook laptop in the Google Inc. sales area at a Currys and PC World 2 in 1 store, operated by Dixons Retail Plc, on Tottenham Court Road in London, U.K.

The Google devices even managed to beat out the iPad in one category

Google’s line of Internet-dependent Chromebooks are increasingly growing out of their niche market. The laptops are expected to sell 7.3 million units this year, according to research firm Gartner. That’s a 27% increase over 2014. North America remains the largest Chromebook market by far, with six million of this year’s sales expected to come in that region.

Schools in particular have proven a popular market for Google’s computers. Last year the education sector comprised 72% of Chromebook sales, and Google even managed to beat out the iPad in shipments to schools. Chromebooks are considerably cheaper than full-sized iPads, which helps explain their appeal to school administrators.

Businesses, meanwhile, haven’t embraced the laptops as much. In the U.S., only about 1% of Chromebook sales come from the business sector, according to Gartner. Chromebooks generally have little internal storage, instead encouraging users to save content to the cloud. They also can’t run the desktop version of Microsoft Office, a staple of workplaces everywhere.

TIME Gadgets

This Origami Drone Folds Up and Fits in Your Pocket

It can unfold and deploy in half a second

For all those who are tired of dealing with those pesky cumbersome drones: finally, here’s one that can fold up and fit in your pocket.

The little, origami-inspired quadcopters can unfold and deploy themselves in half a second, Live Science reports.

Dario Floreano, who led the research on the drone, told Live Science, “You can take it out of the box, switch on the motor, and it’s ready to fly.”

Researchers say they could be used to take photographs and make contact with survivors in disaster zones.

Future models of these drones will be lighter with stronger arms that could withstand crashes, according to Mashable. The current prototype has been patented and will debut May 25 at a robotics conference in Seattle.

TIME Apple

This Is the Version of the Apple Watch Most People Are Buying

Apple Watch Consumer Reports
David Paul Morris—Bloomberg Customers look at Apple Watches on display at an Apple Store in Palo Alto, Calif., on April 10, 2015.

Analyst also points out one troubling sign

For Apple Watch sales, bigger is better.

The bigger, 42mm version of Apple’s new smartwatch is selling way better than the smaller, 38mm version, according to a new research note by analyst Ming-Chi Kuo of KGI Securities. The Apple-watcher blog Appleinsider reported the note earlier Wednesday.

Kuo, who has a reputation for accurate Apple predictions, said big Apple Watches could make up 80% of all watch orders. Kuo speculated that men tended to order the bigger watches—suggesting that men are buying most of the Apple Watches.

The bad news for Apple is that “market demand for Apple Watch may be slowing down” since Apple started taking watch orders in late April, Kuo wrote. Kuo slashed KGI’s forecast for watch orders through September by 20% to 30%, meaning Apple could ship less than 15 million units during that time, according to the blog 9to5Mac. That’s a good bit less than some industry forecasts that Apple could ship 20 to 30 million watches in that stretch, according to 9to5Mac.

Kuo compared the Apple Watch to the iPhone, saying it had “potential” but could take a little while to catch on, according to Appleinsider.

Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment. It has already said it won’t reveal sales numbers for the Apple Watch. Apple’s share price wasn’t responding—it was flat in early afternoon trading on Wednesday.

TIME Gadgets

Here’s When You’ll Be Able to Buy an Apple Watch in Stores

Apple Watch in Stores by June, Tim Cook Says
Justin Sullivan—Getty Images Apple CEO Tim Cook shows off the new iPhone 6 and the Apple Watch during an Apple special event at the Flint Center for the Performing Arts on Sept. 9, 2014 in Cupertino, Calif.

They're currently available only through online order

The Apple Watch will be on sale in stores by June after previously being available only through online order, CEO Tim Cook said during a recent trip to China.

Cook also confirmed for the first time that the June in-store rollout will include China, 9to5Mac reports. Some early online orders for the Apple Watch have been pushed back to June, which means new customers won’t have to wait several months to bring the smartwatch home. It also means that anyone looking to purchase the Apple Watch now—shipping dates are in July—might be better off waiting until the device becomes available in a nearby Apple store.

The June target for walk-in purchases is consistent with what Angela Ahrendts, Apple’s senior vice president of retail and online stores, told Apple Store employees in April, weeks before the Apple Watch first became available.

Read next: 7 Most Surprising Things About Owning an Apple Watch

TIME Gadgets

You’ll Never Guess Who Just Perfected the Keyboard

KFC

Consider eating and typing solved

KFC is furnishing some German diners with Bluetooth-enabled paper keyboards so they can type into their phones and tablets with greasy fingers, obviating the need to hose down their devices with liquid detergent after lunch. It’s a brilliant, weird, slightly disturbing development.

The rechargeable “Tray Typer” replaces the usual piece of paper that comes atop food trays agh the fast-food chain. The product was developed by a company called Serviceplan and used by KFC as part of an ad campaign. Maybe the best thing about Tray Typer is that it’s reusable — after being wiped down, of course. Serviceplan claims that during the campaign in Germany, every single Tray Typer was taken home by consumers.

It seems unlikely that KFC will make Tray Typer a mainstay in its restaurants. It’s basically a constant reminder of how greasy its food is. Not that people don’t realize this, of course, but it’s usually not anything a food company, even one that’s essentially in the grease business, wants to continually highlight.

The Verge called the Tray Typer a “first world solution to a first world problem.”

This isn’t KFC’s first foray into the peripherals business, or even the strangest. In Japan last year, it offered keyboards, mice, and thumb drives in fried-chicken.

TIME Gadgets

Are Smart Thermostats Worth Buying?

Google To Buy Smart Thermostat Maker Nest For 3.2 Billion
George Frey—Getty Images In this photo illustration, a Nest thermostat is being adjusted in a home on January 16, 2014 in Provo, Utah.

And 4 of the best on the market

For the most part, I’m an early adopter. In my opinion, Launch Day should be a holiday, right up there with May the Fourth and St. Patrick’s Day. But when it comes to smart home technology — at least, home electronics that are expensive or require complex installation — I tend to move at the reluctant pace of a dedicated laggard. That’s because today’s tech is as much about the ecosystem as it is the product. Gadget makers aren’t necessarily trying to peddle you a gadget; they’re selling an upgrade cycle.

Homeowners don’t want this — not even tech-laden kings of the castle like myself. So, when smart thermostats started hitting the shelves years ago, rather than being the first on my block to install one, I sat back and watched. Last year, Nest co-founder Matt Rogers told me the company isn’t worried about getting people to upgrade yet.

“When we get to 50 million U.S. households, then we’ll start worrying about turnover,” Rogers said. In the meantime, the company has continually improved its product, currently in its second generation, with dozens of free software updates. “We’ve been able to update even to the first generation unit,” he says.

From the sidelines, I confess that I’m late to the game. The fundamental technologies in these devices (Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, light sensors, thermometers) are not only refined, but they’re also timeless, or at least backwards compatible. I’m convinced the smart thermostat of yesterday will still be an ample energy-saving gadget tomorrow. So, on the eve of getting a heat pump installed at my home — I’m switching from a gas furnace to a year-round, climate-controlled utopia — I’m faced with the question of how to best manage my HVAC system.

These four options are the best contenders.

Allure Eversense

You might not have heard of the Allure Eversense, but it’s quite possible you’ve listened to it. Part smart heating controller, part media center, this clever $249 device takes advantage of the thermostat’s central location in your home to do double-duty as a small speaker system. With just a 1.0 gigahertz processor and eight gigabytes of storage, this unit is ripe for obsolescence, but it really doesn’t take much computing power to kick out some tunes. And with Wi-Fi connectivity, it can stream directly from your Android or iOS device, anyhow.

Its 4.3-inch touchscreen is able to display the weather (including an animated radar) or your photos with its Picture Frame app. But the big deal is the the smarts in this unit, with its ability to track your location, both inside and out of the house, turning off the heat or air conditioning when you’re away, and starting it when you’re on your way home. Since I work from home, this isn’t very helpful for me, not to mention the privacy concerns I have over being monitored like that. But it’s probably no worse than the location tracking that Find My iPhone already does.

Ecobee3

Every home is different. With that in mind, Ecobee3 offers a versatile solution to temperature control by connecting to remote sensors all over the house, detecting the conditions where you actually want your heat or cool air to reach. Detecting movement and temperature, these sensors feed data to the main thermostat, a Wi-Fi-connected fixture that packs motion, proximity and humidity sensors itself. Basing its smarts on what kind of HVAC equipment you have (conventional, heat pump, gas, or dual fuel) and the weather, the $249 smart device ($313, for a package that comes with a pair of extra sensors) can sense if you are home and control the climate accordingly.

On the plus side, Ecobee3’s ability to heat and cool far-flung rooms makes this a good option for my home (and my attic workspace). But by catering to the far corners of my house, it will probably over-heat or over-cool the main living area — as well as wipe out any savings I might get from being more energy conscious.

Honeywell Lyric

A longtime giant of the HVAC industry, Honeywell isn’t giving up control of the world’s heat to anyone, especially not these digital upstarts. And in pairing up with Apple (and its upcoming HomeKit smart home initiative), Honeywell has a great opportunity to continue on as a force in this space. But the Lyric — at least this version of it — might not be the device to do that. Using geofencing to know when to turn your system on, the $249 thermostat monitors your location like the Eversense. But it also takes into account the relative humidity in your home to make sure 72 degrees actually feels like 72 degrees (and not like 80 degrees, which is how it feels when the air is humid). Lyric’s Android and iOS app let you create shortcuts to change your temperature settings to particular preferences as well as to schedule them to come on and off, automatically.

This is a fresh change from learning thermostats because it offers the homeowner more granular control. But the reason to hold off is this product’s unclear HomeKit compatibility. As far as I’ve been told, HomeKit-compatible products will require a special chip that has not yet become available. So, if Lyric is to be HomeKit compatible, it probably won’t be the model currently on store shelves.

Nest Learning Thermostat

The smart thermostat that started it all ends this list. Gorgeous to look at, and making your home energy bill pretty too, this $249 game-changer has stood up well since it was first released in 2011, due to continual updates (as mentioned above) and timeless good looks.

But Nest is also popular because it doesn’t take any programming whatsoever. Just put it on the wall while you go about your business. Nest’s auto-scheduling feature takes over from there, turning up when you typically like it warmer, down when you tend to want it cooler, and off when you head off to work. But if you can’t keep your hands off the brushed metal device, turning it below a certain point will prompt a leaf to pop up on the screen, a sign that you’re saving energy. The most cost-saving feature of Nest it its ability to detect when you’re home or away, but since I’m here more often than I’m not, that’s not likely to help me much. And, since my thermostat sits right next to the stairs to my office, it may just be a constant reminder of a bad decision. Perhaps I should continue to hold out on this purchase, after all.

TIME Gadgets

This is the Ultimate MacBook Accessory

The Voltus as displayed on their Kickstarter page.
Voltus The Voltus as displayed on their Kickstarter Page

A new Kickstarter project is focused on selling a portable battery for Apple's newest MacBook.

Hate lugging your MacBook electrical cord around with you? A portable MacBook charger might be the answer.

Voltus is a palm-sized battery that charges Apple’s new 12-inch MacBook as fast as a wall charger, according to the device’s Kickstarter campaign, which started Tuesday. The device connects to the laptop’s new USB-C port, which allows faster data transfer speeds and charging than the older style USB port.

Voltus says it will power a MacBook for up to 9 hours, while a Voltus Pro will power the computer for up to 13 hours. The mobile power source can also charge two other USB devices simultaneously, from iPhones to cameras to printers.

Voltus is available for pre-orders starting at $149, with the first devices expected to be shipped by August.

TIME Apple watch

What You Need to Know About the First Big Apple Watch Update

Apple Watch Consumer Reports
David Paul Morris—Bloomberg Customers look at Apple Watches on display at an Apple Store in Palo Alto, Calif., on April 10, 2015.

1.0.1 contains bug fixes and performance improvements

Apple released the Apple Watch’s first post-launch software update on Tuesday, bringing a wide range of fixes and improvements to the smartwatch’s performance.

Watch OS 1.0.1 offers improved performance for Siri, accessibility and third-party apps, according to the software update. The fixes to third-party app usage could be the update’s most important aspect, given how many users have complained about how slow apps work on the smartwatch.

Version 1.0.1 also provides display support for new Emoji characters, and additional language support for Brazilian Portuguese, Danish, Dutch, Swedish, Russian, Thai and Turkish. Two specific health tracking functions are addressed as well: Calorie counting for indoor cycling and rowing workouts, and distance and pace measurements for outdoor workouts.

The update can be installed through your iPhone.

TIME Gadgets

Are 4K Televisions Worth Buying Yet?

Sony Corp. Unveils New Bravia TVs
Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images An attendant walks past Sony Corp. Bravia 4K liquid crystal display (LCD) televisions displayed at a launch event in Tokyo, Japan, on Wednesday, May 13, 2015.

They may be cheaper, but where's the content?

Over the past holiday season, 4K televisions were among the hottest gadgets to fly off the shelves. But here we are, nearly six months later, and you have to wonder if some consumers have buyer’s remorse. There’s no arguing that the screens on these living room fixtures are great, but are they really four times better than the 1080p televisions many of us already have?

“When you go 4K, you’re getting four times the resolution, four times the pixel data that you would typically get with a 1080p television,” says Jeff Park, a senior manager of product marketing and technology evangelism with HDMI Licensing. While many experts might be biased about whether 4K televisions are worthwhile buys or not, HDMI is the universally accepted cable that delivers video from devices as varied as decade-old DVD players and gaming consoles to 20-inch computer monitors and 108-inch 4K digital projectors. As a result, Park is a great authority on the emerging technology, because no matter what kind of TV you buy, you’ll be using his cables anyway. “It’s four times better, in terms of the number of pixels,” he says.

But be sure to take note of the caveat above, because pixels aren’t everything when it comes to a great television experience. First, before you buy, consider the setup in your TV room. This exhaustive but excellent breakdown by Rtings shows the relationship between viewing distance and pixel density. It can help you decide if a 4K television is even worth it for your space.

Another thing to keep in mind is that larger televisions are not only becoming less expensive, but also more mainstream. For instance, as the chart below shows, of all the televisions currently on the market, the 60-inch and larger size is the most popular among manufacturers (and, likely, consumers). So if you’re planning on getting one of these big boys — and if your couch is less than eight feet from your TV — it might be wise to go with 4K.

But that assumes there’s content available to take advantage of all these new pixels — and at this point, that’s a very big assumption. Like any piece of digital media — be it a music download, a photo snapped with your phone, or a television show streamed via Hulu — videos must have been initially created with equipment designed to capture enough pixels to make your screen pop. Today’s digital video cameras have those chops, but the gear they used to shoot your favorite 90’s sitcoms didn’t. And right now there’s only a handful of studios shooting their television shows in 4K, a standard that’s also called “Ultra HD.”

One reason for this is that the U.S. has a big problem with delivering these beefy files. As Park notes, 4K has four times the number of pixels of 1080p, high definition television. That means there’s four times as much data involved in rendering the same (albeit much richer) imagery. In the past, physical media hardwired to televisions (via HDMI) like DVDs and Blu-Rays drove the demand for better television sets. But with the demise of physical video rental locations (with all due respect to Redbox) and the rise of streaming video, it’s been an uphill battle to apply this magic formula to 4K television sets.

Last week, however, a final Ultra HD Blu-Ray specification was unveiled that may give movie buffs something to cheer about. “When people purchase new TVs, they’ll typically also purchase sources — that’s what they’re accustomed to,” says Park. “We expect that the Ultra HD BluRay release, and many content releases that will be coming this fall, to really drive content and maybe even adoption of these 4K-enabled products.”

But if consumers eschew Ultra HD Blu-Rays, it may be because digital downloads have gone mainstream. From Amazon Prime to Apple TV, more people are renting and streaming movies online, though by and large none of these downloads are close to 4K quality. Netflix has some shows, like House of Cards, that were filmed in 4K, but every step along the pipeline has to be able to handle 4K video for its rich detail to make it to your screen. For instance, if you subscribe to Netflix’s 4K service (which, by the way, costs more) and you’re watching House of Cards on your Roku 3, then you’re not getting it in all its ultra high-definition glory. To do that, you’ll need to use the Netflix app on select 4K smart televisions or connected Blu-Ray players. Also, as CNET points out, you’ll probably need a 4K compatible receiver too. (Ouch.)

While it would be natural to assume streaming 4K video is the answer, there’s the issue of having enough Internet bandwidth to deliver files that large. Unless you happen to be one of very few Google Fiber customers, the U.S. broadband infrastructure isn’t ready for you and your neighbors to watch downloads in 4K resolution. Forget Kim Kardashian—you’re going to be the one who breaks the Internet.

Meanwhile, you might think the new wave of next-generation video game consoles have capitalized on 4K’s breathtaking resolution. Think again. Xbox One and PlayStation 4 are only high-definition. 4K versions are rumored, but not available yet.

All this heartbreaking news aside, there still are good reasons to choose a 4K television set over a high-definition one. “As with any technology’s introduction, it’s not in a vacuum,” says Park. “Resolution is not the only thing that improves over the years. The panel itself is much better. The color rendition is much better.” Other features, such as the eye-popping hyper dynamic range and faster frame rates, — “technologies that are the unsung hero of the TV world,” says Parks — make these sets worth splurging for. And maybe, just maybe, 4K programming will arrive someday soon, too.

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