Find all your DIY electronics in the MakerShed. 3D Printing, Kits, Arduino, Raspberry Pi, Books & more!

Pt 101201

We’ve been covering Sony and their “war” on makers, hackers and innovators for awhile here and I wanted to share a thoughtful reader email, Kyle writes in…

On your post RE: Sony and GitHub/Linux on PS3, you and I had a bit of a spirited discussion. At the end of it, you encouraged me to write an email on how Sony can change for the better for makers. Well here is that email.

Sony’s biggest problem, is also why they have been successful. They are huge. It is hard not to consider purchasing Sony products when you are in the market for electronics because they generally make a good product at a good price. I think that you said this the best when you wrote “If you’re over the age of 25 you likely have a long history with Sony. They were the company we all had something from.” As companies grow larger, they typically become more litigious because they face lawsuits from people wanting a perceived piece of their success, and they also have to protect the products that they have innovated.

Keep reading… and post your suggestions in the comments!

It is rare for a company Sony’s size to stay nimble with changing technology and stay ahead of the game. This makes someone that is able to innovate based upon their products a threat. (Apple is probably one of the few exceptions to this, they have innovated and been able to be at the front of technology movements time after time, but it does not make them any less litigious.) So, how does a company that is large and ‘threatened’ by innovation embrace the maker movement?

Software Developer Kits are a good beginning. When Nintendo made the Wii, they were unprepared for the onslaught of makers trying to use their software in creative ways. Nintendo tried to continually update the Wii with system updates to thwart people from modifying the console, but did not make changes to their Bluetooth controllers and the maker community thrived. Microsoft also quickly reacted when this same thing start to happen with the release of the Kinect. Microsoft saw the community start to buy and “hack” the Kinect controller, they used their knowledge of working with software developers to release a Kinect SDK. This is the first avenue that is open for Sony to welcome makers back to their hardware. And it is not unprecedented within Sony, look at their Chumby-based Dash. They are encouraging writing applications for it at: http://dash.sonydeveloper.com/

Open Source/Open Hardware is a tougher hill to climb for a company that has focused on closed source for as long as Sony has. They currently see that anyone that builds item X out of a Sony product as competition, I am guessing that internally someone has realized that Sony hardware modified to become item X is still a sale of a Sony product, but it’s hard to embrace that change. Sony has taken a small baby step in this direction by making their PS3 games region free, this shows that they understand the benefits of region free systems but the people pushing this internally have only gotten a little traction. Maybe Sony could look at releasing and supporting a firmware that vitrualizes the internal hardware of the PS3 so that the OtherOS option could safely become available again without direct access to the internal system hardware.

Finally, Sony could attempt to connect with maker groups and make available some older/depricated hardware specifications. They could even hold a contest to highlight some of the neat remakes/new products that could be produced on this hardware. If they positioned themselves correctly, it may be a “Stand on the shoulders of giants” moment, where Sony would be recognized for building a foundation for these new ideas.

As much as I would love to see this happen, corporate culture is historically glacially slow to implement changes. One thing that could impact their corporate culture faster than internal change is a repeal of the DMCA. If Sony (and other corporations) can no longer sue people because of this set of laws, they will have to adapt and the above options go from risky to safe bets. For the DCMA to be repealed and the club taken out of these corporations hands will require every maker/hacker to use their voices, dollars and votes to say that we are “for the people by the people”, not for the corporations by the people. If someone is hitting you with a stick, you can either take it away and end the issue, or start an arms race by getting a bigger stick. I think it is time to stop the arms race and just take away the stick!

Post your thoughts in the comments!

Phillip Torrone

Editor at large – Make magazine. Creative director – Adafruit Industries, contributing editor – Popular Science. Previously: Founded – Hack-a-Day, how-to editor – Engadget, Director of product development – Fallon Worldwide, Technology Director – Braincraft.


Related

Comments

  1. Magnus Falk says:

    s/depricated/deprecated

    Otherwise I like it!

  2. Dan Wobser says:

    One thing that I haven’t seen considered yet:

    ” I am guessing that internally someone has realized that Sony hardware modified to become item X is still a sale of a Sony product…”

    I don’t know if it’s still true today, but I understand that earlier in the PS3′s lifecycle, the units were sold at a loss for Sony.  Their profit comes from the games and accessories.

    If that’s the case, then I can see the logic if they don’t want PS3s to be used for any other purpose – it would cease to be profitable for them!

    If this still holds true today (that the PS3 is a loss or just break-even), then I can understand why Sony is being hard-nosed about it.

    I guess they would need to figure out some way to profit from non-licensed use of the PS3 for it to make business sense for them.

    1. Anonymous says:

      why should we be punished for someone else’s crappy business model :)

      1. 影月 says:

        Actually this is a common model employed by most companies which offer content driven devices. Apple iPods and iPhones included. Note the high vendor-lock-in factor for content – they rely on that. It’s nothing more than a transparent method to keep prices down and get the devices into consumer hands, and it’s something we the consumer end up benefiting from. Or do you want that $300 iPod to be $450?

        1. Anonymous says:

          the ipod isn’t subsidized, apple makes a profit on each one, something around 40% or more.

        2. Anonymous says:

          Even if it’s a *common* business model, doesn’t make it less crappy.  (I refill all my own printer cartridges because I refuse to play HP’s cheap-printer-expensive-ink game)

  3. Addidis says:

    I honestly think its to far gone for them to turn around. They have alienated their customers and potential employees as well. When I consider buying electronics I look for companies that encourage hacking. Sony is not that company. If we put a little thought into how sony thinks , and how it would be IF they got their way we would be renting electronics. I refuse to contribute to Sony on those grounds.  If I buy something its mine and I can do what ever I want with it. By buying sony product effectively I would be backing the kind of business practices that landed up geohot in court. I would be feeding the beast .

  4. Give away free Qrios! :D (and open source everything)

  5. Give away free Qrios! :D (and open source everything)

  6. Give away free Qrios! :D (and open source everything)

  7. Give away free Qrios! :D (and open source everything)

  8. Anonymous says:

    Step 1) Muzzle the lawyers.
    Step 2) If you can’t sell your product for a profit.. Don’t sell it at all.
    Step 3) ???
    Step 4) Profit.

    Hey.. Works for the underpants gnomes.. Perfectly sound business plan.

    Personally, I doubt they can change.. Corporate culture is way too ingrained. Middle management is far too busy protecting it’s paper clip allocation, and the bosses still don’t know what is going on. And too much focus on the bottom line for the next quarter is an unhealthy fixation.
    Eventually, these huge companies will break apart under their own internal stresses, and die. I fully expect some big player to sue themselves into oblivion any day now.

  9. 影月 says:

    Phillip – excellent idea. Simply tying in some sort of creative outlet into an existing product would help Sony improve their image as well as help push their platform – so it’s a win for “us” and a win-win for “them”.

    As for the letter, accusing Sony of being anti-innovation seems like a misconception. Locking down hardware to protect content as a reaction to piracy is something companies like Sony need to do to protect their content creators (who are Makers like you and me, don’t forget). It’s also what Apple does to protect their walled garden, and with Apple being much more controlling and clearly more indifferent to their authorized developers on their platform I’m at a loss to understand how Apple is considered an exemption.

    Still, the argument that companies like Sony and Nintendo limiting their official SDK to developers who have proven themselves is now a much harder dynamic to sell. While it does prevent quality dilution and provide a sure and reliable path for deeply invested content creators to deliver their content to market it is now very hard to convince the general market. There are rumors of Nintendo opening up the 3DS  App SDK – not cartridges just downloadable games and apps. That would be a fantastic move. Sony having the NGP run Android is a similar decision. I think we’d all agree both of these strategies are steps in the right direction – allowing freedom to use these platforms for everyday developers while still retaining the current, premium methods for industry developers.

    1. 影月 says:

      And with that said I suggest Sony do something for the upcoming NGP. Have makers create Android apps specifically with the NGP in mind. Developers who create the best apps will have them included on the system at sale time or push them as “Sony Select” apps through the NGP market. Developers who prove their skills should be offered NGP SDK’s and licenses (for the non-Android portion – the dedicated SDK).

  10. John says:

    I have to agree with the people here who think it’s too late.  For 100 reasons most readers here are well aware of, I will never buy another sony product no matter what they do to try to win back my business.  For me once, shame on you, fool me 101 times, shame on…. :)

    It’s at the point where before I go to the movies I check if Sony is the distributor, and if they are, I’ll wait to get the DVD (not blu-ray) from the library.  I go out of my way to avoid giving them a cent.

  11. Anonymous says:

    Sony already offered an olive branch; it was called “OtherOS” and it was a standard feature on the brand-spanking-new PS3. There was much rejoicing. Many creative uses blossomed, from hobbyists to universities. Then Sony took it away.

    Even if Sony tried again, who would trust them not to revoke access later, suing the very people they tried to entice to their platform? I think it’s over between Sony and makers.

  12. They have about as hard a time getting in with “makers, hackers, and inventors” as Rat Shack does IMHO. They’ve both repeeatedly gone out of their way to marginalize, discourage, and restrict the open use and modification of things they sell and design from funky non-standard media to batteries that go out of their way to break aftermarket replacements to killing functionality in things people have already purchased, and there’s no reason to think they’ll do otherwise any time soon. An olive branch that’s been swung at your head like as baseball bat is a hard one to extend an open hand to.

  13. this guy says:

    I personally have boycott Sony. For the last ~15 years, I have been disappointed with every Sony item purchased. Then the whole Gerhot PS3 hacking episode. Give me a break! This kid is absolutely brilliant! Hire him to make your crap better. As much as I prefer to buy American, and fought it for years, Samsung and LG get the bulk of my business now for one simple fact: Their ergonomics are impeccable! Form and function in near perfect harmony. As an engineer, I can find little to complain about, and I especially love to complain about poor engineering.

  14. Anonymous says:

    I’d step back further yet. The whole idea of patents and copyright was to encourage small enterprise at a time when the guilds (multinationals these days) had effective monopolies in the fifteenth-sixteenth century. That they are now so expensive only a multinational can afford the fees is a crying disgrace: that that should be used against the customer, well, we’ve already seen what that does.
    As the small fry has no chance of protecting his innovation in practice, and China’s made them a laughing stock anyway, surely it’s time to do away with the entire monolith?

    1. I don’t know that we need to necessarily scrap the whole system, but I think we do need to revisit the base notion that merely having an idea (and successfully navigating the patent process) entitles you to 30+ years of protection.  With the acceleration of technology being what it is, those time frames are too long to both protect the creator and support further innovation. 

    2. I don’t know that we need to necessarily scrap the whole system, but I think we do need to revisit the base notion that merely having an idea (and successfully navigating the patent process) entitles you to 30+ years of protection.  With the acceleration of technology being what it is, those time frames are too long to both protect the creator and support further innovation. 

  15. I think that Sony would be perfectly happy if all makers, hackers and innovators boycotted their products.  Less litigation for them, and less reprisals from the hacker communities.  They’d be content to trundle on with their antiquated producer-consumer relationship, and pay their own employees to be innovative with their products.

    1. Anonymous says:

      Only problem with that is that Makers aren’t [all] sitting at home in their parents basements boycotting Sony, they’re spreading their message to friends and family outside the maker community…

      1. Anonymous says:

        yah – and sony is actively trying to hire “hackers” for the sdks and other things to compete with kinect, etc… if they want to attract talent, they’ll need to cease fire.

  16. Brian Timm says:

    sony has always been the king of proprietary formats….

    memory stick? UMD? seriously guys, just use SD cards like everyone else. this is silly.

    Sony will be the LAST corporation to open up. and that’s why i try to avoid their products. I’ll buy sony headphones (maybe) but that’s where it starts and ends.

    1. Anonymous says:

      i was with some gadget writers and we were talking about this about 5 years ago, i made a joke saying “sony will have memory stick duo pro plus extreme or something” – i was kidding, but then they released it a week or so later

      1. The whole proprietary format thing is exactly why I don’t like Sony. Recently I was trying to use a Sony solid state camcorder (a new one) and input the footage into Final Cut Pro. It required THREE separate downloads. One extension for OSX’s finder, a media manager app, and a plug in for Final Cut. AND we had to register an account with Sony to download them. It was my first time using a Sony product in a long time, but all I could think was, “some things never change.”

        Though, to be fair, other than that, I liked the camera.

      2. The whole proprietary format thing is exactly why I don’t like Sony. Recently I was trying to use a Sony solid state camcorder (a new one) and input the footage into Final Cut Pro. It required THREE separate downloads. One extension for OSX’s finder, a media manager app, and a plug in for Final Cut. AND we had to register an account with Sony to download them. It was my first time using a Sony product in a long time, but all I could think was, “some things never change.”

        Though, to be fair, other than that, I liked the camera.

  17. PeterJ says:

    situations such as this can not be destroyed by any craft that we here possess.  the dmca was made in the fires of mount doom (the corporate owned US government), only there can it be unmade.

    as long as there is a law making it illegal for you to modify something that you have purchased, situations such as this (whether it be with sony, or other manufacturers) will continue to surface, and increase in frequency.  as long as there is protection for companies to force “upgrades” that remove features, you will have situations where products are purchased for a purpose then later intentionally crippled by the company, and (for example) a graduate student (such as myself) purchasing a PS3 as a cell development kit for neural network simulations, and later having that option in my research and the functionality and entire purpose of my device essentially /stolen/ by that company.

    the us corporations have essentially influenced/owned the law-makers so heavily that they have legally turned a wholly-owned purchase by a citizen into something that legally represents more of a “bank safe” purchased by a “consumer” and placed in their residence, where opening or modifying the contents of that safe — that you own, in your own home — is made extremely illegal. the most frightening error, in my opinion, is on the side of legislators allowing a law that denies personal rights to purchases (and transfers these rights instead to the corporations).  to remedy the situation, that would have to be repaired.

  18. mlautenb says:

    Don’t forget, Sony (like Nintendo and Microsoft) loose money with every sold console! It’s subsidized, because the profit with games is much higher anyway. Thats the reason why consoles are that cheap for their performance and why producer are not happy at all when they are used for anything else than gaming. Note that the controllers are probably not subsidized (they are usually quite expensive), so giving dev options there is not a problem. And as many research projects use PS3 cluster, I guess for a different prizing you can also get an open PS3.

In the Maker Shed