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Innovation is key to restoring Sony's shine

The electronics maker's books are in order, but the president says it is only halfway home

TOKYO Though Sony is on a firmer financial footing these days, its comeback will not be complete without innovation and popular new products, President Kazuo Hirai told The Nikkei on May 24, describing these as imperative for the Japanese electronics maker.

Hirai expressed confidence in Sony's ability to boost its operating profit to 500 billion yen ($4.46 billion) this fiscal year for the first time in two decades, citing five years of structural reform.

Sony's earnings have recovered. Would you say the company has made a comeback? That may be our perennial challenge. Even if we keep beating our financial targets, that alone won't be enough for people to consider it [a comeback]. [We also have to] come out with interesting hit products, services and content one after another and continue to innovate, even if it involves taking risks. If those three conditions are met, that will mean a real revival. Right now, we're only partway there.

Sony President Kazuo Hirai

Sony has not come up with innovations lately. We've put a structure in place. Eleven products and services have come out of the Seed Acceleration Program for creating new businesses that we launched in 2014. That's a good pace. We want employees to take opportunities like that to come up with new ideas and innovations and produce big hits.

Your smartphone business became profitable last fiscal year, but some say the market has matured. Even if smartphones become obsolete, communication won't go away. Some sort of device will be needed. Sony will continue with the smartphone business in order to seize a dominant position with that new device and effect a paradigm shift in communication.

When will the PlayStation 5 be released? Our game subsidiary is discussing which direction to take -- how to use a big platform like the PlayStation going forward. Generally speaking, I don't think it is a good idea to drop consoles entirely, since we seek to offer the platform worldwide.

U.S. companies have developed devices that users operate with voice commands. What are your plans in this area? Sony has also incorporated its own artificial intelligence-based voice command technology into several products, and we're building a platform for it. As we expand the product category further in the future, it's possible that we may work with other companies.

What businesses will drive Sony in 10 years? It'll still be electronics, entertainment and finance, with a focus on consumer-oriented products, though the lineups will likely be different from now. The medical field will probably also become very big, though opinions differ on whether that's included in electronics.

Interviewed by Nikkei staff writer Rei Nakafuji

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