Update: the rumor was true, Sony confirmed that it is selling its PC business and the VAIO brand to Japan Industrial Partners, with the deal set to complete by the end of March.
Former Sony President Kunitake Ando says that Sony turned down an offer from Steve Jobs back in 2001 to allow it to run Mac OS on Vaio laptops, several years after the original Mac clone program ended in 1998.
Speaking to freelance writer Nobuyuki Hayashi, Ando described the moment Steve Jobs met senior Sony execs to make the offer.
Most of Sony’s executives spent their winter vacation in Hawaii and play golf after celebrating the new year. In one of those new year golf competitions back in 2001, ” Steve Jobs and another Apple executive were waiting for us at the end of golf course holding VAIO running Mac OS”
But there is an interesting Backstory told through Quora by the wife of an ex-Apple Engineer working on the Marklar project…
Apple had commissioned Sony to help design the PowerBook range launched ten years earlier, and Jobs was known to admire Sony’s work. Ando said the feeling was mutual, with Sony feeling the Mac and Vaio shared a similar philosophy, and expressing admiration for the first iMac.
But the timing was bad for Sony [...] Sony’s VAIO gained popularity and it is just about the time that VAIO team had finished optimizing both VAIO’s hardware and software specifically for the Windows platform.
Because of this, most of the VAIO team opposed [the idea], asking ‘if it is worth it.’
The story has the ring of truth about it. A Quora post by the wife of one of the Apple team working on the Intel Mac describes Apple secretly working on running Mac OS on a Vaio in the same year.
In December 2001, Joe tells JK, “I need to justify your salary in my budget. Show me what you’re working on.”
At this point, JK has three PCs in his office at Apple, and another three in the office at home, all sold to him by a friend who sells custom built PCs (can’t order them through the usual Apple channels because no one in the company knows what he’s working on). All are running the Mac OS.
In JK’s office, Joe watches in amazement as JK boots up an Intel PC and up on the screen comes the familiar ‘Welcome to Macintosh’.
Joe pauses, silent for a moment, then says, “I’ll be right back.”
He comes back a few minutes later with Bertrand Serlet.
Max (our 1-year-old) and I were in the office when this happened because I was picking JK up from work. Bertrand walks in, watches the PC boot up, and [...] tells JK to go to Fry’s(the famous West Coast computer chain) and buy the top of the line, most expensive Vaio they have. So off JK, Max and I go to Frys. We return to Apple less than an hour later. By 7:30 that evening, the Vaio is running the Mac OS. [...]
The next morning, Steve Jobs is on a plane to Japan to meet with the President of Sony.
Details of where the meeting took place aside, the two stories gel.
While Sony’s Vaio range was indeed hugely successful at the time, 13 years later – at a time when Sony is rumored to be planning to sell most of its personal computer division – the decision may look a little less smart.
Sony’s story does also serve as a reminder that no company is too big or too successful to fail. In the early noughties, the Vaio range was the coolest laptop around. Not even Apple’s iBook and Powerbook range of the time were quite as desirable. Apple’s position today as king of cool may look unassailable today, but history suggests that only maintaining its design momentum can keep it there.
Via The Verge