Microsoft will begin selling VAIO computers—formerly owned by Sony—through its online and retail stores starting in October. And yes, that means what you think it does: VAIO will be providing the full Signature PC experience, with no crapware.
Sony sold off its VAIO PC business in early 2014, citing “drastic changes in the global PC industry.” In doing so, it shed about 5000 employees and set out on a new strategy to focus on “post-PC” devices like phones, tablets and PlayStation 4.
Sony has moved on, but then so has VAIO. The PC business was sold to a Japanese investment fund called Japan Industrial Partners and reborn as a standalone business that, at first, focused exclusively on Japan. A year later, a much smaller VAIO—with only 250 employees—has reestablished itself in its home market, so it is now coming back to the United States as well. There’s not much to see on the firm’s US web site yet, but the Japanese site has been up and running since July 2014.
VAIO will begin selling its PCs in the United States in October through Microsoft’s retail and online stores. Its strategy is to focus on high-end niche markets, not the mass market Sony sought. As such, it will continue selling small numbers of devices, but with a higher profit. Its first US-based entry, the Z Canvas, will retail for over $2000 and targets graphic designers, photographers, and other power users.
If you’re familiar with Sony’s VAIO PCs, you know that they’ve always been quite interesting, and before Apple experienced its infamous resurgence about a decade ago, VAIO sort of filled that role in the PC space. Today, VAIO accounts for a tiny sliver of the PC market—about 1 percent in Japan, according to the Wall Street Journal—but the VAIO design sensibilities seem to have come forward with the new devices, which include a Surface-like Z Canvas and various laptop designs.
Microsoft told the WSJ that it chose VAIO for its stores to “give shoppers a range of options when making purchase decisions.” For customers, the best bit is that Microsoft sells PCs with Signature configurations that eschew the crapware typically found on most PCs and provide a clean Windows 10 install.
VAIO has big plans for the future, too.
While the privately-held company recorded an operating loss for its first year as a standalone company, it expects to turn a profit this fiscal year. It expects an IPO by mid-2018, at which point Japan Industrial Partners will likely exit from its investment, having turned around the company and turned a health profit in doing so. Oddly, VAIO would consider partnering with a company—Sony, Microsoft and Apple were specifically mentioned by VAIO CEO Yoshimi Ota—instead of going public.
VAIO is also aggressively expanding past PCs. It already sells a Palmi-branded “entertainment robot” and plans to start making VAIO-branded robots “in the near future.” It will also soon offer “communication devices, wearable gadgets and factory-automation machines with artificial intelligence,” and expects its non-PC profits to exceed those of PCs within two years.
Following its relaunch in the United States, VAIO plans to also return to Brazil and other markets, the firm says.
All I can say is, welcome back to the United States, VAIO. You were missed.