Sony Qualia Announced

Sony announced last week that it has created a new brand product line intended to identify its highest end products: Qualia. Initially, the new line will launch only in Japan, and will include both audio and video products in addition to a small pocket camera. Sony President Kunitake Ando had previously suggested the line would launch by March 2003.

According to Sony, the Qualia project started in secret in May 2001, and the organization's network of companies planned and proposed a number of possible products. These proposals were reviewed by the "Qualia Committee," which is composed of members of Sony's top management. "The criteria for selection will not only be functionality and specifications," says the company, "but also the ability to create 'Emotional Values.'"

Years ago, the company created the ES brand to distinguish its better products from the rest of the pack, but Qualia is intended to go even further. Sony says that the new brand "is a group-wide movement aiming to truly touch our customers' hearts through all Sony's activities from product creation to marketing to services and content creation, leading to the creation of emotional values."

Sony chief executive Nobuyuki Idei and Ando both must sign off on Qualia products before they move into final development and then production. Sony says that product proposals which are given the go-ahead are then assigned a "Qualia number." The company reports that there are currently 17 Qualia products on deck and that this number will grow as new proposals are evaluated and approved.

Four expensive products, 004, 007, 015, and 016, were revealed in Tokyo last week. Sony explains that products will not necessarily be introduced consecutively according to their number. "As proposals are evaluated, there will be strict reviews of technology, usability and, most importantly, the 'Qualia'-feel aspect. For this reason, there may be cases in which proposals are not finally approved."

Among the first products announced is a CD audio system that allows the customer to drop a disc anywhere on its playing surface. Interestingly, no details about SACD products were revealed; Sony had announced its latest flagship SACD player, the $3000 SCD-XA9000ES, on June 6 at the Home Entertainment Show in San Francisco.

According to Sony, products bearing the Qualia brand will be made only after a customer has placed an order. "The Qualia Project goes beyond the boundaries of manufacturing and design excellence," says a recent press release. "It also encompasses sales and marketing activities." Qualia stores are slated to open soon in Tokyo and Osaka and the company says that Qualia "concierges" will be available to visit to give on-site consultations and after-sales service. Sony adds that it hopes to take Qualia overseas shortly.

Explaining why Qualia needed to happen, Idei said, "These days, we're concerned with how many we can sell or how much market share we can get, and as a result there are many products that never got made." He hopes that with Qualia, customers "will delight in just holding these products."

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