The Vaio laptop is making a comeback in 2021, but with a different partner. Nexstgo — the company which brought Avita’s laptops to India — has a license agreement with the Japan-based VAIO Corporation to bring the VAIO brand to a number of Asian countries. The agreement between the two companies gives Nexstgo the rights to manufacture, sell and market the Vaio laptops in India and other Asian countries, including Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia. Vaio laptops will be sold In India by Flipkart.
The Vaio was once a part of Japanese conglomerate Sony, and the brand had a cult following among upmarket consumers. VAIO, which stands for Visual Audio Intelligent Organizer, was first introduced in 1996. Sony’s Vaio laptops were always expensive and had a distinct style and design. That helped Sony to differentiate the Vaio laptops from the competition, despite having the same hardware as other notebooks from rival brands.
Fun Fact: Did you know that the late Apple CEO, Steve Jobs was a big admirer of the Vaio laptops? Jobs once met former Sony president Kunitake Ando in Hawaii back in 2001 to negotiate a deal with the tech major and convince Ando to launch a Sony Vaio laptop with macOS. Discussions, however, failed as Sony decided to give preference to Windows as it was a more popular operating system.
In its heydays, the Vaio reached a pinnacle and the brand gave tough competition to Apple in the high-end laptop segment. But Vaio’s downfall started after Apple unveiled the first MacBook Air in 2008. Not many remember that on stage Steve Jobs compared how the MacBook Air was superior to the Sony TZ series in many areas.
But more than the competition from Apple, it was the expensive price tags of laptops that hit the Vaio brand hardest. At the time when other PC companies were selling similar laptops at much lower prices, Sony used to charge high prices for its Vaio brand. In fact, Vaio laptops had a tendency of slightly underperforming when compared to similar offerings from rival brands. This didn’t go down well with many consumers who bought Sony’s fancy Vaio laptops.
While Sony was always questioned for the underperformance of its laptops, 2010’s overheating of Vaio laptops rocked the PC market. Sony admitted that almost half a million of its Vaio notebooks were at risk of overheating and could pose a risk of burns to owners. Earlier, in 2006, the company had to recall and replace around 10 million Sony-made lithium-ion batteries used in laptops made by Sony, Dell and Apple. That cost Sony $250 million.
Growing issues with customer satisfaction and the extreme high-cost of Vaio laptops put Sony in an uncomfortable position. By 2013, rumours of Sony selling its PC business were all in the media, though the company never openly admitted it. That same year Sony only shipped 1.5 million PCs total in the third quarter of 2013, according to IDC.
After a long struggle and growing losses, Sony decided to sell off its loss making Vaio PC brand to a Japanese investment fund in 2014. Tokyo-based investment fund Japan Industrial Partners (JIP) said it will operate the Vaio PC brand under a newly established company and initially sell Vaio-branded PCs in Japan only. Sony still has a 5 per cent stake in the new company.
Since 2015, the independent Vaio Corporation has been selling Vaio-branded laptops in the US and Brazil. The Vaio Canvas Z was the first Vaio product introduced by the new firm four years ago. It was a Surface Pro-like detachable PC with an Intel i7 processor, a 256GB SSD, and up to 16GB of onboard memory. The device was launched at $2,199.
So far, the Vaio Corporation has launched limited models and that too in the premium range. The existing Vaio SX14 and SX12 are ultra-thin notebooks with premium looks and top-end hardware, though we are not sure if the same models also come to India. The company also offers the Vaio A12, Vaio SE 14, and Vaio FE14/15 in some markets.
Can Vaio Corporation and Nexstgo make Vaio existing again? Laptops have become quite predictable, and if Vaio wants to reinvigorate the market, it needs to make them exciting again. It wouldn’t surprise us if Vaio laptops come to India at a premium price but the primary challenge will be how to position the high-end notebooks where the Apple MacBook Pro and Dell XPS 13 already dominate the market.