Lessons for Apple in Sony's Fall

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Sony ( SNE) once was what Apple ( AAPL) is now.

Under the late Akio Morita, Sony was where consumer electronics came from, an iconoclastic company that marched to the beat of its own entrepreneurial drummer.

Before there was the Cult of Steve, there was the Cult of Morita-san.

It's impossible for young people to understand today just how revolutionary the Walkman was in its time. It let us take our music, not the radio station's music but whole albums, with us wherever we went. And it ran on regular AA batteries. If the iPod is a telephone, the Walkman was a telegraph, the first revolution, not a refinement.

Sony posted its eighth-straight quarterly loss this week, the Washington Post reports. It was a surprise, because many investors believed new CEO Kuzuo Hirai, who came from the profitable games division, had started turning things around.

Hirai will be in New York on Feb. 20, where CNET expects he will unveil the Playstation 4, the first reboot of the game console since 2006. Gamespot says the new device is expected to retail for over $425, with biometric controls and cloud streaming.

To which investors are likely to say, ho-hum. Been there, done that. The earnings hit halted some momentum Sony stock had in January. Its market cap in dollars is now about one-fourth of its annual sales in yen.

What does this have to do with Apple? Apple is in a similar position to Sony in the 1980s when it was piling up cash and going from strength to strength. Sony put that cash into content, buying CBS Records and Columbia Pictures. Sony Pictures led the U.S. box office last year. Those assets may be worth more than the whole company is now.

David Einhorn has sued Apple to extract cash for shareholders, saying it should issue preferred stock tied to the company's dividend, Marketwatch reports. Einhorn accuses Apple of having a "Depression-era mentality" and says the $145/share in cash on its books needs to go to the company's owners.

Whether the cash goes to shareholders or to buying other companies matters less, however, than what new products and new categories Apple opens.

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