Mt. Vernon Register-News

Opinion

November 29, 2013

Seriously, a 'SmartWig'? It's the new gizmo

TOKYO — Just when you thought Sony couldn’t get any more pathetic, the company comes up with the “SmartWig.”

Just because your gizmo designers make a hairpiece that aims to help its wearer navigate roads, check blood pressure, flip through slides in a presentation or perhaps even take photos doesn’t mean a company should admit it, never mind seek a U.S. patent. I can see the marketing slogan now: “The high-tech wig that will make you wish you were bald!”

If this is just a ruse for some bored Sony staffers to win an Ig Nobel Prize, then fine. This American parody of the Nobel Prizes, which honors 10 odd and trivial advances annually that do more to inspire laughter than serve humankind, is quite a phenomenon in Japan. Winners, like the Japanese researchers honored this year for using mice to study how opera affects heart-transplant patients, often become local celebrities.

But Sony seems too serious for comfort about its high-tech toupee. While a spokeswoman told Bloomberg News that Sony hasn’t decided whether to commercialize this new technology, such publicity is often a trial balloon to see what the marketplace thinks. Analysts didn’t miss a beat, instantly framing the wig as Sony’s less-than-impressive answer to its competitors’ wearable-technology products — from Google’s eyeglasses, to Samsung’s smart watches and Apple’s, well, everything.

This is no time for Sony to be dropping hints about a product that inspires only eye-rolling. The mockery is but the latest reminder that Kazuo Hirai may have been a bad choice to restore Sony to relevance.

It’s easy to forget there was elation when Hirai replaced Howard Stringer in April 2012. Whereas Stringer, Sony’s first non-Japanese leader, was a businessman brought in to trim fat and shake up Sony’s insular culture, Hirai was a gadget man.

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