17
Jan
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You can now count Sony among the smartphone manufacturers that have promised to narrow their portfolios, and move away from featurephones and other very cheap handsets.

Sony's CEO, Kazuo Hirai, speaking to Bloomberg, had this to say.

"We basically are out of the feature-phone business and in the Android-based smartphone business ... We are more in toward the high end of the market as opposed to trying to get into the commoditized portion."

So, what does that... mean, exactly? Sony's going to focus its phone business on the part of the phone market that's profitable? Shocker. Really, Hirai is just reiterating the company's new brand initiative - pushing Sony products as "premium" with unilaterally premium pricing. Like Apple. It makes sense, then, that Sony would not seek to undermine its new direction by making a lot of cheap phones.

Of course, we also know that like HTC and Motorola (at least before the buyout), Sony's going to break this promise all over the world in countries Americans like me can't find on maps. In emerging markets, companies like HTC, Sony, LG, and Samsung are fighting tooth and nail to win loyalty and brand recognition among consumers. Dangling a $600 smartphone above the head of someone who doesn't make that much in a month in the hope that they will aspire to own that product is a risky business strategy. It's a lot easier to make a phone that costs a quarter of that and bears a passing resemblance to the more expensive model.

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Really, what Sony's CEO more likely means (like what HTC 'meant') is that we won't see as many (or any) crappy Sony phones in the US and Europe, where consumers can generally afford, whether through subsidies or saving up, an expensive, fancy glass slab.

I'm not undermining the importance of such a shift, but I'm also skeptical of anyone saying the products Sony showed off as part of its new smartphone line (the Xperia Z and ZL) are really going to turn the company's fortunes around. Sure, they're the best smartphones Sony has made to date, but they're also entering a market that Samsung and Apple now unabashedly dominate.

In the US in particular, Sony's smartphone strategy has been befuddling. The company has partnered with AT&T on literally every phone they've sold in the US except the Xperia Play, which ended up on Verizon, too. Look it up - there hasn't been a single Sony smartphone on T-Mobile or Sprint, and only one on Verizon.

The upside, I suppose, is that most people in the US really have no idea that Sony even makes smartphones. If you can call that an upside.

If Sony were able to get the Xperia Z or ZL on at least three of the four major carriers, perhaps some momentum could be built. Even then, though, they're entering a fiercely competitive market that has been hard on OEMs that I would argue make better products than Sony. HTC and Motorola have seen major market share shrinkage to Samsung in the past year in the US, where Sony has basically been a non-factor. As HTC showed with the One X, making a good phone - even a great one - simply isn't enough when Samsung and Apple TV commercials, newspaper ads, and billboards permeate the daily life of the American smartphone buyer.

I would venture that Sony's chances in Europe, where it has aggressively pushed its down-market handsets and its brand has generally retained more relevance over the years, are a little better. But with flagship handset launches from HTC and Samsung looming over the next few months, and the Z not expected to ship until late Q1 / early Q2, this could just be another of case of too little, too late for Sony.

Bloomberg

David Ruddock
David's phone is an HTC One. He is an avid writer, and enjoys playing devil's advocate in editorials, imparting a legal perspective on tech news, and reviewing the latest phones and gadgets. He also doesn't usually write such boring sentences.

  • http://www.twitter.com/Genjinaro Genjinaro

    Yes... Ask Samsung & LG. (Answer to article title)

    Just don't pull a HTC & sacrifice functionality/options for design (SD-Card/ Multi-tasking) or a Motorola with fortified boot-loaders & so-so camera performance.

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/ David Ruddock

      Samsung doesn't focus on high-end devices. They focus on advertising them. Samsung makes more crappy throwaway budget phones than Kleenex makes tissues.

      • Magnus100

        I agree but at the same time Samsung also makes unrivaled devices like the Note II.
        Most other companies don't have the ability to deploy an all out kitchen sink approach. They don't make all the components that Samsung makes.

      • http://www.twitter.com/Genjinaro Genjinaro

        Touche. I'll use focus lightly & say just the addition of phones that weren't as bad as the Instinct, Galaxy & Galaxy S but more like the noteworthy additions of the SII, Note, S3 & Note 2.

    • Abhijeet Mishra

      Surprisingly, the HTC Butterfly for international markets has a microSD slot, but yeah, you're right. But like @558a28c90592722828fac6f45485f0b8:disqus said, Samsung doesn't really focus on high-end. They focus on all segments and throw devices out there, market the hell out of those that work well, and forgets others, hehe.
      IMO Sony simply needs more marketing, and products that are awesome but don't come out months after other companies have pushed out the competing awesome devices of their own (even the Xperia Z feels like "Awesome specs of last year" to me for a device that's launching in March of 2013, and that too with 4.1 and Snapdragon S4 Pro while Samsung etc will be moving to Exynos Octa, Tegra 4, etc).

    • bridges

      yeah, really sad with htc cannibalism of feature in sake of design. and they never hear their customer.
      but I think motorola always have locked bootloader.

  • QwietStorm

    There was nothing vague about what he said.

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/ David Ruddock

      Vague probably isn't the best word. Self-explanatory / obvious / kind of assumed would be more accurate, so I've changed it.

      • m sacha

        Can you do some sort of Disclosure Statement or something, you seem to be incredibly bitter towards Sony. You do the reviews, the hands on, and articles and they are always bitter. If you hate the brand, just say so, otherwise its really looks bad on this site, to me, your constant cynicism. You really are a disgrace to this otherwise good website.

  • Magnus100

    If you've ever really used a Galaxy Note II, then you know no other phone comes close unless they can at least replicate or exceed the S pen functionality.

    I'm looking forward to Samsung greatly expanding the S pen functionality in the Note III

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/ David Ruddock

      I don't love the S-Pen, but I can at least applaud Samsung for trying something different. Which is kind of the opposite of what Sony does, and that's why I think Sony isn't destined to make a dent in the market with these new phones. They just aren't exciting - they're too safe, too boring.

      Samsung's obsession with gimmicks and adding extras has its drawbacks, but doing crazy and weird things is also how you get your name out there and build excitement around your brand when trying to upset the established players. It's about showing why you're different, why you're better. Sony doesn't seem to care about doing that, and I think it's a fatal error in judgment.

      • Abhijeet Mishra

        Sony also needs to be on time in bringing competing products to market (as I said in another comment). Xperia S was late, T was late, Z is late, and so on. Unexciting specs that don't really get you anything above other products (except maybe the 12 megapixel camera on Xperia S), late updates (though they are the best in the sense that more of their devices get updates than other manufacturers), et all.
        Let's hope Sony does something about this.

  • Abhijeet Mishra

    "Dangling a $600 smartphone above the head of someone who doesn't make that much in a month in the hope that they will aspire to own that product is a risky business strategy."

    True. Here in India, Samsung has been selling the SGS1/2/3 and Note 1/2 quite well (Note 2 has been specially popular, seen a lot, more than the SGS3 even), so has HTC done with the One X, but it's still risky unless they're willing to market their devices a lot like Samsung does. Very sure devices like the tipo and sola and J will continue to come from Sony.

    • Windroipple

      Even Nokia is selling Lumia 920 pretty good even after pricing it above Note 2 up here (That's what i heard atleast regarding sales)

      I meant that sales are decent (but not groundbreaking) and can help Nokia to get better.

      Same may happen to Sony if they update their line up properly and quickly.

      • Abhijeet Mishra

        Yeah, the Lumia is certainly more desirable and people still have a soft spot for Nokia. But yeah, Sony needs better marketing and timely launches before other manufacturers hog all the limelight, like Samsung with their rich marketing xD

        And then again, we didn't get the Xperia T, so the Z doesn't look too certain either. The HTC Butterfly is being rumoured to cost 45k, the Z has similar specs and a similar price will turn out to be too high. Lumia 920 has been priced quite well (not counting the additional charge for the charging pad for those that want it).

        Btw, good to see you here other than GSMArena, that troll website.

        • Windroipple

          Yeah, good to see you too.

          Why is pricing of phones is going too steep these days ? In 2011 as far as i know 32k was the best price point i think (S2 first and then Note I) and now that price point is moved to 36-38k , really frustrating sometimes looking at prices.

          iPhone price is like wtf compared to iPad's price.

          • Abhijeet Mishra

            Well, hardware power has gone up, screen sizes have gone up, etc, and IMO up to 35K like S3 is good. But the problem is that there aren't a bit less awesome phones anymore at 25-30K, it's either really high-end at 35k and above, or poor devices below that (unless we count S2 and Note etc). And anything above or equal to 40K is really pushing it and totally not worth it.

            As for the iPhone, yeah, iPad is cheap in comparison that's why I bought one, haha.

      • anamika

        Nokia brand is going down in India. So any links confirming what you say?

  • dalingrin

    I would applaud more high end Sony phones coming to the States. They have some of the best community developer support around and their phones are well made.

  • dude

    Sorry the day of me spending $700-$850 (don't forget the VAT) on phone is over regardless of the brand. These are the only circumstance you will caught me buying another Sony phone:
    -Sony Nexus
    -Sony Xperia Play 2

    • http://twitter.com/misterE33 Mr E

      Xperia Z Play, please!

    • didibus

      I would add to that, if they ever decide to drop their skin and go stock for their own phones, that would also be a day I buy a sony phone

  • melody

    sony phone sometimes can be a bit overpriced.
    that's why they have difficulties in mid-low end segment, where other vendor can lower the price aggressively.

    but they also released some good compact phones in the past, like live walkman and xperia mini pro. those are unique. I hope they continue creating phone like that in future, not all want a gigantic 5" smartphone.

  • John O’Connor

    Does no one see te "actual" cost of manufacture of a device? If it is being created with the highest margins by the lowest cost fabrication manufacturey, it stands to reason that they can make or break even on any market, esepecially given the fact that the majority of the costs incurred are in said markets at low prices. We in the developed world seem to enjoy the concept of "manufacturing" "actual numbers" for development, production and R&D costs to ensure there is an "acceptable" price range in the 1st/2nd world markets.

    If any manufacturer wanted to truly undercut competitors in price in 1st/2nd world markets they would price their products much closer to the 3rd world costs of production and manufacturing.

  • Afif

    I agree it's a dangerous move . At least they shouldn't give up making Mid-Range phones ( by the way , the definition of "Mid-Range" and "Flagship" is changing every year )

    And advertising is a killer point for Sony , even with the big number of videos about Xperia Z on YouTube by Sony ...... YouTube is ain't enough .

  • Elias

    Dammit, Sony, pull your head out of your ass already. Leave the market to set the lowest prices it can on your devices. Setting a minimum price artificially is dumb and disrespects the most obvious law of markets - and your customer's intelligence. Your products were already overpriced enough, don't come up with more shit. Just look at how LG made a top notch device (optimus g) which didn't really hit the headlines until it got a competitive price (nexus 4).

  • cooldoods

    It's a smart move for this year at least. Sony has been an also-ran among Android OEMs compared to Samsung. But as LG has shown with the Optimus G and, to a lesser degree, HTC with the One X and DNA, it just takes one darn good premium phone to get people to notice your brand. The Xperia Z looks gorgeous and I hope Sony becomes successful with it.

  • http://twitter.com/dimitris1900 Veneziano

    well....i see your article is pretty much so samsunged....

    Ok...sammy has better performance,better phones...but not any more...

    The potential is there...sony is a brand name very strong...The quality of the new phones,ion,Z,T,V,ZL is superb and guess what...the V with JB just flies...

    so...i mean...relax...they must take the risk and they can afford it beacuse they are e company with knowledge and quality.

    also...If only you knew how the Z is expected in Europe you could understand that the Z is the phone everybody wants!

    iPhone killer design with android ....sammy as sw implementation is the best android OEM but this is not enough...

    looking forward to S4

  • rocs_macho

    Here in the States, it's all about marketing. I don't remember the last time I saw a phone commercial on TV that was not about GS3, N2, or iPhone. I know the GS2 was and is still huge outside of the mainstream, but once Samsung pumped out their marketing campaign, the S3 took off. Those 3 phones also have the most important thing in common..Same look and name on all carriers. If Sony or LG or HTC want to get their products into as many hands as possible, see what the other guys are doing.