When Apple set out to make the first iPhone, they wanted their device to feel like a Sony product. Such was the appeal of the brand Sony, and was once synonymous with innovation. When new brands with much less loyal customer base are managing to capture a place amongst the tough competition in the marketplace. Why is it so hard for Sony to find success with its line of smartphones.
The Sony Ericsson Days
Sony and Ericsson got into a joint venture on October 1 2001, forming the Sony Ericsson brand. By 2005 the company upped its game by introducing the K750i and W800i series. Bringing improved camera and music playback support through the dedicated Cybershot and Walkman brands.
In 2007 with the K850i, the company launched its first 5MP camera phone, and in 2008 it launched the world’s first 8.1MP camera phone with its C905 model. The company quickly made a niche for itself and held 9% of the global phone sales at the time. But by the combined onslaught from the launch of Apple’s iPhone in Q3 of 2007 and the decline in the Symbian mobile platform due to the rise of the Android OS, now with Google at the helm, the company’s fortunes quickly turned for the worse.
Switching to Android
By 2011, Sony bought the shares from Ericsson, to create Sony Mobile and committed itself to the Android platform. In 2012 they launched the first Sony only smartphone, the Xperia S. The move proved to be a success, and Sony became the fourth largest smartphone manufacturer by sales volume in 2012 shipping nearly 10 million units worldwide. Even after having an appealing brand, Sony couldn’t keep up with the stiff competition and by early 2015, started struggling to be profitable.
Lack of support in US Markets
Sony ignored the competition, and failed to find the right partner to promote it in the U.S. The stubborn pricing and reluctance to create carrier-specific models, made their devices inaccessible to the buyers. Lack of promotions failed to attract new customers, while loyal customers were put off by the high price. Users became frustrated with the compromising decisions made to the devices. Due to a patent issue the fingerprint sensors for the US model devices had to be deactivated. All this created a bad reputation for the Xperia smartphones.
The lack of software integration was apparent. Even though Sony made some of the best image sensors in the industry, their smartphones struggled to capture photos. Image quality was bad in poor lighting and overheated while recording videos for more than 20 minutes. The idea of releasing flagship every six months with incremental updates, didn’t help. It also meant that the new models dropped in value much quicker, and alienated buyers further. As Chinese manufactures started making affordable flagships, Sony could no longer compete profitably. And the company has now exited from most markets, focusing on European and select Asian markets.
The Future for Xperia
In spite of the hardship smartphone manufactures face today, with declining sales margin amongst the cut throat competition in the Android market, a smartphone is still essential for Sony. It manages to showcase the essence of the company’s electronic division within a single device. A smartphone is one the most personal device today. As such it helps a brand to build a strong base on an individual level. Sony can still turn around its smartphone business, unlike brands like Blackberry, HTC, etc. They have the advantage of being a consumer electronics company. Tapping into successful brands such as Walkman, Cybershot and the Playstation, Sony Xperia can be revived.
Focus on Experience
Adopt stock android to reduce cost for software optimization, and get into partnership with carriers. Target the devices to cater for media and gaming consumption at the $600 – $800, price bracket. But avoid watering down brand value with budget models. Focus only on two models, a flagship and a compact version of the same device. This approach was proven successful in the past. Gimmicky approaches such a triple camera setup won’t sell if the quality of the picture doesn’t stand up. Similarly, Ultra HD screen resolutions will only turn out to become a battery hog. Focus on delivering a crisp and clean Android experience, with high performance, all day battery, loud speakers. Focus on yearly incremental updates that helps to get a connection with your fanbase. This makes decisions on upgrade cycles easier.
The Uphill Struggle
That being said, Sony faces an uphill struggle ahead. The attempt at cost cutting is quickly making them an also-ran, in the android segment. To trump-up confidence into the brand, aggressive marketing and target oriented products are needed. While any misstep will definitely add to the trouble. Sony knows how to do an effective launch, its just that they don’t consider their smartphones are worthy of it. That approach has to change. It would be wiser to make a tactical retreat to stem the losses and come back with a solid device planned for a Q2 launch in 2021.