Let's not give up on Sony as a major smartphone vendor yet

This article may contain personal views and opinion from the author.
Let's not give up on Sony as a major smartphone vendor yet
Only ‘80s kids probably remember this, but there was a time, not that long ago, when the war for mobile industry domination was carried on between Nokia, Motorola, and Sony Ericsson rather than Samsung, Apple, and Huawei.

Of course, unlike Nokia, Motorola, and even Samsung, Sony has never been primarily focused on manufacturing and marketing phones. The Japanese multinational conglomerate corporation was founded in 1946 (yup, over seven decades ago), joining forces with Swedish networking and telecommunications veteran Ericsson in 2001, at a point in time when global mobile phone sales had already crossed the 400 million yearly unit barrier.


The Sony Ericsson W810 was one of the brand's top-selling phones more than a decade ago

Sony Ericsson reached its volume peak in 2007, shipping more than 100 million devices around the world, largely standing out with capable cameras and advanced audio technology inspired by the company’s legendary Walkman line of portable media players.

But something happened in 2007 that rocked the mobile industry to its foundations, and Sony Ericsson was just one of several brands unable to keep up with Apple and then Samsung’s innovation tempo and marketing brilliance.

As they say, the rest is history, but perhaps Sony can still stage a comeback.

Just how bad are things right now?


In short, pretty bad. Not for Sony as a whole, obviously. The company made an overall profit of about $6.6 billion for the fiscal year ended March 31, 2018 on $78 billion sales. But do you care to guess how much of that profit actually derived from the Mobile Communications business segment? That’s right, zero.


Believe it or not, Sony expects smartphone sales numbers to decline even further this year

Worse yet, Xperia smartphones generated a loss of $250 million after barely selling 13.5 million units. This wasn’t the first year Sony’s mobile division proved unprofitable either, and if you’re looking for a little perspective, Huawei shipped 54 million smartphones during Q2 2018 alone, while Oppo ranked fifth, with a whopping 29 million units of its own.

In the grand scheme of things, Sony feels like an increasingly irrelevant smartphone vendor, which begs the obvious question - why not give up and further ramp up the focus on lucrative departments like motion pictures, music, gaming hardware and software, home entertainment, imaging sensors, and semiconductors?

 
The easy answer seems to have something to do with 5G technology, which Sony hopes will help change the status quo. But even if that doesn’t turn out to be the case, this is a smartphone brand that deserves to stick around for a multitude of reasons.

A risk taker and a trendsetter


Sony’s flagship smartphone designs may seem repetitive and boring now, but they weren’t always like that. 2012’s Xperia S looked as unusual back then as it does now, the Xperia Z was one of the first mainstream water-resistant handsets available in the US and Western Europe, the Xperia Z Ultra adopted a 6.4-inch display that seemed bonkers back in 2013, while 2015’s Xperia Z5 Premium boldly went where no other mobile device dared to go before, sporting 4K screen resolution (3840 x 2160 pixels).


That Sony Xperia S was quite an odd duck, wasn't it?

Granted, even though the Xperia XZ2 Premium matches that incredible pixel count, 4K-capable smartphones haven’t caught on, as they’re not really noticeably sharper than, say, the 2960 x 1440 Galaxy Note 9 or even many 2160 x 1080 high-enders.

Still, this goes to show Sony isn’t afraid to experiment, and just like water-resistant phones, odds are other similar risks will end up paying off in the long run. The company just has to be willing to keep trying.


Can you spot the fingerprint reader in this picture?

Ironically, Sony appears to have abandoned a trademark design quirk that companies like Motorola and Meizu are now starting to embrace, namely the side-mounted fingerprint sensor. In terms of trends the company is stubbornly resisting, many people like to deride the notch, but Sony needs to come up with a way to reduce screen bezels. The Xperia XZ2 and XZ2 Premium are simply not on par with their price range rivals when it comes to screen-to-body ratio.

Compact phones and software updates matter


How exactly did companies get the idea smaller phones are out of fashion? For crying out loud, if hardware keyboards are coming back, surely there’s still a market for compact handsets as well.


Bigger is not always better 

We’re talking actual compact phones, mind you, and not those that are compact considering how huge their screens are. Like the 5-inch Xperia XZ2 Compact. And the 4.6-inch XZ1 Compact, and the 4.6-inch X Compact, and the 4.6-inch Z5 Compact. Apart from an easy to maneuver body, these four have top-shelf specifications in common, proving you don’t need to make all kinds of performance compromises to go small.

That’s something that needs to continue being a thing, and we also need Sony to remind us a major software update can be delivered to a non-stock Android phone (or five) in a timely manner.

The technology is there


Let’s circle back to the company’s aforementioned profitable divisions for a second. Notice anything interesting? No, not that Sony Pictures bounced back after the whole North Korean hack debacle a few years back.

What’s interesting is that Sony makes good money off semiconductors and electronic components. We’re talking image processors, image sensors, laser diodes, OLED panels, and so on.
Do you think it’s a coincidence that Sony launched the world’s first smartphone capable of recording 960 fps Super slow motion video in HD quality last year, then the first device with Full HD support for the same feature in 2018? That’s in-house magic right there, and it’s just one of the reasons why Exmor camera sensors are considered some of the very best available today.

In fact, they’re so good that Samsung still doesn’t rely exclusively on its own super-advanced Isocell solutions for Galaxy S-series flagships. Granted, Sony could always decide to kill its in-house smartphones and keep selling cutting-edge components to other companies, but wouldn’t that be a majorly wasted opportunity?

Keep being you, Sony



At least in part, this is clearly a company playing its cards right. What needs to be fixed is the pricing strategy of high-end Xperias. There’s nothing wrong in sacrificing volume for profit margins, but right now, sales numbers are microscopical and profits nonexistent.

The company has to start taking big risks again, but at the same time, keep the things that are working unchanged. Sprinkle some 5G innovation on top, and sooner or later, things will turn around.

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36 Comments

1. libra89

Posts: 2316; Member since: Apr 15, 2016

I want Sony to keep making compact phones. The phones they make there seem to get better and better.

29. tangbunna

Posts: 491; Member since: Sep 29, 2016

but their software is not better. and price is getting worse. their best camera sensors from their lab are already sold exclusively to other phone competitors.

30. cheetah2k

Posts: 2297; Member since: Jan 16, 2011

With the exception of the Z3 compact (with LCD touch screen issues) and the X compact (no IP68 and 6xx series CPU) the others have been great.... My wife has pretty much had all of the compact series since the Z1 as she hates iphones, but wants high end specs and smaller screen

2. ch3mn3y

Posts: 77; Member since: Sep 17, 2017

Wooo :O PA wrote positive article about some other OEM than Apple. And not only that, but it's about Sony!

6. josephnero

Posts: 787; Member since: Nov 16, 2011

Surprised me too lol

33. WingMan

Posts: 263; Member since: Mar 28, 2008

Can Apple be called OEM, when they don't manufacture anything?

3. umaru-chan

Posts: 372; Member since: Apr 27, 2017

Sony mobile was great back then but now it's total crap. Let's see, sony mobile Design: total crap, worst design phone in 2018. Fat, ugly and disfunctional. Worst position for finger print Sanner and the phone is slippery as hell. Not to mention how heavy the phone is. A total disaster. Screen: Just Ok. Screen to body ratio is utter pathetic for phone released in 2018. Battery: just ok. Nothing compared to note 9 or P20 pro. Camera: one trick pony. Nothing compared to iPhone x, pixel, Galaxy or Huawei. Sound: nothing to write about. Software: meh. Still has their dated looks. Overall a total waste of money when you have far better alternatives at cheaper price unless you have a very unique acquired taste. Only thing that is worse than Sony mobile is their delusional dumb fanboys like humanoid or whatever crap his name is and his like minded friends who keep defending Sony mobile despite their pathetic performances in recent years and blame Apple for Sony mobile misery. Yep it's totally Apple's and tech reviewers fault that Sony mobile is failing, Sony mobile did nothing wrong. LMAO.

7. Feanor

Posts: 1419; Member since: Jun 20, 2012

Totally disagree: Bezels are as thin as they get with front facing stereo speakers. No other vendor with front facing speakers has managed thinner bezels. Software is not dated, is nearly stock Android plus some tiny tweaks like more interesting animations and wallpapers. Unless if you think that Android Material Design is dated as a whole. The fingerprint scanner position is low, but journalists change often phones and cannot adapt. I am used to it on my XZ2, no issues. Sony is better than most in reliability, update policy, UX design consistency. Camera is probably marginally worse than competition, but you'd really have to go looking for the slightest details to see that it's a bit worse than a Galaxy S9. Totally adequate for 99% of users.

11. Sealblaighter

Posts: 430; Member since: Jan 26, 2014

What are you talking about man? The XZ2 Premium is the low-light champion, I have seen a comparison between a lot of smart phones, and the Sony was the winner. I am not saying Samsung or Apple was weak, but the best was the Sony. If I can find the video I will try to share it to you. Anyway Sony could change their strategy, as you mentioned their design is bad, sound could be better.

13. Feanor

Posts: 1419; Member since: Jun 20, 2012

I have a XZ2 but I want to be objective; when GSMArena tested the camera of the XZ2 Premium with the competition, the XZ2 Premium was really up there with the best. A comparison with the normal XZ2 was also available and it's true that in night pics the XZ2 was marginally worse than the XZ2 and the other best. However the differences were so small that I think normal users wouldn't care if they didn't have a direct comparison. The night pics of the XZ2 are also great, just 5% worse than the best.

26. Seany

Posts: 94; Member since: Sep 28, 2012

You talk out of your backside,you obviously know nothing. Sony have fast updates,a very well optimized UI which is fast & smooth,excellent screens,great battery life,cameras have hugely improved. Stop talking about something you know nothing about. Harping on about fanboys,it's not important it's just a phone,who cares if people prefer Sony over another brand,you obviously do. I think you need to stop trolling & get a life

4. Crispin_Gatieza

Posts: 3166; Member since: Jan 23, 2014

Sony needs to make their imaging software as good as their camera modules. Everybody knows how good Nokia's Lumia cameras are, Sony needs the same recognition.

14. Subie

Posts: 2424; Member since: Aug 01, 2015

I completely agree! When looking at how good Sony is with their full format professional cameras, I'm surprised they aren't already there with their phones as well.

15. Subie

Posts: 2424; Member since: Aug 01, 2015

Duplicate

5. josephnero

Posts: 787; Member since: Nov 16, 2011

Hell yeah. Sony FTW

8. Plasticsh1t

Posts: 3109; Member since: Sep 01, 2014

I wish they go bold and make their software like the Playstation one. Good,capable, and reliable software updates with access to the psn. Wishful thinking but still.

9. surethom

Posts: 1730; Member since: Mar 04, 2009

Sony mobile devision needs a new European leader & a marketing budget.

10. Feanor

Posts: 1419; Member since: Jun 20, 2012

Reasons why I choose Sony: -Near stock Android is for me a necessity; Samsung and the Chinese make their own Android versions that clash with Android Material Design. Updates are pathetic. You get your S8 updated to Oreo and you get worse instead of better battery life. Your Huawei force stops background activities against Android policies and has your VLC app not running. I don't want any of those unpredictable software glitches. -Pixel 2 XL would be the obvious choice but it's plagued with reliability issues. -Nokia has no competitive edge against Sony and it doesn't compete in processing power (no SD 845 Nokia yet), battery life (XZ2 is battery champion). Bezels are also not smaller. Screens are blueish and offer no white balance adjustment. -Motorola has also no competitive edge and design sucks big time. Bezels also not smaller than Sony. I'm not a Sony fan per se; if Google fix their Pixel reliability issues and Nokia fix their blueish screens, I may change. But as it stands, Sony is my only option until someone else comes with a really competitive, pure Android device. Simple.

12. Sammy_DEVIL737

Posts: 1529; Member since: Nov 28, 2016

Please SONY (the sleeping king) just wake up and make great devices like Z, S etc. And after making them just market your devices. The same applies to hTC.

16. Humanoid

Posts: 1226; Member since: Dec 11, 2017

https://youtu.be/1sOE1Yya5vU XZ2P humiliates iphone X, even XZ2 did.

17. ryq24

Posts: 876; Member since: Oct 17, 2011

Sony just like most major Japanese companies just can no longer compete anymore in most consumer market unless they are willing to sacrifice profit for sales which is something Japanese companies won't or can't do.

18. yalokiy

Posts: 1112; Member since: Aug 01, 2016

Keep being you and die proud.

19. D34ever

Posts: 236; Member since: Jul 14, 2018

If they keep charging $800+ for their phones, then the slide will continue.

20. midan

Posts: 3121; Member since: Oct 09, 2017

As an old Sony fan it's sad to say R.I.P Sony phone business, but they just doesn't have competitive packet, first of all their phone design is very outdated. Looking the phones which are against Sony phones, Sony have zero chance. They would need miracle to change direction just like HTC and LG too.

21. jellmoo

Posts: 2660; Member since: Oct 31, 2011

I *want* to like Sony. They do some things really well. I enjoyed the Z3, and think that they've made some fun handsets. But... They are really slow to innovate in ways that matter to casual consumers, which is a problem. They put out devices that are way to iterative, and ultimately end up being confusing. And their latest design is, to put it mildly, garbage. They buck the current trends at their own peril, honestly. They price their devices high, but they don't really have the ability to do it, and they suffer for it. They need a niche where they can say that they are competitive to the average consumer. Right now, they really don't offer anyone a reason to chose their devices over either more known ones, or less expensive ones.

28. Remmy

Posts: 189; Member since: Jul 31, 2012

Sony should stop with the 6-month flagship cycle, it really does make the Xperia line redundant and iterative. Why not just put all your resources in one product which will be competitive enough to last a year's life cycle.

22. Ellio74

Posts: 74; Member since: Mar 22, 2018

Nice article! I always go to Sony when choosing a smartphone, simply because I know I'll never be disappointed (even the Z3+ was not that bad! Lol). They deliver without any major flaws in every department (screen, UI, performance, battery life, audio, camera, etc.). They know for sure how to make smartphones, and how to use their own technology. Moreover, these phones have a special feel to them, that I only find in Sony ones. The coming months should be great too, as Sony has announced that it will use even more of its own ressources and that it'll be more reactive in the mobile industry. For sure, they'll not leave the smartphone department, and I'm happy to hear that, because no other phone is able to be as good for me as these Sony are.

24. josephnero

Posts: 787; Member since: Nov 16, 2011

Same as me

25. eelpout

Posts: 34; Member since: Oct 13, 2016

Not sure what's so wrong with the bezel ratio Sony is using on the XZ2. They've reduced what they had last year and still kept the front facing stereo speakers. It's a nice compromise. That said I do like the direction Meizu is going with the "16th" model, keeping minimal bezels without going edgeless like Samsung, which I think can make it difficult to hold at times.

27. Remmy

Posts: 189; Member since: Jul 31, 2012

The problem with Sony is the lack of carrier support and advertising. When I went to Europe back in 2014, I can see tons of ads everywhere, a far cry from what Oppo and Vivo's sales agents are doing which gets quite annoying as they bug you to try their latest handsets. Plus I think 80% of buyers are after hardware specifications, whenever local reviewers post their Xperia review verdicts, people always complain about their 'old' design, 'weaker' chipset and absurd pricing, when none of them even ever tried owning one. I hated the XZ2's design when it came out, but after using it for more than three months, the fingerprint sensor and the lack of a headphone jack didn't bother me anymore. It's always the look and feel of their software that keeps me coming back, and I think people should try to see for themselves why Sony is still trying to be different while embracing the trends, even if they're 'late' to the party.

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