Samsung and Apple stand firmly at the stop of the smartphone heap, and players like HTC and LG continue ride their way up the market share rankings. But what of Sony? You know, the Japanese stalwart that occupies a significantly strong (if not dominant) position when it comes to other sorts of consumer tech?
It’s still gunning for that vaunted number three spot behind the folks in Seoul and Cupertino, but it’s preparing to tighten its focus a bit. Sony CEO Kazuo Hirai confirmed to Reuters (among other news outlets) that the company will focus building its smartphone business in Europe and its native Japan before attempting to crack the massive Chinese and U.S. markets in earnest.
It may seem like a surprising concession — Sony is a globally-known brand after all — but it isn’t exactly a stranger to abandoning tough-to-crack market segments. Earlier this year Sony Xperia Product Manager Stephen Sneeden remarked to CNET that the company was considering getting out of the low-end Android smartphone racket entirely because thanks to some especially fierce competition. The (then-tentative) new plan? To focus squarely on pushing premium smartphones that are truly representative of Sony’s mobile vision.
Hirai also added that future expansion in the U.S. would start “gradually”, which is no surprise — that’s basically the tack Sony’s already been taking for the past few years. Sony was arguably more prominent in the U.S. mobile market before it very publicly split with joint venture partner Ericsson back in 2011. Since then, Sony Mobile has released only a handful of smartphones into the U.S. by via of carrier tie-ups — there was the Xperia X10 and Xperia ion on AT&T, the reasonably new Xperia Z on T-Mobile, and the immensely curious Xperia Play on Verizon. In fairness, Sony also sold its share of unlocked gadgets through its own online portal but I’d wager the domestic demand for pricey non-contract phones has never knocked Sony’s socks off.
Still, this whole thing does seem shrouded in question marks. Sony is surely waiting on the right time to push back into China and the U.S., but its more nimble, financially oblivious rivals aren’t going to sit idly by and wait for them to construct a viable expansion plan. There’s a very real chance that Sony will get out-innovated or out-marketed no matter when they decide to enter the fray, which is really a shame. From my perch, it looks like Sony is finally hitting its stride with smartphones — the Xperia Z was an awfully impressive piece of kit when it debuted, and more recent efforts like the Z1 prove that the company is willing and able to compete on specs with the best of them.