Following the buyout by Sony of Ericsson’s half of its mobile handset joint venture, the Japanese consumer electronics company has launched the first mobile phones under its own brand in 10 years.
With the buyout still pending regulatory approval, this was a bold move by Sony but one Ovum believes the company needed to make. The launch of the own-branded smartphones marks the start of a new era for Sony, as it positions itself to battle with other multiscreen players in the increasingly competitive and interlinked consumer electronics markets.
As we enter 2012, Ovum believes that it will become increasingly important for top-tier consumer electronics vendors to offer a complete portfolio, not only of devices, but also the services which run on them. Despite having many of these components in place, Sony now faces the challenge of knitting them together to create a compelling integrated offering – an area in which it has yet to excel.
Mobile phones are the last piece of multiscreen puzzle for Sony. By adding a wholly-owned mobile phone division to its PC, tablet, TV, and gaming product lines, Sony now has a true multiscreen offering, bringing it level with rivals Samsung, LG, and Apple.
This was an essential move for Sony. The stakes are getting higher in the consumer electronics market, as are the components required to play at the top. As highlighted in Ovum’s report The Connected and Extended Home: Key Player Positioning, being able to offer a consistent experience across all devices is a key component for successful multiscreen players, so the buyout is a key (if not overdue) move for Sony to ensure that it can fully own and control all types of connected devices.
The addition of mobile devices to Sony’s portfolio will be mutually beneficial for the mobile handset division and Sony’s other hardware divisions. Integration with other products, such as the ability to control an Xperia smartphone connected to a Sony TV with the TV’s remote control, and the ability to share content with Sony tablets, will not only increase the attractiveness of Xperia smartphones but will also increase the appeal of the Sony devices which the phone can connect to.
However, it is not only the integration with other Sony devices which will bring benefits to its smartphones. Sony is also able to bring technologies developed for other products into its smartphones to enhance them, such as the Bravia video engine from its TVs and the Playstation experience from its gaming devices.
Battlelines are being drawn for integrated multiscreen players
The walls between various consumer electronics categories are quickly breaking down. The rise of Internet connectivity, cloud services, and a third-party application development environment means that the standalone device will soon be a thing of the past. Because of this shift, it will be vital for top-tier consumer electronics vendors to offer a complete portfolio, not only of devices, but also the services which run on them.
While it lags behind in the smartphone stakes, Sony has a significant foothold in the next major battleground, the connected TV market, through a wide installed base of connected TVs, Blu-ray players, and Playstation consoles. Sony also has an advantage over its multiscreen rivals, as in addition to devices it owns content to consume on them, being a sizable publisher of games, music, and movies.
However, the company still faces challenges, not least from its own internal structure. Sony has historically resisted integrating its different product units too tightly, for fear that it may impact sales by appearing too closed. The company will therefore need to balance this desire to remain open against the benefits which deeper integration can bring to its products.
Sony is using applications to enable a consistent user interface and integration between its devices across the various operating systems which it uses. This strategy does leave the company at the mercy of others, notably Microsoft for PC devices and Google for smartphones and tablets, which is a significant risk for Sony. However, for now at least, this is a risk the company believes is worthwhile.
Sony has opted to continue to use the Xperia smartphone brand from Sony Ericsson, and has launched two handsets – the Xperia S, a high-end HSPA Android smartphone, and an LTE Android smartphone, specifically designed for AT&T in North America.
This phone is particularly important for Sony, as addressing Sony Ericsson’s lackluster performance in the North American market is a key objective for the company in 2012. LTE and carrier partnerships have become table-stakes to play at the top end of the smartphone market in North America, and while AT&T’s LTE network currently lags some way behind Verizon’s, having these two elements in place at least gives Sony a fighting chance.
Nick Dillon is an analyst in Ovum’s devices and platforms team. For more information go to www.ovum.com/