Sony Ericsson could ditch the Walkman brand

Sony Ericsson has had a very bad year so far and is likely to have to raise more than $135m by next March, most likely from its parents.

It has already bucked the handset industry trend - in a negative way - by being over-focused on the lowest growth segment, the midrange, and now it looks set to throw away its one shining asset, its Sony brands.

With the latest Walkman music player, the X-Series, attracting strong reviews and restoring some of the luster to Sony's brand, the handset JV is reported to be preparing to drop Walkman and Cybershot branding from cellphones in developed markets such as the UK and many other western European territories.

Instead, it will focus all its efforts on the unified entertainment offering it unveiled in February at Mobile World Congress. The first handset, idou, is expected to launch this month, tightly integrated with music, video and gaming services under the Entertainment Unlimited umbrella.

So far, so in tune with the move towards integration of device and services, both in branding and product terms. But as Nokia knows, this is a forward-looking strategy that will be slow-burning outside very high end-user bases - and Nokia would kill for some brands as powerful as Walkman and Cybershot to fall back on in the mid-market.

If the reports prove true, killing these prematurely - in order to spend the necessary huge piles of euros on establishing a brand new brand (idou) and a new integrated entertainment concept - looks near-suicidal for a cash-strapped firm in a crowded market.

The reports surfaced in Marketing magazine, which was told by Andre Jacquet, Sony Ericsson's head of global marketing business management that “the message conveyed by the brand names was no longer relevant” as consumers wanted phones that featured music, camera, internet and other services all in one device. So the Entertainment Unlimited proposition would unite the Walkman and Cybershot brands under a single name.

Sony Ericsson has sold over 100 million Walkman phones since launching in 2005.

Jacquet said phasing out the brands would be a local market decision depending on individual country dynamics, and that the handset maker would go ahead with the launch of two Walkman handsets this year - the W205 and the W995.

Idou will launch on May 28 as Sony Ericsson's flagship device, featuring multitouch screen, 12-megapixel camera, and a broad range of video, music, games and location services.

And since we're on the topic of handset launch dates, the latest rumor on new iPhones is that July 17 will be the release date for a new model, which will apparently carry the same price tags as the current 3G product ($199 and $299) but with doubled memory (16Gb and 32Gb respectively), 3.2-megapixel camera with video recording, and a 50% improvement to the iPhone's poor battery life.

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