Rumor Mill: Sprint, SoftBank to combine forces and launch Sony Xperia Z3

Sprint (NYSE: S) and its parent SoftBank will partner with Sony Mobile Communications to launch Sony's next flagship Xperia-branded smartphone, according to multiple reports. The launch would represent the first time either carrier partnered with Sony for a phone rollout.

According to reports from Reuters and the Wall Street Journal, which cited unnamed sources, SoftBank will launch the phone in Japan while Sprint will sell it in the U.S. The device is expected to be the Xperia Z3, which Sony is rumored to be launching next week at the IFA electronics trade show in Berlin.

Sprint spokesman Doug Duvall declined to comment, and SoftBank and Sony also declined to comment, according to Reuters.

Rumors have indicated the Z3 will have a 5.2-inch HD display, a quad-core 2.5 GHz Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM) Snapdragon 805 processor and a 20.7-megapixel camera with an Exmor RS sensor with G Lens technology.

Earlier this month SoftBank and Sprint announced they would partner with Japanese smartphone and display maker Sharp to sell the Sharp Aquos Crystal in their first partnership with the Japanese firm. The carriers noted that their combined scale and joint product strategy would let them offer the phone at lower prices, which may also pan out for the Z3.

SoftBank just launched the Aquos Crystal in Japan, and Sprint is expected to start selling it sometime in the near future (an exact launch date hasn't been set) for just $239 without a contract. Sprint will also sell the phone for 24 monthly payments of $10 via its device financing program, and its Virgin Mobile and Boost Mobile brands will sell the phone for $149.99.

The Aquos Crystal features a 5-inch HD edge-to-edge screen, 1.2 GHz quad-core processor, Spark technology, Wi-Fi calling, HD Voice, Harman Kardon's LiveStage and Clari-Fi audio technology, an 8-megapixel rear camera and 1.2-megapixlfront-facing camera.

With the Aquos Crystal, Sprint's David Owens said the carrier was working to offer "an iconic product but put it in the value category."

Owens, Sprint's senior vice president of product development, told FierceWireless earlier this month that SoftBank and Sprint will announce more joint product launches that leverage their combined scale, calling it an "evolutionary" process. Sony has been rumored to be in talks with both carriers.

For Sony, the deals with SoftBank and Sprint would represent a chance to give its flagship smartphones a firmer foothold in key developed markets.

Last month Sony cut its annual smartphones sales target to 43 million units from the 50 million it had announced in May. In July, Sony CFO Kenichiro Yoshida said at a news conference the company would strengthen its mobile sales efforts in certain markets where it could burnish its image as a premium brand by working more closely with local carriers. Sony has partnered with T-Mobile US (NYSE:TMUS) for some of its recent smartphones, but its mobile sales and marketing have been limited in the U.S. market.

Meanwhile, Sony CEO Kazuo Hirai will take over the company's product strategy division as the company churns toward what is expected to be its sixth annual loss in seven years. Hirai will lead a new user experience platform overseeing strategy, sales and marketing, the company said in a statement, according to Bloomberg.

For more:
- see this WSJ article (sub. req.)
- see this Reuters article
- see this Bloomberg article

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