Sony was one of the earliest adopters of Google’s Android mobile operating system, but its products are not the leaders in the smartphone industry anymore. The company was the only major electronics brand to launch smartphones at CES 2018 last week. The new products showcased at CES however are still stuck with the old design offering mediocre specifications that made them less appealing in terms of overall package.
Sony, in general, has lost out to Apple and Samsung in the premium smartphone while in the mid-range segment, the Japanese technology giant has conceded to Chinese smartphone makers including Xiaomi, Oppo and Vivo. In the last two years, Sony has changed its strategy to focus on mid-range and premium smartphone segment, and bowed out of budget smartphone market. Its disappointing smartphone sales has even led to analysts and industry watchers calling for the company to quit the industry altogether.
However, Sony CEO Kaz Hirai has now confirmed that his company will continue to make Xperia-branded smartphones going forward. In an interview with The Guardian, Hirai explained that it is investing in smartphone segment in order to not miss the trend that lies ahead. He sees development and distribution of Xperia phones as a way to stay in the communication business and not smartphone business per se.
“It’s not about the smartphones of today; it’s more about looking beyond smartphones – at what are we going to be doing – and to be a player in this space; ideally to be a leader. For that strategic reason, I want to make sure we stay, not in the smartphone business, per se, but in the communications business,” Hirai told The Guardian.
Sony is not alone in this scenario. Apple, Samsung and LG are all looking for a future beyond smartphones and Sony was in fact the first to drop out of the wearable segment, which was widely seen as the play beyond smartphones for these companies. Hirai effectively realized that there is no major adoption around smartwatches, and discontinued company’s wearable lineup two years after he took over as CEO.
Even if Sony drops out of the smartphone business completely, it will play a major role in the industry. Sony’s imaging division continues to supply image sensors for smartphone manufacturers including big brands like Samsung, Apple and all major Chinese smartphone makers. Sony image sensors can also be found on digital cameras and surveillance equipment but Hirai has his eyes set on the automotive segment where steering wheel is getting replaced by autonomous sensors and mirrors are being replaced by cameras.
Sony has also showcased other futuristic products like robots that can help with domestic work. At CES 2018, the company showed an AI-infused robotic dog named Aibo that it sees will eventually replace pets at home. The company has also showcased wild ideas like Xperia Touch projector that adds a new way to interact with standard Android apps and a 4K short-throw projector designed on top of Lifespace UX that has a built in speaker for superior audio.
It is not immediately clear which bets from Hirai will pay off in the longer run, but Sony is staying in the smartphone space for now. One can only hope for Sony to offer smartphones with more practical design at a price that justifies the offering.