For better or worse, Sony is finally going to cut back on frequent smartphone releases


Sony logo CES 2015 DSC_0059

Sony’s financial troubles as of late haven’t gone undocumented. With unfortunate layoffs, the sale of key buildings and the need to spin off certain divisions to keep itself afloat, the company is willing to do anything to stop the massive bleeding that once had their credit rated as “junk.”

The latest move comes in a big shift in strategy for the company’s mobile division, a unit which costs Sony hundreds of millions of dollars every year and was said to be the biggest burden on the company’s expected 2015 losses of $1.9 billion.

The Japanese company is reportedly looking to cut back on smartphone releases and will instead look to prolong their flagship smartphones’ life cycles. As such, it’s said they will not be revealing a new flagship at Mobile World Congress and will instead wait until the summer months to show off their next big thing.

It’s not uncommon to see Sony release as many as three flagship smartphones in a calendar year, and while it’s fun for us techies to see new smartphones and gadgets often the practice comes with a fair bit of downside. The problem with such frequent releases? Here’s a quick primer:

  • It splits the marketing focus between far too many phones at one time instead of pushing one rock star product above all else.
  • Consumers are always wary of what’s right around the corner, so they hold off buying knowing it won’t be long before the current product is one-upped with the latest and greatest.
  • Research and development costs, engineering and production, and the subsequent distribution of a smartphone all cost a ton of money, time and other resources. Those resources and that energy could instead be pooled into one project to deliver the best possible product from angles of design, specifications and features.

HTC found themselves in the same rut not long ago and opted to slim their top-line portfolio down to just one or two key devices every year (HTC One M7 and HTC One Max for 2013, HTC One M8 for 2014). That move, along with other key business decisions — like the sale of Beats and a renewed focus on mid-range offerings — allowed HTC to get the arrow pointing back in the right direction.

Some Sony fans who value the wealth of options afforded to them might be saddened to hear this news, but if this is what Sony has to do to avoid having to sell their mobile unit then you should definitely be on board. Better to see them prosper in new ways than to wither off into nothingness.

Quentyn Kennemer
The "Google Phone" sounded too awesome to pass up, so I bought a G1. The rest is history. And yes, I know my name isn't Wilson.

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  1. Well, now I know than a Z4 is out as my next phone as I am buying my next phone based on MWC releases so likely: M9 or S6.

    1. That seems like you are limiting your options basing your decisions on MWC releases. Seems like your falling in line with those who started the show. They can control what companies get into that show and how much attention that company gets at the show based on placement of that companies booth. It all comes down to money with those shows, and your just buying in to the self-interest of those who started the convention and their interest is in those companies who pay them the most money, not the company with best product. Whatever product you get, just do your research and don’t base your decision on some convention that only promotes the products that pay them the most money. Whether it is the M9 or S6 or whatever else your looking, you should really base your decision on quality and your own preference rather than the preferences of those with their own self-interest in mind.

  2. that underwater store was a huge waste of money also! Didnt really undestand y they released so many phones anyway, one good solid device and maybe a mid range if it can be priced competitively against a moto G.

  3. As Sony dies slowly… they prepare the launch of their NEW $1400.00 Walkman that no one will buy! Go SONY!

    1. Niche technology starts as niche then often goes mainstream over time. Mercedes-Benz for instance will come out with some new extremely expensive car with fancy new features (think back 15 years when only high-end luxury cars had HID headlights and navigation) and then over time the technology becomes commoditized and available to the masses. Think of it as a low R&D cost experiment.

      1. But Sony is not innovating; there’s literally nothing about that player that’s new or advanced. I wouldn’t be surprised if someone with enough analog engineering experience to make/select a decent headphone amp circuit could roll their own “premium” digital player with an Arduino (or one of those 32-bit Cortex M3 Arduino-ish projects).

      2. The biggest problem right off the bat is that it’s launching with ancient software. If they were in fact hoping for the new Walkman to take off, it should run something more recent than Android 2.2.

    2. I know, really. The sad thing is, there is a NEED for a premium iPod/iPhone competitor—I am not a big iOS guy (here I am on Phandroid, gee), but I would appreciate a premium music device beyond the stock audio hardware built into my smartphone.
      Really all that is for a digital device is a processor fast/powerful enough to load codecs on the fly (including m4a, FLAC, WAV, AIFF, mp3), and some really good, spare-no-expense AD converters and headphone amps. I’m sure a manufacturer like Sony could sell one of those at the magic $99 (not quite $100!) and still make a decent profit. Hell, I’d pay as much as $200 if it were “dj-grade” (i.e. as good as a portable Mac/PC audio interface).
      Going digital makes things CHEAPER; consumers know this instinctively by now. If you want to go asking for $1,400 in audio gear, it better have a vacuum tube amp and platinum-plated 1/4″ jack connectors AND hook into USB just in case you need to warm up your iTunes/Play/Prime purchases through that tube amp…

    3. Looking at Digikey, you can get:
      A 32-bit Freescale processor (MCIMX512DJM8C) capable of running Linux
      for $26 if you buy in quantities of 1,000, ——–OR
      A 32-bit TI processor (AM3703CBCA), and they will FURNISH a reference Linux
      for $22 in quantities of 1,000 ———PLUS
      A Maxim Integrated filter (MAX275ACWP+) with Continuous, Band Pass Low Pass across two 4th order filters
      $6.30 in quantities of 50 ———-PLUS
      A TI DAC chip (PCM1792ADB) that can do 24 bit 192kHz resolution
      $7.45 in quantities of 1,000

      With the TI processor, all of this comes in at less than $36, leaving you $14 for a case, some buttons, some USB and headphone hardware, and an LCD screen. And this is if you’re just some random person making 1,000 units on your own. I’m sure Sony could easily negotiate better deals as needed, or perhaps even produce some of the parts themselves at comparable quality for less cost.

      But even my way, it would cost about $50 in BoM to produce the device, making a $200 retail price point VERY doable. I also noticed more powerful SoC (system on chip) chips available for between $35 and $90. This could push the BoM up between $60 and $105, justifying prices from $249 to $400. Notice that even with these “luxury” processors, that include things like GPUs so you can use advanced Android-like GUIs, we’re still nowhere near the $1,400 mark…

    4. I think you underestimate people’s love for their music. People apparently have no problem paying $450 for a set of headphones. Those are the people Sony is targeting. They are not targeting some putz commenting on how expensive it is. Their new Walkman is for true music fans who don’t mind spending extra money for exceptional quality sound. Their new Walkman plays music in HD. People have no problem spending thousands on a sound system, and I don’t think they will have a problem buying this to make their sound system sound way better. The same goes with a car. You’re not going to buy a nice expensive car and have rusted wheels. You pay the extra money to get the whole experience. As with all technology, the initial price is always high to get those willing to pay those high prices out of the way. The price will eventually drop. Their are people out their who do spend $10,000 on new televisions. A retro PS4 just sold for $129,000 that Sony just auctioned off. I thinl you underestimate people’s desire for new and improved technology. Plus, last I heard it was around $1200. If the new Walkman makes a significant difference in sound quality, then it will sell. People really love their music, and their are plenty of people willing to spend money on high-quality sound. Plus, Sony is not dying. Their products sell very well in Europe, SE Asia, Japan, and the Middle East which is one of their fastest growing markets. They have a strong following overseas. A company can be successful without dominating the U.S market. Also, Sony does more than electronics. They are in the movie, music, banking, life insurance, non-life insurance, imaging sensors, medical technology, etc. Sony isn’t going anywhere. They may sell off a few of their business segments, but they are going nowhere. It would be nice if someone would actually do a little research for once, and actually know what their talking about before they completely start talking out of their ass. I don’t know where the people of the world got this sense of entitlement that they can just say whatever they want and it is true. I think it’s because there is no repercussions for being wrong, fear-mongering, or straight-up lying. I don’t know, maybe it is just ignorance and they truly believe what they are saying. Either way, it’s a shame. Sony may die one day, but you gave no explanation as to why it is dying. I don’t think you know anything about Sony’s business, or anything about Sony other than they make Electronics, Movies, and Music. It is a much bigger company than you think, and truthfully I don’t even think the U.S market is at the top of their list of concerns. They are very popular overseas. Thise losses you probably heard about was impairment charges for exiting or slimming down a couple of their business segments. This Walkman may fail, but to say their isn’t a market for it and it has no chance is just wrong. All you have to do is look at the ridiculous amounts of money people spend on sound systems and stereos to see their is a market. People seem to have no problems paying $450 dollars for headphones, which you will probably also need to buy on top of the $1200 Walkman to get the HD sound. Next time phrase it “That there is no way you would buy it.” Personally I don’t plan on buying it though, until the price drops quite a bit. If it works well, and makes a drastic improvement in sound, then it will sell, and other companies will follow suit.

      1. Agreed. I just dropped a lot of money on some headphones and it was definitely worth it.

  4. All they need to do is update their Xperia line annually instead of semi-annually and get their phones into the US market (all carriers, no exclusive deals or just T-mobile).

    1. Sony actually has deals with all of the major U.S carriers, except for AT&T. Sony just needs to promote this more. You can now get a subsidized Xperia phone from Sprint, Verizon, and T-mobile with a contract. I just don’t think enough people know about this. I would like to see Sony’s smartphones have a bigger presence in the United States. Their phones sell well in Europe, SE Asia, and the Middle East which is a region where sales are apparently increasing nicely. I would like for Sony to do well in the smartphone market. I’m tired of the smartphone market being controlled by 2 or 3 companies. It is a shame that innovation has become stale and complacent because of the lack of competition, especially with Apple. Apple used to be cutting-edge, but now they just regurgitate the same stale technology or other companies technology. Their new phablet is the only new thing they’ve done that is truly different in a while, and that is 2 or 3 years after Samsung released their phablet. Samsung has also become stale. They released, and made popular, their phablet and then they became complacent. Nothing new or innovative since. It’s a shame because smartphones still have a long way to go before they reach their true potential. It doesn’t help that the 2 or 3 companies that have a stranglehold on the high-end smartphone market have become complacent and throttled back their innovation. I really just want more competition in this area because the lack of competition is really holding this segment back.

  5. Cool so my newly acquired Z3 will be newer longer…

  6. Meanwhile Apple walks away with 18billion dollars. Biggest quarterly profit in history. Android device makers are staring into the abyss at this point. Very sad !

    1. Well they are competing against themselves. Its Apple vs android… and then within that market-share of android (which is like 52% in the US i believe?). the 12 android OEMs have to fight over that 52%. It’s not going to be a pretty picture for everyone involved

  7. Finally

  8. I hope Z4 will help Sony’s mobile division

  9. AOSP should help. Sony’s UI is terrible.

  10. Good move by Sony. OEM’s need to focus.

  11. Oh, unlike Samsung, they don’t know what they are doing. S5, A5, Grand, Note 4, Note edge bla bla and bla competing against their own model rather than their competitors.

    PS- My first smartphone was a Samsung, no more.

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