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Android Headliner: How Sony Can Cut Losses and Build Brand Confidence

September 19, 2014 - Written By Tom Dawson

Earlier this week, we heard that Sony has adjusted their financial forecast for the financial year ending March 31st 2015, and the news wasn’t good. In fact, Sony now expects to lose as much as $1.8 Billion as a result of their poorly performing mobile division. So, what went wrong? Well, we might not be industry analysts, but we do spend a lot of time writing about devices, reviewing them, spending oodles of time with them and generally seeing how a company acts in the marketplace. What’s happening with Sony’s mobile division is actually a little sad to see, but it’s not all that surprising. I reviewed the Xperia Z2 and I loved it so much that I just recently went ahead and purchased one for my personal, daily driver. Why not the Z3 you ask? Why didn’t you buy one closer to its release if you liked it that much? The answers to these questions are, in my opinion, some of Sony’s core problems.

When I reviewed the Xperia Z2 I really liked it, and while they still had some improvement to go, it was a smartphone that could stand aside the Galaxy S5 and HTC Ones of the world and stand tall. Personally, I prefer the Z2 to the Galaxy S5 and HTC One for a number of reasons, but it all came down to how Sony has thoughtfully worked in extra features, they don’t jump out at you and their Android skin is light and comfortable to use. The Z2 in particular is also far better built than the Galaxy S5 and, in my opinion, features a cleaner design than the M8. If it’s that good, why isn’t it selling well? For one thing, Sony’s decision to launch two flagships twice a year is frankly moronic.

Sure, the Xperia Z2 is a big upgrade from the Z1, but the Z3? Not so much. The recently announced Z3 is basically a Z2 with some softer edges and some incremental changes. Ones that no average consumer is going to notice. That’s a big problem for Sony. If you had just bought an Xperia Z1 over Christmas and then in February see Sony showing off the Xperia Z2, you’d understandably be a little annoyed with Sony. And no, not because phone manufacturers owe their customers an explanation, but because of the way Sony announces these devices. Suddenly the Z1 is “the best of Sony”, then six months later it’s the Z2 that’s now “the best of Sony”. This industry moves fast, but fast enough for a new “flagship” every six months? Not a chance. Launching a device every 12 months must sound like madness to Sony, after all they’ve been doing it like this for years now, but it’d also instill a lot more faith in a customer’s purchase. The Xperia Z2 is still a great device, and I love mine to bits, and there was absolutely no need to release another one. Releasing a device once a year would help the Z2 stay on shelves longer and stay relevant longer, but with word that a new one is coming along soon, who’s going to care after a few months?

We live in the era of the upgrade, this much is obvious, but let’s think of how much money Sony must be losing on designing excellent pieces of hardware like the Xperia Z2 only to effectively send them to a retirement home with the arrival of another flagship? That device will soon cost a lot less than it’s worth and Sony won’t have sold as many devices as they should have done. Speaking about price, Sony should really think about how much their devices cost, and this is why they’re losing ground in the mid-range sectors.

This year, Sony have already announced a number of mid-range handsets – the Xperia E1, the Xperia E3, the Xperia M, the Xperia M2, the Xperia T2 Ultra (see where I’m going) – and they all cost more than they should do. Sony miss key aspects, like their displays for instance, the majority of their mid-range devices ship with 960 x 540 displays or even 854 x 480 displays. Meanwhile, Motorola can design and ship the Moto G, which not only undercuts the majority of those phones mentioned above, but also has a much better display and arguably much better performance. There’s a reason why the Moto G has propelled Motorola to such success in India, it’s cheap and it’s one of two phones in their lineup. It’s like a hero device, because there’s very little to compare it to in their own lineup, customers have a clear reason to buy it. Shipping only one budget handset also allows Motorola to charge very little for it, giving customers excellent value for money.

If I were a manager at Sony – which of course, I am not – I would release one high-end flagship for the year and make this the device that people should buy, not wait another six months for the better one. I’d cut out all the incremental devices in the mid-range and again release fewer devices and thus, be able to charge less for them. I want to see Sony succeed, I really do. I love my Xperia Z2 and there’s no denying Sony knows how to make great hardware, now they need to learn to leave it alone, one device every 12 months is enough. Not to mention the poor performance the brand has shown in the US, devices need to be available on every carrier at a reasonable price. Before moving on to what Sony will call “the best of Sony” for the fourth or fifth time every 12 months, Sony should concentrate on selling what they already have on offer.