Can Sony Mobile succeed as just a premium manufacturer?Evan Selleck - Contributing Editor
We have all watched as the smartphone has essentially taken over the mobile market. While it’s still possible to find feature phones, or even flip-phones out there in the wild, and even in some wireless retail locations, smartphones have invaded and taken over. While that’s great for anyone who needs, or even just wants a smartphone, it means that our smartphones can be pretty “dumb” sometimes. Low-end devices fill that gap when it’s necessary. Companies choose to use lower-end specifications, drop “high-end features,” and hopefully release the device with a low price tag to match.
The issue comes in the fact that smartphones, even the high-end ones, aren’t that expensive anymore. You can find a phone like the Galaxy Note II for $300 or less (depending on where you look), thanks to that two-year contract you’ll sign along with the purchase of your new phone. Which is why, even if the low-end smartphones are free (or close to it), people are willing to wait a bit longer to get their hands on the higher-end model.
I love high-end phones, but I understand why low-end devices exist. While the argument can be made that $300 isn’t expensive, especially when you compare it to the $650 price tag of full retail, not everyone can afford that. Having options is the best way to go, and if we’re being completely honest, a lot of the low-end devices that launch aren’t completely terrible. They’ll get the job done, which is all they need to do.
And if they can do it for free, that’s a win-win, right?
Apparently Sony Mobile doesn’t think it’s worth it anymore. If you were to look at AT&T’s website right now and check out the carrier’s options for Sony-branded devices, you’d find two handsets: the Xperia ion and Xperia TL. The ion comes in at a whopping ninety-nine cents, and the TL would run you $49.99 if you were thinking about buying one. The latter is Sony’s high-end option, while the ion is, well, another high-end option. You’d never think that from the price tags, though, right?
I think that’s exactly what Sony Mobile is thinking, too, if we’re going to take statements from a pair of Sony Mobile executives at face value. Both Stephen Sneeden, Sony Mobile’s Xperia product marketing manager, and Calum MacDougall, head of Sony Mobile’s Xperia marketing program, have pointed out that the company plans on focusing on the high-end market, aiming to be a “premium retailer.” They believe they have the features, and hardware, to ascend to thank rank, and compete directly with the likes of Samsung and Apple. (I can't help but find it ironic that those "cheap iPhone" rumors are still going strong, while all the other major companies are aiming to leave that market entirely. Pretty funny, if you ask me.)
To be honest, if there is any company that can do that, Sony Mobile is one of them. They may not be a household name when it comes to Android handsets right now, I think that could change if they are ready to put some real effort into making a change happen. The Xperia TL is a nice device, especially with that 4.6-inch Reality HD display, and the 13MP camera. The Xperia ion isn’t much different, to be honest. Both handsets are certainly worth their price tags. I’d be willing to say they could go for $100 and $50, respectively, if AT&T’s marketing pushed them a bit more.
Especially if they both got updated to Android 4.1 Jelly Bean.
With those kinds of prices, Sony doesn’t need to worry about the low-end market, at least not here in the US. If carriers can continue to aggressively price high-end devices like the TL at $49.99, it’s obviously not the price keeping customers away from Sony-branded Xperia devices. Sony is going to have to pull an HTC and market, and market in a big way if they want to actually succeed in the premium market, like Apple and Sony.
(And since HTC, too, is looking to leave the low-end market, and planning on focusing more on marketing in 2013, it looks like Sony needs to do the same thing.)
So, Dear Reader, the question isn’t whether or not Sony can make high-end devices, or even if they can stick to being just a premium manufacturer. The question is, how can Sony stand out amongst the competition, especially Apple and Samsung, to make their premium effort worth it? Let me know what you think Sony should do in 2013 to make an impact.