Sony may have smartphone struggles, but it's no HTC

Sony may have smartphone struggles, but it's no HTC

Summary: Sony and HTC have some similarities in the smartphone space, but the breadth of the Japanese manufacturer presents opportunities that HTC just can't match.


For a company as established as Sony, an inability to break into, let alone dominate, the mobile market in a big way is likely to be a disappointment.

Sony slogan CES
Sony's slogan at CES 2013 is 'Be Moved'. Image: Sarah Tew/CNET

Despite some well designed and solid feeling handsets in the Xperia range, Sony has failed to make a splash in the same way the Samsungs and Apples of the marketplace have in recent years.

For example, the Xperia S is Sony's current top-of-the-range handset (although it will be superseded by the water-resistant, full HD Xperia Z sooner rather than later), but I've never had anyone asking my opinion on whether it's a good phone. In fact, I've never heard anyone talking about it at all - a sign of how little buzz even its flagship device has been able to generate in the fiercely competitive mobile market.

That's not to say that Sony is floundering completely in the mobile space (that said, the badly executed Sony Tablet P is best forgotten): it recently overtook HTC as the number-two Android device maker in the UK and as number-three mobile maker in the country, at least according to the company's own estimations. However, look a little further afield, or in the swathes of analyst reports, and Sony doesn't even register in the global top five right now.

Sony has historically struggled in the mobile market. Even at the outset of its now-defunct joint venture with Ericsson back in August 2001, times were hard and Ericsson threatened to pull out if its market share didn't pick up. Fast-forward three years and the joint venture was still lumbering along, setting itself up for the launch of the first Walkman handsets in a strategy that included going big on camera and music functionality. It nearly worked too - until the iPhone came along.

It's a strategy that has parallels with fellow smartphone struggler HTC's current efforts. HTC's recent marketing activities around its handsets, whether Android or Windows Phone, have tended to include a tie-in with a specific celebrity and some Beats Audio features or headphones. For the Windows Phone 8X by HTC, it also went to work on the camera features too - a little like Sony's approach to mobile back in 2005, which worked for a while until more compelling features and handsets came to market.

Sony's reach

However, while HTC is now struggling due to a crowded marketplace and a difficulty distinguishing itself on price, design or features, Sony's mobile outlook could be much brighter because of the reach of its businesses. The company also has one other trump card above fellow manufacturers like HTC, which is an integrated approach to its devices and services.

"Sony is in a better position than HTC as they have a much wider breath of products that can lure consumers into their ecosystem" — Carolina Milanesi, Gartner

"Sony is in a better position than HTC as they have a much wider breath of products that can lure consumers into their ecosystem," says Carolina Milanesi, mobile analyst at Gartner. "Although Sony has been trying to follow an Apple model for many years and not being particularly successful in selling a Sony home... I think times have changed and consumers today especially in the high end do see the benefit of an integrated offering that gives you higher compatibility and ease of use."

However, with all the pieces in place and the completion of its extrication from Sony Ericsson, Sony will want to make 2013 count in the mobile market or it will face an uphill struggle to grow, or even maintain, its market share globally.

"Sony needs to deliver after having taken the time to integrate the mobile part into one Sony, and show what they have to offer," Milanesi says. "Between devices accessories and content they have something that can be compelling in 2013."

Topics: Smartphones, HTC, Mobility

Ben Woods

About Ben Woods

With several years' experience covering everything in the world of telecoms and mobility, Ben's your man if it involves a smartphone, tablet, laptop, or any other piece of tech small enough to carry around with you.

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  • Sony Xperia.

    I just wanted to say, I havea Sony Xperia U (lower end of the range) and to be honest, I love it!
    I've had my fair share of Motorolas, Nokias & HTCs (I'm anti-apple) and although the Samsung Galaxy S3 look appealing, because I've had the Xperia U, I now crave the Xperia T or this newer one you mentioned. It's reliable & sturdy, has decent memory & doesn't lag. Their personal touch with Android makes it somewhat unique and an all-round decent phone. OK it's not the top of the range, most-wanted/highly sought iPhone or Glaxay S3, but it has it's place in the market and I am planning on getting the largest one they have available because I've warmed to it, and I don't normally warm to a phone, they aren't like that for me.
    Just thought I'd give you my opinion. This is a great phone and **I** love it!! GOGO SONY!!
    Lebon Jo
  • Samsung has replaced Sony's place

    in the industry as the Apple quality competitor. Sony made too many missteps like the rootkit fiasco.
  • Great Phone for me

    I bought an Xperia Mini about a year a half ago and it has performed flawlessly. No freeze-ups, always works. Again maybe not the whiz-bang unit everybody wants, but it was reasonably priced and it just works and works. I'll buy Sony again when this one bites the dust.
    Laurentian Enterprises
  • Still sticking with HTC, but.....

    I am not indicative of the market in gengeral but I am sticking with HTC. I have an aging HTC Inspire and am fortunate enough to qualify for two subsidized upgrades this year. Not want to shell out $99-$200 (plus $36 upgrade fee) twice, I'm opting to take advantage of AT&T's 99 cent offer on the HTC One X. Yes, obviously the price is playing a big role but it certainly does not hurt that reviews of that phone (even with the release of the One X+) are glowing.

    In the interest of full disclosure though, were the 99 cent deal not available, I'd likely be buying a Samsung Galaxy SIII. And even with the 99 cent offer, I will probably get an S3 with my 2nd upgrade later in the year if the S4 (rumored for April-May) is not a significant improvement.

    BUT, even so, even after all of that, I would still not rule out looking at a Sony device (waterproof? Really? cool). Should be a VERY interesting year for mobile.
  • I am liking what Sony offering

    I am currently liking the look of Sony Xperia phones, worried about there slow release of upgrades for Android but will see how they get along with that in the next few months. I still think one of there biggest problems one that plaguing other companies is naming and branding phones, Apple is simple, ipad, Iphone, IphoneS.

    Why all the other seems to luicuous htc one x, and Sony not only release XperiaZ, which is not bad but at the same time release XperiaZL, along with all there other phones with different letters at the end of xperia.
  • Sony, no thanks

    Many years ago, I had a Sony mini disc player. A week after the warranty ran out it stopped recording. Sony wanted £120 just to look at it, with repair costs on top. I went out and bought an mp3 player and vowed never again to buy anything Sony made.
  • Sony may have smartphone struggles, but it's no HTC

    what's in a name? ford edsel, chevy nova, etc. sony is suffering from lack of innovative naming for their product offerings. remember the cachet of sony names (from sonny), walkman, betamax, playstation, etc. that brings air of elegance to the product. now nothing good is coming from them anymore. they still produce the best of the best in comsumer products that even jobs mimicked and became successful himself ... but, who cares!
  • Good value for money

    The Xperia phones are probably the best value for money Android phones. For a device which most users only keep for two years I don't think the premium price of Apple or even Samsung is worth the while.
  • HTC Is Still Making Money Overall, Sony Is Not

    Maybe Sony's strategy should be to wind down its unprofitable divisions (e.g. TVs) and concentrate on the ones actually making money (e.g. mobile phones/tablets).