Sony alone can carve bigger smartphone share

Should Sony succeed in buying out Ericsson from their joint venture, the Japanese company can bring differentiated devices to market faster, avoiding the experience with Xperia Play, notes analyst.
Written by Vivian Yeo, Contributor

Sony's rumored plan to buy out Ericsson's share in the companies' joint venture may be what's needed for the Japanese player to establish itself as a smartphone market contender, according to Frost & Sullivan.

With Sony driving decisions alone, it could avoid delays in bringing to market differentiated devices in future, said Craig Cartier, analyst for ICT practice at Frost & Sullivan, in an e-mail commentary. This would help the consumer electronics giant carve out a bigger share in the "still-developing" smartphone ecosystem, he said.

"If Sony does choose to go it alone, it would be an interesting play and perhaps help them leverage some of their valuable brands faster," he noted. "The Xperia Play, a Sony Ericsson device that leverages the PlayStation brand, was unique, but its 2011 release may have been too little, too late.

"A game-centric device had been rumored for years to be in the works by the joint venture, but licensing disputes between the two tech giants delayed the device until this year, when it now must compete with alternative gaming platforms like tablets and other high-end smartphones."

At the same time, Sony's rumored buyout of Ericsson represents the end of an era as a mobile phone maker for the Swedish vendor, as well as attest to the current struggles of the former "big 3" mobile phone manufacturers in adapting to market changes, Cartier noted.

Prior to 2001, the mobile handset market was dominated by Motorola, Nokia and Ericsson, but these players had to reinvent themselves during the last decade as the market shifted from voice-only devices to feature phones, the analyst explained. While all three found some degree of success as feature phone manufacturers, especially Sony Ericsson which banked on its Walkman and camera phones, they were swept in a new smartphone wave.

The rapid adoption of smartphones by consumers have left these former bigwigs struggling to differentiate themselves against dominant players such as Apple, HTC and Samsung, he said. Motorola has been acquired by Google, while Nokia entered into an alliance with Microsoft for Windows Phone-based devices.

Sony Ericsson now has been relegated to the status of "'just another' Android player", and its future prospects are "murky", Cartier added.

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