BARCELONA, Spain--Sony Mobile Communications has a new strategy. Instead of announcing one killer phone at this year's Mobile World Congress, it's announcing a suite of devices that it hopes will attract a wider audience of consumers, particularly those at the low end.
Will the strategy work? It's hard to say. There's a lot of competition out there that will make it hard. Still, with full ownership from its former parent company Sony, executives say they're ready to spend big on making Sony's mobile phones a household brand.
Sony Ericsson (Sony Mobile's former name before its parent Sony bought out Ericsson last for its 50 percent stake) has struggled for years to compete in the smartphone market. It was admittedly late to the Google Android party, and its market share has been so low overall, it's barely even registered against competitors such as Samsung and Apple. Last year's hope of cracking into the U.S. market with the PlayStation phone was a big flop.
Unfortunately for Sony, its release on Verizon Wireless coincided with the launch of the first Apple iPhone on Verizon. The carrier also introduced several new Android-based 4G LTE devices throughout the year, leaving little room for the PlayStation phone.
On Sunday, Sony Mobile introduced its Xperia NXT smartphones. It added the Xperia P and Xperia U devices to this new line-up, which it started earlier this year with the Xperia S. While the Xperia S is at the high-end of the product suite, the Xperia P and Xperia U, fill in the company's offerings with a mid-range and lower-end Google Android smartphones.
Sony executives say they plan to launch an aggressive marketing campaign that they hope will drive sales. Steve Walker, chief marketing officer for Sony, said the company plans to spend more on marketing for Xperia NXT phones than it has on any other mobile products in a long time.
If Sony's budget for the handheld gaming device the PlayStation Vita is any indication, it's going to be big. The New York Times recently reported that Sony said it plans to spend $50 million on marketing for the PlayStation Vita in the U.S. And that's just one product in one market. Sony plans to take its Xperia NXT marketing global.
The big question is whether marketing alone will be enough. With its newly announced Xperia P and Xperia U joining its high-end flagship Xperia S, Sony now has a complete suite of smartphone products to meet just about every price point.
But the company faces stiff competition from Apple and a slew of other Google Android players, including worldwide leader Samsung. There is also Motorola, which will soon be owned by Google as well as LG and HTC. Nokia is also trying to make a comeback with its Lumia Windows Phone products. And Chinese makers Huawei and ZTE have several devices planned that will be sold internationally in 2012 as well.
Like Sony, several other competitors have announced devices ranging from the low-end to the high-end. This is important in a market where smartphones are starting to reach the mass market. For most manufacturers, it's no longer enough to offer a single "hero" device and then push higher-end devices down market when a new super smartphone is announced.
Sony is trying to address this widening smartphone market with the Xperia NXT line. Sony's Walker said during the press conference that each new device will have its own distinct "personality" with a different price point suitable to its target customer.
The Xperia S will be Sony's high-end Xperia device. It was announced at the Consumer Electronics Show in January. It comes with a 12-megapixel camera, a large 4.3-inch screen, and HD video playback and recording capability in 720p resolution.
Then there is the Xperia P, which was announced Sunday in Barcelona. This device is slightly smaller than the Xperia S. It's got a 4-inch screen. And its big feature is the "White Magic" technology that makes this a great device for viewing in direct sunlight. It also takes and views video in 720p high-definition resolution like the Xperia S. It comes with an 8 megapixel camera.
And finally there is the Xperia U. This is the smallest and presumably the least expensive of the Xperia devices. It has 3.5 inch screen and a 1 gigahertz processor.
Each of these devices is supposedly optimized for watching, listening or playing Sony Entertainment movies, music, or games. This is a key component of Sony's overall consumer electronics strategy, said CEO Kazuo Hirai. He said at the press conference Sunday that Sony plans to marry its "hardware, content, and services" with mobile.
Given that the newest devices in the line-up, the Xperia P and Experia U, are geared for the mid-range to the lower-end of the smartphone market, it's not surprising that these devices only sport 1GHz, dual-core processors. High-end new smartphones from makers, such as Huawei are coming equipped with quad core processors.
What's more, Sony's new phones are launching with Android 2.3 Gingerbread, the previous version of the Google software. Again, other manufacturers, such as Huawei and HTC are launching devices with Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich. Still, Sony says that the new Xperia phones will be upgradeable to Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich in the second quarter 2012, shortly after they are released.
Sony executives haven't announced pricing details for the new Xperia devices, nor did they offer exact dates for availability. But the Xperia S is already shipping in parts of Europe and Asia, and it's expected to launch this week in Barcelona. There's still no word when exactly the Xperia S or the other two Xperia phones will be coming to the U.S. market.
Meanwhile, HTC, another Android manufacturer, has three new phones in its "One" family of products headed to U.S. wireless operators in the second quarter. HTC has already announced devices for AT&T and T-Mobile USA. Its high-end HTC One S is a quad-processor phone with Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich. And it will be available on AT&T.
One thing is very clear, Sony has an uphill battle in front of it. We'll have to see how successful the marketing campaign will be for its next generation of products.