The PlayStation Company: where has Sony been hiding this MWC?

We have an interesting update regarding Sony’s mobile future, especially in South Africa, so keep an eye out for our conversation with Mark Fenzel, Sony’s country manager for Sony Mobile coming next week.

While HTC, Huawei and Samsung were all competing for the media’s attention this past week, Sony had launched the latest two devices in the Xperia range without anyone really noticing or giving much of a hoot.

Although the Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet was leaked just a few days before the official unveiling, it didn’t exactly receive a swathe of attention. It wasn’t because of the leak either, and this is something Sony should be quite worried about.

Read more: Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet leaks just days before MWC

Earlier this month we heard reports that the company will be exiting the mobile hardware game (televisions, smartphones and probably tablets too) for good, and that’s not just a threat. The company wants to boost its profits 25 times by 2018, and shedding its leeching industries might be the best way to do that. It’s effectively what Microsoft had done in the latter part of 2014.

“Ambitious” was the first thing I though when I heard of Sony CEO Kazuo Hirai’s vision, but think about what this means for a company that launched its Xperia brand not too long ago and that has been making some damn good smartphones at that too.

sony-walkman-nw-zx2-1-800x420

What on earth is Sony thinking making devices like the US$1200 Walkman?

Here’s the most important part of the press release back on 18 February:

The TV and Mobile Communications businesses operate in markets characterized by high volatility and challenging competitive landscapes. In view of this business environment, Sony will place the highest priority on curtailing risk and securing profits in its operation of these businesses. Since both markets are experiencing intense cost competition and commoditization, Sony will strive to further increase the added value of its products by leveraging its in-house technologies and component devices.

This means manufacturing gaming consoles and camera sensors for other smartphone makers.

Strangely however there were two new mobile devices at MWC 2015: the Xperia Z4 Tablet and Xperia M4 Aqua for confused journalists to try. These two devices do stick to the traditional Xperia formula though: sturdy, well-build, life-compatible devices.

Sony Xperia Z3 Tablet

The Sony Xperia Z3 Tablet was a wonderful device that should’ve really sold more units.

Let’s start with the Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet.

The company’s 10.1-inch slate now boasts a 2560×1200 screen over the 1080p resolution of the Z3 Tablet, and which is a claimed 40% brighter than the Z2 Tablet. There’s a Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 SoC (featured in many flagship handsets at the moment) hidden inside the 6.1mm thick shell and a 6000mAh battery which delivers over 17 hours of video playback, according to Sony.

The tablet also supports high-definition audio output, and IP68 water and dust resistance, so you could washing it under a tap if you’ve been caught in a mud-storm.

There’s also an LTE and 3G radio, an 8.1MP rear camera, a 5.1MP front camera and it weighs just 389g.

It sounds incredible, frankly.

02_Xperia_M4_Aqua_Water 1

The Xperia M4 Aqua, the company remarks, is a new device in the “super mid-range” segment, a part of the market it has invented. Dennis van Schie, senior VP of Sony Mobile’s sales and marketing division sheds some more light on this.

Xperia M4 Aqua represents our renewed mid-range focus – with no compromises. Offering the most popular standout features made famous by our Xperia Z Series; camera capability, two-day battery life and waterproofing – Xperia M4 Aqua brings a proposition and price, products in this section of the market simply cannot match.

Like the BlackBerry Leap, the company hopes that this phone will be its “hero” — the device that buyers will latch onto, thanks to the features and the price. And it also has come stellar features.

Read more: BlackBerry ‘Slider’ announced at MWC 2015, alongside ‘Leap’

As its name would suggest, it’s also a water baby with a Qualcomm Snapgragon 615 octa-core CPU inside, 2GB of RAM, and a 13MP camera at the rear. There’s also a 4G and LTE modem, so Sony is keeping up with the times. The microUSB charging port doesn’t need a flap either to keep water out of the system, which is an advancement over the Xperia Z3 series.

Sony Xperia Z3 Compact 9

The Sony Xperia Z3 Compact was a real water lover.

All in all, it looks like a Sony Xperia Z3, just a tiny bit smaller.

So, why aren’t they selling?

I fell in love with the Sony Xperia Z3 Compact when I gave it a go late last year, and it was an absolute gem. So why can’t Sony ship them?

Read more: Sony Xperia Z3 Compact long-term review: sexy, submersible, sensational

It’s a strange predicament, because it’s a brilliant device, and usually, brilliant devices sell themselves. We’ve seen this with the initial iPhone and the iPod, and hell, even the Lenovo ThinkPad series — solid, dependable, awesome — but these companies didn’t face Sony’s problem.

The iPhone competed in the 2007 market where most phones weren’t labeled as “smart.” The iPod came with a revolutionary music streaming and downloading service, which made purchasing music easier. The ThinkPad was launched when laptops all resembled the same, empty shell, much like the 4.0-inch cookie cutter budget Android phones we see today. Lenovo put an emphasis on usability, and it won the war.

Apple iPhone 6 Plus Review - Product Image - 0002

Apple has no sales issues, pushing over 74-million iPhone 6 models since its launch.

Sony though, although the products are stellar, the market is more complicated. We’re inundated with Android devices from the likes of Korean favourites like Samsung and LG, and newcomers like Huawei and Xiaomi. There’s also Apple, of course.

So with all these companies vying for the public’s attention, it’s incredibly difficult to get noticed. The Xperia M4 Aqua is recognition that the Z3’s a brilliant phone, so the company downsized it, cheapened it, and repackaged it as a rather attractive deal. Will this help it sell? Probably not.

PlayStation first, everything else after

The real money maker for Sony is the PlayStation platform, and that’s not a surprise. The PS4 has shipped over 20.2-million units since its launch the company revealed at GDC 2015, and unlike the smartphone or tablet market, Sony’s only real competitor is Microsoft.

The company also has a solid fan base and near religious following, but can one say the same for its televisions or smartphones?

PS4 20th Edition

Twenty years old and still going strong.

There are also new, more promising ventures in this sector like virtual reality with Project Morpheus. It seems that more companies are also looking to virtual reality too, like HTC and Valve‘s Vive, and Microsoft’s HoloLens — now there are two companies you wouldn’t quite expect to launch a virtual reality headset.

So what now?

Well, for the meantime, Sony will be an electronics company but the future points to the company’s gaming and multimedia ambitions. The money makers, in other words. The two new devices, including the even-cheaper Xperia E4 lauched prior to MWC 2015, will probably go on to be great devices, but they’re not the cash cows that Sony wants them to be.

It’s extremely disappointing when companies stop crafting brilliant devices for the sake of greenbacks, but that’s the state of affairs in technology today even for massive companies like Sony.

In the future, we’ll probably see more announcements from Sony at the Game Developers’ Conference than the Mobile World Congress. Is that a great loss? I definitely think so.

Andy Walker
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