Sony seeks mobile rebirth, starting with Core sensor used in wearable tech

Sony is on a quest to duplicate earlier successes like its storied Walkman, but its Xperia smartphones could face troubles cracking a crowded market

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"Distribution is truly a limiting factor for Sony smartphones," Llamas concurred.

To catch on in the U.S, Sony smartphones need to be sold by the nation's two biggest carriers, Verizon Wireless and AT&T, Llamas said. In recent years, AT&T sold cheaper Sony-Ericsson phones that didn't do well.

The newer Sony phones, including several models sold on its Web site, "are definitely more expensive [than the average smartphone] and show an attention to design," Milanesi added. "In the U.S., consumers don't know Sony for smartphones, even though they are known for gaming and TV."

For Sony to do well, smartphones, tablets and the new wearables must fit into the company's broad mobile marketing strategy. "There's no question Sony can produce great hardware both from a specs and design point of view," Milanesi added. "If they crack marketing and are able to tell a compelling story on the end-to-end ecosystem, then I think they have a shot."

Sony already has released a second generation of its smartwatch, the $200 SmartWatch 2 (or SW2), which is compatible with Android 4.0 and higher smartphones and tablets and works with 200 apps from Google Play. Smartwatches from Sony and other manufacturers are still highly dependent on smartphones, which serve as a wireless hub to connect to the Internet and apps. That's an example of the kind of mobile ecosystem that Milanesi is talking about.

According to Milanesi, Sony "focuses on the user experience better than Samsung does," which is significant. Samsung is clearly the biggest smartphone maker in the world with 31% of the market according to IDC.

Samsung, based in Seoul, South Korea, is also expected to introduce the next-generation Galaxy S smartphone, probably called the Galaxy S 5, at the Barcelona show on Feb. 24, putting greater emphasis on style and design than in the GS4.

Samsung also sells the $300 Galaxy Gear smartwatch for use with a few of its Galaxy smartphones, and an update is expected shortly, possibly at MWC.

Samsung continually faces a design and style contest with Apple and its wildly successful iPhones at the high-end of the market. The market for expensive smartphones is, however, saturated, and might not be where Sony can shine.

To swim with the big fish like Samsung, Sony will need to "do something radical and get market awareness and share," Gold said. "Wearables is something they could make a difference in, since it is such a nascent market and most first-gen devices are pretty weak offerings."

And analyst Ben Wood, of CCS Insight, said Sony has a recognized brand that carriers and retailers might want to support. "Carriers, retailers and other channels are all rooting for Sony because they desperately want a rival to Apple and Samsung and they see Sony as being one of the players that could take them on."

This article, Sony seeks mobile rebirth, starting with Core sensor used in wearable tech, was originally published at Computerworld.com.

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed. His email address is mhamblen@computerworld.com.

See more by Matt Hamblen on Computerworld.com.

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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