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Sony’s Xperia Z Ultra – A Portfolio Milestone

by Richard Guppy | Jun 25, 2013

Sony has launched the Xperia Z Ultra smartphone, with a 6.4 inch HD display, a device thickness of only 6.5mm, and various capabilities and accessories including a smart-watch that you can read about online.  As the Ultra may address a niche market of super-large phones, perhaps more popular in some of the markets in Asia than elsewhere, it may elicit the response of ‘so what?’  Yet there are several ‘here’s what’ responses to this, as I concluded after I visited Sony’s offices in Tokyo.

First, there is the completeness and quality of the mobile portfolio.  There are various Xperia phone variants, topped off by the Z; then the new Z Ultra which is midway between a phone and a tablet; and the Xperia Tablet Z.  With bold and compelling industrial design, a shared design language, and a high specification of many hardware components, this portfolio makes Sony look like a powerful player for the future in mobile, rather than the ‘me too’ minor player that it was within the SonyEricsson JV.  Its image is substantially improved with the launch of the Ultra.

Then, there is the seriousness with which Sony is now pursuing its mobile goals.  Its top managers are very aligned in their focus on mobile, and can be seen to work well together in this shared commitment.  One example is the Ultra’s time to market: ‘we were notorious for our slow time to market’, commented the CEO of Sony Mobile, Mr Suzuki, ‘but we’ve gotten a lot better, like with the Ultra and its Qualcomm chipset’.

Thirdly, there is the realisation that much work remains to be done.  Sony managers drew attention to potential specific improvements in the Z portfolio: ‘we’re aware of this and we have a better solution for next time around’.  The Sony Mobile CEO added to his time-to-market comment: ‘now the issue is: how to sustain this’.

The conclusion is that Sony has a new and serious attitude to its goal of being in the ‘top three’ in mobile devices, alongside Apple and Samsung.  Sony’s challenge, in my opinion, has to do with its origins.  A tour of the company’s museum in Tokyo made clear that these origins lie in vertically integrated hardware engineering with an emphasis on ‘copy and improve’, ‘audio-video’, and ‘miniaturisation’.  The questions for the future include: Original creativity, not copying?  Software, not hardware? Horizontal integration across categories, not vertically down into components?

Time will tell.  At least one major international operator has made the judgement that Sony is worth supporting strategically through the rest of 2013, as a major alternative to Apple and Samsung.   We’ll see, after Christmas 2013.

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