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Sony makes phones, but it doesn't sell them

Sony isn't selling a great deal of devices, and it's losing money on every one that it does sell. But make no mistake, every device it sells is great, and I’m keen to see the company make a comeback. The question is, how do you recover from a nose-diving, tail-spinning, fireballing freefall?

sony xperia z5 vs samsung galaxy s6 edge screen
People buy one of these but not the other. / © ANDROIDPIT

The Z5 range, which comprises three devices, is set to launch in the US in the coming days. This long-awaited announcement was greeted with moderate fanfare from the American Android community, but the celebrations saw rain when Sony announced that the devices would arrive without fingerprint scanners.

Sony told AndroidPIT that it was a “business decision” to remove the scanner from the range, which, when your mobile division is drowning in red ink, seems like a suitably cagey response.

In 2014, Sony's mobile division lost US$1.5 billion. Following a downscaling in its device range and marketing, this figure became healthier in 2015, but the division still saw a 14.7 percent drop in sales in Q3 of that year.

But is bringing a premium range to the US without a key premium feature a great business decision?

AndroidPIT fingerprint sensor xperia z5 compact
Not in the US, you don't. / © ANDROIDPIT

Sony either left the fingerprint scanner off the Z5 range because it didn’t function as well as desired or because a bit of financial chin stroking revealed that the company would lose less money by ditching the scanner than it would make by including it.

But let’s look at why on Earth anyone would buy a Z5 in the US at all, fingerprint scanner or no.

Firstly, the device is not available through any carrier, meaning there are no financing options. You either pay US$600 upfront, or you don’t get a Z5. If I really, really wanted a Z5, it would actually be cheaper to get an unlocked variant from Europe through Expansys. The only downside is it wouldn't have a US warranty – but it would have a fingerprint scanner.

Making an impact on the US market is essential if Sony wants to continue in the smartphone business

Secondly, the device is arriving on US shores three months after its European launch. Three months in smartphone land is a long time. Sony itself operates on a rapid-fire six-month release cycle: rumors are already swirling around the Sony Xperia Z6, and the Samsung Galaxy S7 is set to be launched less than three weeks from now.

So the Z5 comes late, costs a lot and, oh, one more thing, Sony is going to give it next-to-no marketing.

Sony can sell. We know this. Sony Computer Entertainment may be a different arm of the Japanese octopus, but ads such as the one below for the PS3 prove that somewhere inside the beast lies the ability to advertise effectively. And Sony should be marketing the Xperia Z5 in the US with the same efficacy.

Sony is in a difficult position. While the truism of 'you need to spend money to make money' doubtless applies here, when you stand to lose as much as Sony has done in the past on its mobile arm, then there is some serious friction when it comes to business decisions. But making an impact on the US market is essential if Sony has any desire to continue in the smartphone business, which it apparently does.

I want a Sony phone, but I don’t want to wait three months to pay a premium price for a device that lacks a key premium feature. And I think most people would see sound logic in this position.

Sony needs to bring its devices to North America in a timely fashion and get carriers on board. Having great phones isn’t enough, and pushing out a flagship every six months is going to get you nowhere when they arrive late, cost loads and no one even knows they're available.

Is Sony making a mistake not marketing its phones in the US, or should they just concentrate on PlayStations? Let us know in the comments.

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Readers' favorite comments

  • Gerhard Bader Feb 2, 2016

    It's breaking my heart to read this.

    I'm lucky to live in Europe and own a Z5, and believe me this phone is lightyears ahead of it's competition.
    Battery lasts for two full days (really), it's fast, quality made, display shows white as white and not yellow, and fingers don't stick on it like on those heavy gorilla AMOLED stuff.
    There is no heating problem like on Z3, Z4, and the camera is top rated if not the best one on any.
    Why do people not embrace quality at reasonable price? Quality!
    I wouldn't exchange this for an iPhone or any other.

    Now the finger print sensor.. It's the cherry on the pie! You turn on the phone and unlock it with just a single button push. And in US they want ditch that??
    Write them, protest, fight for your right!

12 comments

Write new comment:

  • They don't update them either... :) Sony sucks (I know, I got a Z5)


  • I had a Sony Xperia V. Bad deal. Failed after less a year of usage. Bad customer service. Besides the good-looking and god specs, I no longer recommend it to my friends.


  • who wrote this ? is the biggest stupid in the world,the biggest.IF a company don't chose to go with their products in USA means they r about to stop selling ? hahaha,this is the biggest stupid fact ever said by a big stupid man,u just have to see the reality man,in europe alone the sony do come with all the futures,not in USA,and it still sells lots,more than in whole USA,so what the hell make u say that stupid thing ? jeez,some r so dam idots


  • Chris
    Great article. You raise some important points. I too want a Experia Z5 Premium and will probably go the route of buying without a warranty.
    Sony at the minimum should open a kiosk in Best Buy for their phones like Samsung has done and tie it in with their tvs.


  • Sony should release one phone (or phone family) per year. Release should be simultaneous for all markets and have newest android version. Remove bloatwear to Play Store and copy Motorola's near-stock UI philosophy. Commit to upgrading to newest android version within six weeks of release and to do so for two android versions (generally, two years) for each phone. Also, it would not hurt them to court the development community - it would enhance Sony's reputation over time.


  • storm Feb 2, 2016 Link to comment

    The title is true of a lot of Android phone makers. You look at which companies are making money off selling their android phones and it's a short list. HTC, LG aren't on that list either.


  • It's breaking my heart to read this.

    I'm lucky to live in Europe and own a Z5, and believe me this phone is lightyears ahead of it's competition.
    Battery lasts for two full days (really), it's fast, quality made, display shows white as white and not yellow, and fingers don't stick on it like on those heavy gorilla AMOLED stuff.
    There is no heating problem like on Z3, Z4, and the camera is top rated if not the best one on any.
    Why do people not embrace quality at reasonable price? Quality!
    I wouldn't exchange this for an iPhone or any other.

    Now the finger print sensor.. It's the cherry on the pie! You turn on the phone and unlock it with just a single button push. And in US they want ditch that??
    Write them, protest, fight for your right!


  •   18
    anshul Feb 2, 2016 Link to comment

    Due to lack of proper strategies Sony is also going to make the same mistake that Nokia had done in past. Maintain your pace as per the trend. If Sony wants it's position back they have to aggressively & wisely price their product. Now the scenario has changed because there are so many excellent competitors entered same arena where some time ago only biggies play their monopoly. Innovation,design, features, price, marketing. When every company is trying to be omnipresent you can't target or ignore any country. It's totally up to Sony that how they want to change things if same will continue then it is for sure some competitor will acquire their mobile division & after some years they will struggle to do come back same as Nokia doing right now. Hope for the best for Sony.


  • sony only make fools....too many flagship phone in a year


  • PATTERZ Feb 2, 2016 Link to comment

    Then ask HTC.They are a expert in losing money.


  • SONY has been foolishly ignoring the US market for some time now. But they really cannot keep ignoring the world's biggest, most important, and most affluent market if they are really serious about their smartphone business. SONY needs a home-run phone here in the US market, and they need it right now. For some strange reason, SONY wants to focus their efforts and resources on selling their expensive over-priced high-end phones in India and SE Asia where most people don't even have indoor plumbing and cannot afford to buy a loaf of bread. What are you thinking SONY?

    The Z6 must be more than another also-ran warmed-over version of a previous warmed-over also-ran phone. They need a real winner....something totally spectacular. They need to make the new Z6 readily available on all major US carriers, as well as unlocked on their own website with a payment plan nobody can resist; they need to price it to sell ($800 is way too much for a SONY phone); they need to advertise the hell out of it on TV and in print media (most people don't even know SONY makes and sells phones); finally, and most important, they absolutely must back it up with stellar customer service and global warranty support (an area where they currently suck big time).

    I don't own anything Apple makes, but you have to admit they actually do a lot of things right. SONY should take notice. As for the Z6, specifically, it needs a better faster camera on par with Apple's 6S, it needs a more reliable fingerprint scanner, true OIS that works, better audio with dual front-facing speakers, a brighter cleaner and clearer screen (how about AMOLED?), minimum of 4GB RAM, more durable build quality with stronger Gorilla glass and zero plastic...more metal and glass, and much less worthless bloat in the OS. The Z6 must have a better SoC that totally conquers the stuttering and overheating problems that have plagued recent models. If SONY wants to drop some features, they could kill the PlayStation remote feature (who really needs this or actually cares about it?) and they could forget about 4K, the touch-sensitive screen, and the stupid feature that allows us to put dinosaurs in the picture. These are 4 worthless features that add nothing but cost to the overall experience of owning one of these phones.

    SONY...focus on the target, keep your eye on the ball, and give us the basics that beat everybody else. If you will do these things, you will really have a great phone. If you can't do these things, it is probably lights out for SONY's mobile division. "Good enough" is no longer good enough in today's world. If you want to survive, and you are serious about your smartphone division, you need to really get your act together and put the US market and the products you sell here at the top of your priorities.

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