Sun, Jun 30, 2013 - Page 14 News List

Japan’s fad-loving consumer may derail Sony’s phone ambitions

By Hiroko Tabuchi  /  NY Times News Service, TOKYO

The scattershot efforts by Japanese handset designers could not compete with a single blockbuster product like Apple’s iPhone, Kushida said.

It turned out that Japanese consumers did not want a new phone each season after all, but one very well-designed one, he said.

Since its release in 2008, the iPhone has been a best-seller in Japan, becoming the most popular handset in the country. Last year, the iPhone led all handsets with an overall market share of 15 percent, ahead of former market leaders Sharp and Fujitsu, according to market researcher International Data Corp Japan.

Looking at smartphones only, Apple’s dominance in Japan is even stronger: For the first three months of the year, Apple’s mobile platform market share came to 49.2 percent, compared with Android’s 45.8 percent, according to Kantar WorldPanel, which tracks mobile phone sales in major markets.

Sony’s Xperia Z, which runs on the Android operating system, was shaping up to be Japan’s greatest challenger to the iPhone and to another global blockbuster, Samsung’s Galaxy series. The Xperia Z won rave reviews for its sleek aluminum case, sharp 5-inch display, fast-capture camera and high-definition video.

The Xperia Z has topped sales charts, selling at least 630,000 units in Japan in its first 10 weeks, according to the data provider, GfK Japan. DoCoMo had said that it aimed to sell about 1 million units in Japan, and analysts agree that sales are approaching that number. Sony chief executive Kazuo Hirai has repeatedly promoted the Xperia Z’s strong sales in Japan as one of the few bright spots in its money-losing electronics sector.

Still, production of the Xperia Z has ceased for the Japanese market, and the model will no longer be available in Japan once stock runs out at retail stores across the country, both Sony and NTT DoCoMo said.

“The Japanese market operates on a far quicker life cycle than markets overseas,” said Yu Tominaga, a Sony spokesman in Tokyo. “Demand changes fast here, but we are set up to respond to that.”

GLOBAL STRATEGY

The big question is whether Sony can develop a coherent global smartphone strategy without being distracted by the ever-changing needs of its home market. A lot rides on Sony’s gaining on its archrivals, Apple and Samsung, in the fast-growing smartphone market with the new Xperia A, which has been topping sales charts here since it went on sale in the middle of last month.

Sony is starting to shift its focus beyond Japan’s shores. On Tuesday in China it announced the Xperia Z Ultra, which Sony bills as the slimmest large-screen handset on the market. The company said it was not sure when that model might sell in Japan.

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