Moving from seventh place in smartphones into the top five spots in the next five years would be a major feat. "The smartphone market is pretty crowded, with Samsung on top and then Apple, Huawei, LG and Lenovo in the top five," noted Ramon Llamas, an IDC analyst. "Sony would do well to maintain its position in the top 10."
Sony gets high marks for strong design of its new products, "but they need to rethink how they address software and distribution," noted Patrick Moorhead, an analyst at Moor Insight & Strategy.
Speaking of limited distribution, the only U.S. carrier offering a Sony smartphone is T-Mobile US, which sells the waterproof Sony Xperia Z1S, with a 5-in. display and Android 4.3 at a full retail price of $528.
Sony sell other smartphones, such as the Xperia Z1 on its Web site, but that's not good enough, analysts said.
"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.
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