Japanese electronics giant Sony, for a long time only a minor player in the global smartphone market, is staging a major comeback armed with a high-end fourth-generation smartphone.
Market researcher Strategy Analytics said Sony had the third-biggest LTE smartphone market share worldwide in the second quarter, accounting for 6.2 percent. LG fell to No. 4 with a four-percent share.
Sony still lags a long way behind No. 1 Samsung (47 percent) and No. 2 Apple (23.5 percent), but the speed of its ascent is remarkable. When Sony came out with its first LTE smartphone in the second quarter last year, its market share stood at a mere 0.5 percent to rank ninth.
◆ High-end Models
The driver of Sony's comeback is the Xperia Z LTE smartphone, which was unveiled at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January. It is Sony's first in-house produced smartphone after a long lackluster joint venture with Sweden's Ericsson. But Sony acquired a 100-percent stake in Sony Ericsson last year and has since shifted its strategy to high-end smartphones.
Sony said the phone is the result of "half a century" of accumulated know-how in the areas of TV, video and audio technology. In other words, the Japanese firm focused all of its energy on developing the Xperia Z, conjuring up past glories like the Walkman.
Since its release in Japan in February, the Xperia Z ranked at the top of smartphone sales in the country for six weeks. "The response was so great that inventory was depleted in just two months," said Lee Do-young of Sony Korea. He added that Xperia Z models have been shifted to export while a slightly different model called Xperia A is now sold in Japan.
Thanks to the success, Sony became the No. 1 player in Japan's smartphone market in June, overtaking Apple, which had dominated the scene for the past three years. The phone is attracting interest outside of Japan as well, especially in Europe.
According to market researcher IDC, Sony's market share in Western Europe during the first quarter of this year stood at 10 percent to rank third, up from six percent a year ago.
◆ Eyeing Korea
But Sony still ranks eighth in terms of overall global smartphone market share, behind even cheap Chinese rivals ZTE, Huawei, Lenovo and Coolpad. But while they depend on low to mid-priced models, Sony has now set its sights on the high-end market.
Also, Sony is only 0.8 percentage points behind No. 4 player ZTE in terms of global market share and capable of overtaking it any time.
Market watchers say Sony could launch a major offensive in the Korean market. The firm plans to hold a session at the Internationale Funkausstellung in Berlin next month and has invited Korean journalists to cover the event. This has led to speculation that Sony is about to announce a major foray into the Korean market.
It marketed the Xperia Ray in Korea in 2011, but sales were anemic. A Sony spokesman said no decision has been made so far.