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Spillikins #93. Sony Ericsson in 2011, or Strategy Failure?!
Last week turned out to be very eventful. For example, Nokia claimed that the amount of pre-orders for the Nokia N8 that they had received was the highest ever in the company's history. And that is absolutely true. Indeed, they have a new record yet it is not at all about sales. Nokia can always refer to component shortages and alike to justify its sales, though. But let's not spend too much time on that.
We are getting some preliminary results about the Windows Phone 7 sales in the U.S. It looks like around 40,000 units were sold during the first day. Even if all the advertisement is taken into account, the number is huge, albeit many keep saying that it is low. I rather state the opposite. Anyway, in order to avoid hand waving, which I don't like, to be truly able to discuss the Windows Phone 7 business, we will have to wait for the quarterly results.
Over the week, I received another phone galore with only one catching my attention. It is the Android based Motorola Defy, which totally blew me away. I am going to lay it aside for a while, but can already tell you that I haven't been that happy with an ordinary model for a long time. This is even more so if it gets contrasted to the boring Nokia C7/C6-01. The review is coming later this week but you can take a look at some pictures for starters.
While writing Spillikins, it can sometimes happen that a particular section grows into a standalone article. That is exactly what happened with a piece about HD Voice. I highly recommend you to read about the codec and how it works in a separate article.
Last week, I had a chance to familiarize myself with Sony Ericsson 2011 products, or their plans for the first half of the next year, to be precise. Unfortunately, the company isn't learning from its own mistakes and appears to be willing to drop a brick again. Do you remember how enthusiastic everyone was about the Xperia X10? And how its sales dropped a few months afterwards, when there appeared some competition on the market, offering improved functionality due to better hardware and the latest Android versions? Sony Ericsson's problem was trying to enrich Android capabilities behind Google's back without being successful at that. It was a unique situation when the company, trying to create its own shell, would effectively follow Google's steps albeit not without some delay. With each Android update, the situation grew only worse as the shell had to be adapted to it, which took time and money. For instance, the newly released Sony Ericsson X8 is powered by Android 1.6 whereas its rivals have had versions 2.1 and 2.2 for quite a while already. Save for the Xperia X8, I can hardly think of any product released in fall 2010 and having version 1.6 onboard, which is a good indicator of how things are in Sony Ericsson's design bureau.
The company's motto for the first half of 2011 is going to be "blast from the past." Sony Ericsson is intended to be adding a number of familiar features to its Android phones, like equalizers or other additional software we have seen in A200 handsets. Unfortunately, there isn't going to be any software breakthrough there, the company is busy adapting its shell to the latest versions of Android, gradually increasing its functionality. And I am really disappointed with that. That is a survival strategy, which implies that many Android products will be treated as regular handsets. The aforementioned Sony Ericsson X8 is a good example. The very Xperia brand name is going to lose its value because of that.
Anyway, let's take a look at some products due in 2011 and likely to become major for the company. I am not going to talk about Windows Phone 7 here, as there are only two models there and they are hardly of any interest outside the U.S. market. Both are expected to be available in late Q1 or early Q2, which implies that the company is somewhat late with their release. Do they have any advantages over the competition? I don't know. I couldn't find any.
So, the Sony Ericsson X10 is going to be replaced with the Anzo/Kraken (I think, it will be marketed as the X12, but that hasn't been decided yet). The design is similar to that of the X10, but the new device is significantly thinner. It feels quite unusual in one's hand. It is very thin. And that is going to be one of the major features of the device, which is quite ordinary otherwise. Why is it ordinary? Similar models can easily be found in other manufacturers' Android flagship lineups. For example, the HTC Desire HD has the same 4.3-inch screen, 8-megapixel camera and is based on the MSM7230 hardware platform (surprise, surprise, you didn't know that about the Anzo, did you?). Since I am planning to write a first look at the new model in the nearest future, I am not going to touch upon its technical characteristics here. Therefore, please come back after a while to get a sneak peek at the Anzo. As of this writing, the Anzo is powered by Android 2.1 but they have promised to have it updated to version 2.3 by March 2011. It's a pity that the customers will have to wait for at least half a year for the latest version of Android. The expected price of the phone is EUR 650.
Compared to the competition, the model appears a little bit outdated already. While the Sony Ericsson X10 was announced prior to its analogues from other manufacturers, quite the opposite is true for the Anzo, which will become available on the market together with the Samsung Galaxy S II (or the i9100; the name is likely to be changed). And the latter, with its display, dual-core processor architecture and a number of other innovations, is to become one of the best Android flagships from the technological perspective. The HTC Desire HD, which is fairly comparable to the Anzo, is selling already. You can make your own conclusions now. Unfortunately, Sony Ericsson's development speeds are dropping and that is going to result in the Anzo sales being even lower than those of the X10. Below, you can find some pictures from X10 Blog. Ours will be available in the first look a bit later.
Let's continue. We know that Sony Ericsson has cut down on Symbian yet that doesn't mean that they are discarding the Vivaz and Vivaz Pro breeds. The latter are to get Android based replacements (version 2.1 initially; to be updated), not without the proprietary shell (including Timescape/Mediascape). I could not compare the older and newer models directly as I didn't have the former at my disposal, but it looks like the build quality has been improved. The successors appear somewhat bigger and more solid and generally, the pricing laid aside, I am quite satisfied with them. What Sony Ericsson is considering at the moment, that is, EUR 270 and EUR 320, doesn't seem to be reasonable at all, though. To make the models sell, they will have to lower the MSRP to EUR 200 and EUR 240, respectively. Any price above that will have a drastic effect on the volumes.
The family of the X10 Mini and X10 Mini Pro are getting an update, too. Expect some gradual improvements and enlarged screens that should make the devices more comfortable to use. However, the target audience is still the same – i.e. women, and hence the size of the models remains a priority. These are going to be niche models.
Unfortunately, the people I talked to didn't provide any comments regarding the low-end. All I could see was the touch-sensitive Yendo with a QWERTY keyboard due in summer 2011. Most of the sales are supposed to be generated by the previously announced models, which I don't find very attractive by the way.
Due to some reason, I didn't have a chance to take a look at the so-called PSP Phone. Apparently, the model is not intended for Russia and they didn't have a sample because of that. Based on the conversations I had, it looks like the device is still up in the air and even if it makes it to the market it will not be widely available. Everyone appears to be very skeptical about its prospects in general, which goes in line with my personal opinion.
To sum it up, it doesn't look like the sky is clear for Sony Ericsson. I can't see products that could generate any significant sales for the company. Moreover, I can't see any breakthrough in the 2011 Android lineup so that Sony Ericsson's share in the segment can be expected to go up. Obviously, I can't guarantee that all the employees know the whole product portfolio and that the company is not readying a series of other models in strict confidence. Yet such theory doesn't seem to make much sense. If it were true, Sony Ericsson would be having very different negotiations with wireless carriers right now. It's a pity but Sony Ericsson as a manufacturer is still going down. Defective units, lack of innovations that we praised the company so much for, market share decline, you name it. The current management hasn't been able to break the vicious circle. The company is losing not only money but also the market. This management can't make it profitable, can't turn it into a technological leader. I would really like to be wrong eventually but in my opinion the decline will continue and 2011 won't be a very successful year, especially in the light of HTC gaining momentum.
I admire research companies which do their job well. I have mentioned several times, that I trust Gartner more than others. Their latest report on worldwide phone sales again confirms Gartner's supremacy. One table from the report made quite a stir and even led to doubts regarding appropriate findings. I mean a twofold increase of market share for minor players, which are not interesting separately, but taken together represent a considerable market share.
The highlight of controversy was a 10% contraction of the Nokia share. Is it possible? The answer is a resounding yes, because the company does not have an attractive product range and continues losing different markets.
Do you still have doubts? Look at the quarterly Nokia report (3rd quarter of 2010 года). The sales are broken down by regions.
In Africa the number of sold items remained the same, which translates into the shrinking of its market share against the background of the general growth. In Europe Nokia's position is going down very quickly (6% quarterly drop). It means that on selected markets the share of the Finnish manufacturer could have decreased even more. The sales in Europe increased, while other continents offer no positive news. Nokia sales growth was inferior to the general market indicators, which emphasizes serious distribution problems of the company.
I have already mentioned it before, but sometimes repetition is beneficial. Have you heard about Micromax, Spice Mobile, Karbon and Lava? Only if you live in India. These local companies offer low cost solutions and get into the column "Others" from Gartner report. According to IDC they jointly occupy 33% of the market. Nokia has just 36.3%, while several years ago it controlled more than 70%. The most startling fact is that these companies featured in the column "Others" for India and could boast several per cent of this huge market.
It may seem like a drop in the ocean for global players, but new companies take home markets by storm and then venture elsewhere. For example, uncertified Chinese models sell like hot cakes. Their growth in Russia amounts to hundreds of per cent. We can hardly see these handsets in major retailers. Their domain is flea markets, street stalls and online sales. The demand for cheap models with TV tuners, two SIM cards and other features is tremendous. Nokia and Samsung suffer from this competition most of all.
Another important insight is the distribution among different OS in the 3rd quarter of 2010. Symbian still leads the pack with 36.6% followed by Android with 25.5%. You can easily calculate when Android overtakes Symbian in sales. I think 2011 will see Android in its prime, while Symbian is likely to stall in development. This OS is not yet dead and Nokia will be marketing it for years. Its sales in items will go up, especially when S40 is discontinued, but it cannot bring success to the manufacturer. Sadly, investment was decreased. Only Nokia could shoot itself in the leg this way. In October Russian sales of Android models beat Symbian for the first time. People vote with their money and their choice is quite obvious.
Nokia decided to offer the utility to calculate the approximate operation time of Symbian^3 smartphones and show handset workload for the respective period. The idea is sensible and in Android this feature is included into OS itself.
I tried to download the app via OVI Store, but the recurrent error made it impossible. I looked at another application and it was installed with ease. I found Nokia Battery Monitor as a SISX file and installed it from a memory card within 1 minute without any bugs. Can you still believe that OVI Store works properly?
The app uses special algorithms to calculate the operation time and the accuracy leaves much to be desired. I have not used the phone during the day. At 11 a.m. I had a forecast for one day and 20 hours of operation. By 7 p.m. I was left with meager 17 hours. The discrepancy is too big as I did not make or receive a single call. I just took 2 pictures and that's all. Initial test showed that the data you receive are too far away from real life. It's a pity. This feature was successfully used in Sony Ericsson models before. Android provides you with info on type of power used for a particular process. In Nokia utility these data are not detailed. Why copy what you cannot make properly?
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Published 15 November 2010
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