Sony Logo

Update, December 18: Separately from the report from CNBeta that we cited below, Digitimes is reporting that Sony will cut down on the number of models it releases in 2016. The Japanese company may shutter its Taiwanese R&D facilities and reduce the number of manufacturers it partners with. Sony will probably release just two models in 2016, claims Digitimes source.

Original post, December 14: Sony’s Xperia line has been around for some time, though in recent years hit a bit of a snag as its flagship line has failed to produce a bankable hit. This has, in turn, resulted in rumors the Japanese OEM would shed its skin, similar to what happened with VAIO. Rumors have surfaced in the past few weeks suggesting there would be no less than five Xperia Z6 variants. Today, a new rumor makes five specific claims:

  • There will be only two flagship Xperia devices in 2016.
  • No flagship will be announced at CES 2016.
  • The first flagship will launch in July, and the second in October.
  • The devices will make extensive use of metal.
  • The devices will both sport the Snapdragon 820 SoC.

We want to caution readers that this information should not be taken as fact. The very idea that Sony will “only” release 2 flagships in 2016 seemingly isn’t even news in-and-of-itself. Rather, it has become such due to wild speculation the company would produce a handful of Z6 devices. In truth, either claim could be “logical” given Sony’s recent releases.

Much to do about…nothing?

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The claim of 5 devices stems from reports that 2016 will see a more familiar Z6, a Z6 Premium, and a Z6 Compact, but also a Z6 Mini and a Z6 Ultra. While the latter two are at odds with current trends from the OEM, the past few months has seen Z5-variants of the first three. Putting aside the logic of releasing a flagship Mini when there would already be a flagship Compact, Sony has not released a flagship “Ultra” since the very first Z series, the Z Ultra.

With that said, giant phablet devices do still hit the market these days, however they tend to be of a decidedly lower-spec affair. Sony itself has the 6-inch Xperia C5 Ultra, Huawei has the 6.8-inch P8max, Lenovo has its 7-inch PHAB Plus. Yesterday footage of Samsung’s upcoming 6-inch Galaxy A9 leaked.

None of these devices might be considered a top-tier flagship however, and save for last year’s Motorola Nexus 6, this is arguably the industry trend. For Sony to buck this pattern and release an Xperia Z6 Ultra would arguably result in questionable sales potential, however it is now a commonly circulating belief that Samsung will in fact, have two 6-inch Galaxy S7 devices.

Ultimately only time will tell what Sony actually plans to do. For now however, industry sources are seeking to indicate there will be only two flagship Z devices next year.

Sony’s sore spot

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The canceled Sony Xperia Z4v for Verizon would have had a QHD display.

While the promise of a new, metallic pair of products in 2016 has a lot of potential, the more fundamental question is one of logic: While the Xperia brand may be relatively successful in some markets, in others – such as the United States – it is nearly invisible to mainstream consumers. Sony’s fundamental problem is typically cited as being a lack of marketing, a lack of appropriate marketing, and a lack of availability. Even unique variants such as the Verizon Xperia Z4v, which was set to be the only Sony smartphone with a QHD display, have met an unfavorable demise thus further limiting potential exposure.

This trifecta of tribulation is in direct contrast to the high-end flagship devices the company actually produces. The Z series’ camera, for example, is often praised in reviews as having one of the best in the industry. The Z series is made of premium materials, packs top-tier specs, and with the latest entry has even adopted a fingerprint sensor embedded in the side-mounted power button. Here in Japan it, along with other Xperia devices, it can be seen everywhere, but that is hardly the case elsewhere.

Framed in metal?

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LG is also expected to use metal on its 2016 flagship, the LG G5.

Critics of the Z-series also list the design as another sore spot. It has remained relatively unchanged since the first model released years ago. In the case of the Z4 specifically, the design and specs were so similar that it was branded as the Z3+ for international markets. The potential of a metal body for the Z6, at the very least, offers a new hope and sufficient excitement that Sony will truly rethink the way its flagship smartphone looks.

Less is more

In addition to the aforementioned topics, Sony’s frequency of hardware refreshes is also deemed problematic for any singular success. The Z4, which released in July, was replaced by the Z5 just three months later. While this was extremely fast even for Japan, at the very least it made some sense here given new product release cycles. Overseas however, Sony clearly knew a problem was at hand hence the Z3+ branding.

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Unfortunately today’s rumor ultimately does very little to reassure potential buyers of any deviation from this pattern. Were the purported plan to suggest two different flagships would be released, it might lend some reassurance to longer singular product lifespans. For example, the Z6 releasing in the Spring and then a Z6 Ultra releasing in the fall. Instead, there is seemingly no reason Sony wouldn’t put out a Z6 and Z7 next year, and indeed the report itself cites July and October as launch targets for the new pair of products.

Wrap up

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In the coming months, more specific rumors and leaks will begin to flow from their sources and Sony’s plans for the new year will become more apparent. For now however, it is too early to say anything specific. We are very interested in what you have to say, however: Sony is often a rather contentious topic with some being loyal fans and others having less favorable things to say.

Would you consider a Z6 next year if it is made of metal? Would the possibility of a newer flagship releasing just three months later dissuade you? Please feel free to take our quick survey below and then leave your candid comments!