It’s been less than 24 hours since Sony officially unveiled the Xperia Z4, and to say the media’s reaction has been “subdued” might be an understatement. Our own Nirave Gondhia questioned why the company would release a product that isn’t the major redesign that so many hoped for, and in truth, he’s not alone. While the dreams of many are certainly dashed, there are a few important things to understand about the Z4, which need to be elaborated on.
Please note that I am merely playing devil’s advocate here, for the sake of journalistic argument; this piece should not be viewed as a representation of my own personal feelings on Sony, its products, or its current situation.
Sony announced this product in Japan, for Japan
The Xperia Z4 was not announced as a global device, nor was it announced at some grandiose international media event like MWC. The device is, as it stands now, aimed at Japanese consumers in Japan. Before continuing further, please have a look at the following diagram:
There are two main take away points from this chart:
1. As of December 2014, Sony had a larger smartphone market share than any other company in Japan, save for Apple. Arguably, its market share was larger than that of Fujitsu, Sharp, and Samsung combined.
2. Sony’s market share picked up as last summer began, peaked in July, and then began to decline afterwords. It gradually began to recover in October.
Suffice to say, Japanese consumers like to buy Sony products, and like to buy Sony phones. The rest of the world seems to as well, though: when was the last time the tech press slammed one, let alone gave a disparaging review? Even with the Z4, the initial backlash seems to be more about the design than anything else.
Looking at Sony’s market share for 2013, it becomes more clear that whatever the company was doing here in the past year, it certainly paid off:
It’s also important to be aware that Japan has a semi-annual mobile phone release schedule: late Spring/early Summer, and late Fall/early Winter. The devices are occasionally staggered, such that a Winter model announced in November might not actually release until February. In more recent times, there have been “on-offs”, wherein a carrier releases a single product that doesn’t fit into a more systematic release schedule. Nonetheless, just because the world-at-large wants a single flagship per year doesn’t mean Japan does, and remember: the Xperia Z4 is for Japan.
Sony has Samsung to contend with
Let’s also consider the logic behind the announcement of the Z4. Some have already mentioned that the Xperia Z4 was allegedly going to have a metal build, or that it was supposed to be much more than what was announced. As the rumor goes, due to production or design issues, the radical redesign was going to see the device slipping to the end of 2015. Consider this for a second; if it’s true, it makes perfect sense to release something rather than nothing, a decision perhaps not unlike that which HTC made when the One M9 was given the green light.
But let’s not forget one other thing: Samsung. Despite the fact that Samsung has an extremely small market share in Japan, it also is just a few days away from the launch of the Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge here in Japan. Despite the removal of the Samsung branding from the devices in Japan (something which I wrote about earlier and which the media-at-large has now realized), the only new phones currently announced for release this month by either NTT docomo or au by KDDI are Samsung’s, and that is most certainly going to get a lot of attention from the media.
Now consider Sony’s situation: it knows Japanese customers like the Xperia brand, but it has nothing new to offer at the moment. Unless it announces something big, there is a risk of Samsung taking part of its market share. This goes double for people whose contracts are expiring, and thus are eager to get a new phone now. Samsung has the only new phone to get, and the vast majority of the world’s consumer audience isn’t as attuned to mobile tech as some are and won’t think about what else might be coming later.
Sony announced the Xperia Z4 just days before the release of the new Galaxy phones. Not the press release mind you, but the actual release. This strategy is brilliant, as it ensures everyone is talking about Sony and the Xperia Z4 when all attention would otherwise be focused on the upcoming Samsung products. Had Sony made the announcement just after the Galaxy devices were announced for Japan, the talk would have died down by now, and people would be again focused on Samsung.
Think about it: you don’t know much about phones, but want to get a new one. You’re going to consider the Galaxy S6 Edge, but then see a report on TV tonight that announces the Xperia Z4 Suddenly you’re eager to wait for Sony’s product to release, if only for the ability to compare it with the Galaxy. Alternatively, maybe Sony doesn’t care if you buy the Xperia Z4 in the end or not, but by making it easier to wait, it is thereby diminishing the likelihood of your running out to get a Galaxy.
What’s the problem with the Xperia Z4 anyway?
The last major point to discuss is the actual nature of the Xperia Z4 in-and-of-itself. There’s nothing exactly wrong with it. The specs are top notch: it has a slightly thinner profile than its predecessor, it’s slightly lighter, it has a Snapdragon 810 and 3GB of RAM, and a 5.1 megapixel front camera. In terms of the other specs, they are basically a retread of the Xperia Z3 with a 5.2 inch Full HD screen, and a 20.7 megapixel rear camera. Of course it’s waterproof and dustproof. Honestly speaking, what exactly is the problem with these specs?
Considering that HTC released a similar device as the One M9 and is charging full price for it, why can’t Sony as well? Heck, the Xperia Z4 has minor aesthetic changes (such as the placement of the front speakers) and the same fantastic camera rear camera that was present on the Z3. HTC on the other hand, has received a lot of flack for the poor performance the M9’s camera is putting forth.
So this leaves the big question: what exactly is so bad about the Z4? Sure the design isn’t exactly that inspired considering what came before it, but other than that, is there really any problem?
While the Xperia Z4 isn’t a radically redesigned phone, it is a new offering, and has top-notch specs. The device will definitely appeal to Japanese consumers who like Sony, who want a new phone, who like cameras, and who might be on the fence about the Galaxy S6. If I had to wager a guess, I’d say it will do quite well here, especially given that the Xperia Z2 and Z3 seemed to do quite well and they were also quite similar, especially with respect to the design.
As for the device that everyone things will “save Sony“, it might be just a pipe dream at best. Or perhaps it does exist, and will be announced at a later date. For all those who are under the impression that the Z4 is the “flagship”, consider that Sony is quite able to release a second flagship with a different form factor or functional element, just as how Samsung has the Galaxy Note series. When one considers how much market share Apple has, it would make even more sense for Sony to announce such a product at the same time as the iPhone 6s products, for – in Japan at least – there will be significant attention paid to it.