Sony's mobile division hasn't had the easiest time in the U.S. market. Xperia smartphones often arrived in the states months after their global launch, and a rapid release cycle for new models meant the U.S. was often out of step with the rest of the world.
That's just one pain point the firm is looking to address as it revamps its Xperia brand at Mobile World Congress. Sony's new Xperia X series draws a line under the past three years (and six generations) of Xperia flagships — with the goal of taking the best of the "Z" DNA forward into the new "X" brand. It's not quite a matter of of closing out one for the other, but you get the sense that the Xperia Z series might well be finished.
"We're not putting out a Z6 this year," Don Mesa, Sony's North American Senior Director of Marketing, told Android Central in Barcelona, "I think for us it's more about the design philosophy."
We're not putting out a Z6 this year.
"We knew that with this line we wanted to make sure that we had a certain philosophy when it comes to the form factor, what we're putting into the device, the camera, the battery. We wanted to make sure that it comes across not just on the surface, but from our engineers, too."
Mesa didn't explicitly state that the Z series is dead, and other publications have received somewhat vague statements. But in any event this year the focus is firmly on the new Xperia X line. In a clarifying statement, Sony Mobile confirmed that "there is currently no plan to launch the Xperia Z6 at this stage."
"[Xperia Z] had its own set of principles, its own philosophy. It doesn't mean that we said, 'let's toss this aside.' It's already set there. There's a reason why it's been successful. So it's more like we're creating a new philosophy. How we evolve with the Z, that will come in its due time."
In other words, although there are clear contrasts between X and Z lines, Sony isn't starting from scratch. And that's clear to see in the phones themselves.
"It came down to how people are using the phone. For X, for battery capacity, it's not as much as the Z. But how we manage the battery, that intelligence is what's important. So we want to put all our effort on managing the battery on the back end."
Whereas the Z series had been made up of phones with a variety of screen sizes — from the smaller "Compact" models up to the enormous Xperia Z Ultra, all three Xperia X phones have 5-inch screens. The move reflects what Sony believes is the sweet spot for one-handed use, but that doesn't mean it's giving up on bigger phones altogether.
As we evolve from this line we want to at least start fresh, help people understand why we're setting our standards here.
"I think it really comes down to preferences," Mesa told us. "For us, as it with this line, this is what we saw as important. It doesn't mean that [larger sizes are] no longer useful. As we evolve from this line we want to at least start fresh, help people understand why we're setting our standards here. And once this gets solidified, then we'll start looking at where do we evolve."
The "fresh start" for Xperia smartphones comes with a renewed focus on the U.S. market, particularly with unlocked sales. It's a new chapter for Sony, Mesa says, as the company prepares to release the Xperia X this summer in traditional strongholds like Europe, as well as the U.S.
"The priority we wanted for this year was, first of all, to announce announce these products. But also to launch all these models — all these colors, all these accessories — at the same time as global."
The unlocked market was our best opportunity.
While carrier partnerships aren't being ruled out, it's clear that the unlocked market — an area of growing importance in the U.S. — is Sony's main focus for the X series at launch. And Mesa says Sony's existing retail partnerships will play an important role in getting its new phones in front of shoppers. "As we made the decision that we want to launch all of these products [in North America], the unlocked market was our best opportunity," he says, "And we have great relationships with our retail partners like Best Buy and Amazon."
The Xperia X series represents a bold change in direction Sony, placing what Mesa calls the "super-mid" Xperia X at the heart of the lineup, supported by the X Performance for those who demand more horsepower for games and other demanding tasks. What's more, doubling down on the U.S. market means more people will have the opportunity to see it these new phones.
"You're very active on it, and you need something that's going to keep up with you. That's where we think our phones fit in very well. And we think the intelligence part will make your life easier."