Focus. Surprise. Kando. Sony CEO Kaz Hirai has thrown these words around like crazy since he set out to revive the company with a three-year plan, and he's been coming up short ever since. Now he's pushing ahead with a new and improved strategy, one that sees Sony basically giving up on growing its mobile business. That's not to say it'll stop making smartphones (though that's possible too), but the company's done betting that its phones will find a home in everyone's pockets.
What a shock, right?
Seriously, though, Sony's been trying to downplay its mobile ambitions for a while now. It's already been a few months since Sony announced it would dramatically dial down the number of smartphone models it makes, after all. Oh, and this year is the first in recent memory that the company has decided not to put on a formal MWC press conference. We're still expecting the company to show off something, but the message is clear: This whole mobile space isn't really its thing anymore. And frankly, who could blame it? The Sony we know now is lighter and livelier than it's been in years, all thanks to a drastic weight-loss scheme that involved giving up on lackluster product lines.
Computers? Done. Small LCDs? Au revoir. Even some of the industrial nitty-gritty stuff like its chemicals business has gotten the axe, all to help give Sony a much-needed sense of focus. Seeing Sony officially turn its back on phones runs counter to Hirai's earlier bluster, but you've got to consider two things. First, Sony's mobile division has been a huge financial albatross around the company's neck. Second: Hirai has changed his mind on the big stuff before. He's also said in the past that the company wouldn't give up its TV business (which now exists as a wholly owned subsidiary), though now even that isn't safe from a potential trip to the auction block if things get really hairy.
What's more troubling is what a shift away from smartphones could mean for the rest of Sony's plans down the road. Hirai told The Telegraph last year that Sony's devotion to the smartphone isn't even just about carving a healthy niche in the market -- it's about getting in on the ground floor of what's coming next:
"There's going to come a time ... three, four, five [years] from now where people move on from smartphones to whatever it is that the next communications device is going to be," he noted. "If we want to be a part of that revolution or even lead the revolution, you've got to be a player in this space."
Sounds great, right? Just the sort of forward-thinking stuff you'd like to hear from the guy steering a massive ship. He was even more pragmatic in a chat with CNBC. Sony "need[s]" to be in the smartphone business, he said, if only to make sure its relationships with carriers and suppliers don't evaporate when it's time to craft those next-gen gadgets. Here's the thing, though: That strategy might be utterly pointless if Sony decides to sell off its mobile business entirely, an option that certainly isn't off the table anymore. Maybe Sony's squeezed everything it could out of its phone business. Maybe it'll release a knockout of a device that shoots to the top of the charts in a few months. Or maybe Sony's future in your pocket might only extend to making the cameras that go in your iPhones or OnePlus Ones. A word of advice, Sony: You're standing at a crossroads right now. No matter what road you choose, own it or nothing will have mattered.