Sony makes the smart move on handhelds

Sony’s decision to pull out of the handheld market was prompted by the strength of smartphone sales, the company has said.

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By  Peter Branton Published  June 29, 2004

Sony’s decision to pull out of the handheld market was prompted by the strength of smartphone sales, the company has said. The Japanese giant only made its entry into the region’s PDA market late last year, when it launched its CLIE handheld range in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). However, the company’s decision to stop selling the CLIE range outside of Japan means it will bow out this year. “People started choosing between do we have a smartphone or do we have a PDA?” said Dharmendra Lalai, marketing and sales manager, Sony Middle East. “In that battle the smartphone obviously won.” Existing CLIE customers should not be concerned, Lalai said, as Sony has committed to meet any service agreements in place and also to have parts available for a period of several years, in line with its normal policy. Instead of PDAs, the company will use the expertise developed in its CLIE line-up to develop smartphones through its Sony Erikkson venture. Sony is also keen to promote its Vaio brand, and this month announced a number of new products that could become available in the Middle East in the next few months, including the Vaio U, which it is billing as the world’s smallest and lighest Windows XP PC. While Sony initially enjoyed great success with its PDA products, offering innovative features, it had found it hard to maintain that success, industry analysts said. It was also criticised for being slow to provide wireless support, although the CLIE handhelds launched in the region last year did come with built-in Wi-Fi features. “Being very consumer focused, Sony’s handheld business hasn’t really benefited much from the general upturn in business mobility spending, while at the same time what were once distinguishing features such as integrated cameras and MP3 playback have appeared on more devices, including mobile phones, from other vendors,” said Canalys analyst Rachel Lashford, in a report published just before Sony announced its exit from the PDA market. Sony’s exit from the global PDA market will be a blow to PalmSource, the OS arm of Palm, as Sony was one of its biggest customers. While the company will still support PalmOne on the products it sells in Japan, it is likely to erode market share for the Palm OS globally.

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