Sony’s Xperia Z line looks like it will continue to fly in the face of what has now become the traditional wisdom of one flagship phone per company per year. Details about the Xperia Z3 have already begun to leak, with it looking like it’ll see a release around 6 months after the Z2, which has only just hit shelves. Furthermore, the Z3 doesn't look to be much of an upgrade.
The Z2 came out about 6 months after the Z1, which itself was 6 months removed from the original Xperia Z.
This kind of multiple-release format was disastrous in the old days of Android. It’s confusing, is difficult to market and lessens the sense of worth you get from your shiny new phone. It’s difficult to feel satisfied with your purchase when there’s always a better phone right around the corner. It’s also hard to convince someone that their device is worth the money when only half a year of R&D separates its features from its predecessor’s.
Apple had it right. One release per year, almost like clockwork. That way your customers know when the next phone is coming and that it has a full year’s worth of improvements behind it. Samsung finally caught on, the rest of the Android market followed suit, and the Android ecosystem has flourished.
Truthfully, while we’re big fans of the Xperia Z line, the Z1 was much the same device as the Z2. Both have the same waterproof rating, the same camera and similarly-specced CPUs. They even look alike.
In spite of this, Sony continues to gain more interest from buyers. Where once Sony phones were all but non-existent in the market, you can now pick out a decent number if you glance about on the bus or train. So if this 6 month release pattern was so damaging in the past, why is it working for Sony now?
A possible answer is that no one is hanging out for the next Sony phone, because pretty much everyone who wants Android is after a Samsung. It might be easy to forget, but a surprisingly large number of people still aren't totally sure what "Android" really is. Quite a few of them think it's something specific to Samsung.
The Galaxy S series is almost as sought-after as the iPhone now. Everyone wants the latest one. It’s a measuring stick for the rest of the entire Android platform. Removing the certainty of when the next one is coming would be like going right back to the bad old days of confusion and disappointment.
Sony is being smart with marketing
Sony, on the other hand, is a comparative brand: many buyers judge its phones by comparing them to either Samsung or Apple. It needs to give buyers a reason to go with an Xperia instead of an S5, rather than on its own merits. The problem is, at what point do you try to tell the customer that your phone is the better choice?
We wouldn’t be surprised to hear that more than a few Z2 owners walked in to the store vaguely aware that they wanted a Galaxy S5, but ended up with an Xperia. This is thanks to some brilliant angles being taken by Sony. Instead of simply targeting the consumer, they’re making the job of the sales assistant easier.
Salespeople sell phones
What are the three things a salesperson goes to when selling a phone in-store? Price. Camera. Newness.
Sony’s price? Cheaper than the Galaxy S5. Sony’s cameras? Have a higher megapixel count than Samsung’s. When was it released? No more than 6 months ago.
It might sound daft but these are the little things that sell phones. 90% of people still sign up to their phone plan in-store. The problem with this is that salespeople aren’t always totally up-to-date on which phones are actually better at what.
We popped around to a few stores a couple of months ago and found that a majority relied on product summary cards that displayed the hardware specs, as well as when the phone came out and what it was priced at.
Specs-wise the Xperia Z line wins in key categories. They’re powerful, waterproof and have a 20.7MP camera. In the real world this camera is about as good as the one found on the Galaxy S5 (16MP) and the HTC One M8 (4MP), but merely by having a larger number of megapixels more than a few sales reps will flatly tell you that it is better. After all, it's a bigger number.
That’s what Sony needs right now: someone other than itself to tell you that an Xperia is the better option at some point during the sale. Perhaps one day if Sony sales start rivaling Samsung then it will be wise to go back to a more spaced-out schedule, but in the meantime being the latest phone around is too valuable a trick to pass up.