06-01-2004, 01:06 AM #1
Sony Exits the PDA Market Ė For Now
Sony has informed us that they will not release any new Clie PDAs this year in the US. The Clie line will continue in Japan though. This move is of course devastating for a number of reasons. We have all the details along with five different takes on what this move means to the PDA world.
We had a conference call with Sony last week to discuss what we thought was going to be about the new Clie releases, hopefully something with OS 6. Much to our chagrin, Sony started by reading a very brief statement that clearly indicated their intent to vacate the PDA space in the US for at least the remainder of this year. Sony wanted to be very clear on a few points though:
- This move is a re-grouping, not an exit from the market
- Sony will continue to sell through stock of current models which could last for several months
- Sony will continue to honor all support agreements and warranties
- The Clie line will continue to grow and evolve in Japan
- They believe wireless is very important to mobile devices. To this end they will continue to work hard in the SonyEricsson partnership to bring innovative devices to market
- Beyond wireless Sony feels mobile devices need to be strong in multimedia and gaming
So after having a while to digest this call and information, Iím left thinking about whatís next for Sony. At one point not too long ago, Sony had palmOne (then Palm) on the ropes. Sony was innovating, not just with hardware, but with the operating system and bundled software as well. Then a number of things happened. Palm released the Tungsten T. Sonyís strategy became fragmented, pursuing many different model lines, turning each over very rapidly. Sony would make incomprehensible design flaws, like providing a CF slot that only worked with their WiFi card. In short, Palm got their act together, while Sony continued to use a rapid-fire shotgun approach that probably had them going in too many directions.
But the issues here are much more severe than Sony deciding to step away for a breather. palmOne is now stuck in a very precarious position. Theyíre now much like the Apple of the computing world - the only major licensee of the Palm OS. Sure there are dozens of other licensees, but combined, they donít have the visibility or sales of Sony. The exit by Sony will certainly mean a shift in the balance of power to Microsoft. The race between Palm OS and Windows Mobile was so close already, thereís no other reasonable outcome. Surely palmOne will scoop up plenty of prospective Sony buyers, but itís impossible to capture all of them. With Dell releasing the new X30ís at such an amazing price and HP coming out with 7 new PDAs in the next several weeks, Microsoft has to be feeling very good about their place in this market. This shift could end up hurting palmOne badly, if their next round of releases doesnít keep pace with their past few.
The other big question is how will Sony return to the market. Itís pretty much a given that theyíll not totally neglect the PDA market in the US, but what they come back with is anyoneís guess at the moment. They made it clear that gaming and multimedia was important to them in a handheld device. So it could be that Sony will push their mobile gaming device while developing the Sony Ericsson line more fully with wireless PDAs. Itís also possible theyíll let the Japanese market dictate what happens next over here. The Clie line could also go away entirely, being merged into their Vaio notebook line. Itís no secret that ultra portable notebooks are cutting into some of the PDA market share, so itís possible Sony will make a tiny Vaio, or large UX50 to fill the need.
Just know that nothingís out of the question. Sony did not rule out using Windows Mobile in a future device, but they did say they like the flexibility the Palm OS provides. The closing down of the Clie line for the rest of the year is certainly a downer for the PDA market, but rest assured that Sony will be back, surely with a vengeance, next year. Maybe the devices will release under the name Phoenix?
Other Takes from bargainPDA.com news editors Ė
With the current state of handhelds, palmOne is in a position to be a little bit more than the Apple of the PDA space. PalmOne has shown the ability through the Tungsten T3 and Zire71 of being able to pull out a knockout device when its needs to. This announcement by Sony only means that they have to pull that rabbit out more than just twice a year. There needs to be a faster turnover, no matter the financial burden, to churn out better models. It also means that they will have to have Apple levels of quality control. PalmSource has basically taken the OS and done what they can, PalmOne now needs to grow on that and create a true mobile platform.
The Treo line needs at least two more models. A Treo 200 like model that is color and just a phone with no expansion would work great. It would also be under $200 BEFORE the contract so that it can sell well. The Treo 600 needs to drop in price so that a better model can replace it. BT and hi-res on a $600 device is not much to ask, it may not sell well, but it will bring the people in. In the Zire line, there needs to be something in between the Zire31 and Zire72. Create a Zire51 and make it to be a replacement to the TE and you have a great sell at $225. The Tungsten line should all be outfitted with Bluetooth, WiFi and minimum 32MB of RAM. If these are business devices, build them to play hard.
Create a better TC with dual wireless and a T3 with better battery life, or at least removable batteries. These are the elements that PalmOne will have to come out with if they expect to hold off MS for half a year. The other thing that needs to happen is another major player needs to be a Palm OS licensee. PalmSource will not survive. Even if Apple was to take up and (finally) make a PDA, then that would help PalmSource stay. If not, and Sony does not come back with sure plans, then we can expect PalmSource to be bought out shortly after the Christmas season by HP or Dell. PalmOne may also be shut out by that time as well. Granted, I am only speaking in theory, but Sony leaving is a heck of a first domino.
The whole CLIE line is a money loser for Sony. With the weak dollar this year it is I'm sure magnified, as the Yen gets stronger and the dollar weaker the slim profit margins they may have made on the U.S. sold devices turn to losses. Therefore I believe this is a combination of pure business dollars strategy and also a chance to step back and make sure that their product lines aren't competing too much with one another as a new Playstation handheld is released, the VAIO line becomes more mobility and entertainment focused and the Sony Ericsson line becomes more PDA like with new SmartPhone releases.
Hindsight, of course, is 20/20. Sony's sales for the first quarter were dismal, and overall sales have been stagnating for awhile. Given the increasing pressure from Pocket PCs, and a growing dissatisfaction with their recent units among some of the user base, it's no surprise that the handheld market is looking less and less attractive to them.
As for the impact on the Palm OS, I don't know about a death blow, at least not yet, but it could end up hurting palmOne, being the only major licensee in the US. PalmOne becomes the lone company pitching something that is perceived as incompatible or out of touch. It stops being a battle, and becomes just swimming against the current. Even though they're the largest manufacturer now, palmOne could easily see their market share taken away by the Pocket PC manufacturers like a wolf pack taking down a bear.
Also, with Sony out of the picture, the Palm OS runs into a design problem.
You're left with one company, building units according to the PalmOne design ethic. T3s and Z72s rather than TH55s and TJ37s. It's not that Sony's designs were particularly brilliant--sometimes they could be simply bad--but it's a matter of diversity. Two companies meant twice as many units, different designs, different priorities. If you didn't like palmOne's units, try Sony. If Sony is out of the picture, you're throwing palmOne's single flagship model against those from HP, Dell, Toshiba, and Asus. And if users don't like palmOne's models, they have nowhere to go but Pocket PC, further marginalizing the Palm OS.
PalmSource is certainly going to be in trouble, and some people are going to be righteously cursing the spin-off. It should be interesting to see how this news impacts their stock price today. Which brings up the question: if PalmSource can't get another significant licensee quickly, how long before the company gets rolled back into palmOne? As I see it, those are really the only two options: get another big name, or reintegrate the company. Of course, there's the third option, which is to keep chugging along on the status quo for awhile, but it still ends up returning to the first two. Perhaps SonyEricsson will go main stream with their smartphones as part of this move, filling the void left by Sony.
On the prospect of Windows Mobile, I just can't see Sony making a Pocket PC. They've always made a point of tweaking and twisting both the OS and the hardware design, and that doesn't seem as easy on the Pocket PC side due to the hardware commoditization and more rigid design requirements. What I could very easily see them do is license not the complete Windows Mobile, but the Windows CE core. That would give them a lot more flexibility in what they wanted to build, right up to and including a micro-Vaio in the style of the Netbook or the UX50. It is true that Microsoft has relaxed its hardware restrictions a couple of times, but I really don't know by how much, or what they are at the moment. WM2003 Second Edition does, however, remove one significant roadblock to a UX50 style Pocket PC, vis a vis landscape support.
At first, I had only negative thoughts on this issue - sure sounds bad for Palm OS in general. But then I started to wonder - why would Sony announce that they are getting out of the game for a while? Why not just keep quiet and simply not introduce new models to the US? To me, it is simply a bad PR decision on their side, or they have something special planned that they are not telling us.
Having said that, on the business users side of the house, I think the PDA as we currently know it is nearing the end of the line. Even the new Treos and Blackberrys are fine, but not enough. We really need a mobile office device that is capable of secure communications with the home office. Phone plus desktop capability plus GPS. I currently carry two PDAs (one with GPS, the other hot syncs with my office desktop), a phone, plus a laptop (for heavy when I leave the office). And I am not the only one who is complaining about this. Perhaps Sony is heading in this direction, though I fear they will focus more on the gaming/media side than the business side. There is a lot of money to be made in the gaming/media world, but it is the business side of the house that runs things in the end, ala Microsoft (business) vs. Apple (graphic arts).
After trying the TJ37, I was surprised at the lacking screen quality. The unit was really of no pleasure to use, especially to browse the web. The best PDA Sony has released in the US market over the last year is arguably the UX50, which is significantly overpriced. In seeing the pattern in both mobile phones and handhelds, it is my feeling that Sony offers much better versions of their products in overseas markets, denying US consumers the quality and features it offers with similar products released in Europe and Japan (like the TH55 with WiFi and Bluetooth). It will be interesting to see how the Clie line evolves in Japan; that will surely be a harbinger of things to come for the US. While itís sad to see Sony leave the market, Iím not sure Iím going to miss them much. Iím more looking forward to what comes next, because you know Sonyís not just going to sit out for too long.
06-01-2004, 01:37 AM #2
- Join Date
- Feb 2004
Perhaps this is both a blessing and a curse. I'd sure like to see some nice, affordable SonyEricsson smartphones over here in the US, but at the same time, I'd also like to see an improvement in the UX line and such. Oh well, I guess I'll just have to wait and see what comes out of this.
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06-01-2004, 12:41 PM #3
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- Apr 2003
- Stewartstown, PA
[?]If I read this right, Sony only says it will not introduce new models and only for the rest of this year - with the intention of coming back next year? Am I the only one who is yawning here? Besides being a poor PR move, sounds like their rapid-fire development strategy of the past year or so back-fired (see recent reviews of Sony PDAs - not overly impressive) and they are simply re-grouping, and getting their production & support processes stabilized (and probably catching their breath in general). AFAIK, the current crop of Sony PDAs will still be available and supported by Sony. I must be missing something or misread the announcement as this just doesn't seem too big a deal to me (other than the fact that I can't figure out why they would announce this).
06-01-2004, 01:35 PM #4
- Join Date
- Feb 2001
right, but when you break up with a significant other it's always spun as a cooling off period or chance to take a step back. It's a nice way of saying, so long farewell maybe we'll meet again -- wink wink (we know we won't).
Sony and Palm will likely not hold hands again in the U.S. Not for a long time.
06-01-2004, 02:41 PM #5
I think Sony's done in the US with PDAs. Mini-Vaio's maybe, gaming devices that so some PIM maybe...but not another Clie-type device.
Editor in Chief
06-01-2004, 04:50 PM #6
- Join Date
- Sep 2001
- Between the Wheels Devices: N9, iPad 16GB, KF-HD
You know abaxter, I did that a little less than a year ago. When I go back into that relationship thing, it was with the idea of being more mature and better able to handle 'market changes." I am sure that Sony wants to pull off the same thing, just with the PalmOS as becoming the more mature person this time around. Cobalt may have been to late for Sony's benifit. I would hope that it is not too late for PDAs as a whole.
06-02-2004, 01:28 AM #7
- Join Date
- Apr 2003
- , AZ
Man I am worried that we are all comparing PDA's to girlfriend's, wives, significant others, etc.! Here is my 2 cents worth...
In response to PDA's going away, I say no way, no worries (at least not for now). With the summer onslaught of new PPC models coming from HP, we can expect the Pocket PC end of the market to continue moving ahead.
Palm? Well Brian, you can attest to our findings at the CTIA show in Atlanta. We found out lot's of info. to suggest that PalmOne will be introducing their own new models (down the pike) with integrated wireless, bluetooth, etc. Meeting with PalmSource was even more exciting, getting some straight answers on the new and exciting possibilities that OS 6 will offer. A little bird even mentioned the possibility of a "Palm Powered Tablet Computer". Wow!
So concerning Sony, the company who took Palm OS device innovation to new unparalelled levels plans to fly just before Cobalt enabled possibilities are made a reality is a bit of a surprise. But just as many companies have done at times like these, the space is open for a new players, perhaps one who might just be willing enough to take up the empty display space (previously occupied by Cliťs) on store shelves and fill them with some fresh competition. Perhaps a player that is willing to offer more competative pricing and higher quality displays and features. Time will tell.
So, let's not kiss our PDA's goodbye yet! There is still lots of promise that we can "continue the relationship"! LOL
06-02-2004, 02:45 AM #8
- Join Date
- Sep 2001
- Between the Wheels Devices: N9, iPad 16GB, KF-HD
If I am Sony, I am looking to do a few things in terms of PDA-ish devices:
*A tablet style device (4x6 or better screen with at least VGA resolution) running Cobalt - trust me when I say that people do not want to have a tablet that has to boot up all the time, and OLED screens are supposed to be here by late this year in that size.
*take TH55 + SE T630 and see new uber-connected PDA with excellent battery life. Change TH55 to UX50 for the clamshell version.
*Sony will release a BT model at $200 if they come back.
That is three models at three price points and one of them includes phone capabilites. The tablet will probasbly not, but you can count on BT and wifi.
Of course, all of this can be a pipe dream and leave Sony users wanting the 90s to reutrn, but we all know that no one goes back to the same person that they were in high school, even our loved ones
06-02-2004, 10:50 AM #9
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- Apr 2003
- , AZ
That would be an outstanding agenda! We could only hope that you were sitting on Sony's board, explaining what needs to be done. I also totally agree with you that most users have no desire for a Tablet that requires time to "boot up". I have actually mentioned this on our tablet site (www.bargaintabletpc.com), and I believe that Tablet devices using ROM flash memory allowing "instant on" as opposed to a hard drive will be favored. Cobalt not only can, but certainly WILL allow for this. Can't wait to see...
06-02-2004, 11:45 AM #10
- Join Date
- Jun 2004
For years Sony brings out Clie's faster than we can keep up--i was always excited to see what's next.
I think this has more to do with making the PSP (playstation portable unit) the featured mini "do everything" device for the US. SOny will be controlling all aspects of the device, system os and hardware (i believe some form of "emotion cell" chips.
The "GameBoy Market" is huge, and filled with profit, keeping Nintendo alive.
Perhaps Sony wants to sell just one small non-phone device when it expects PSP to "take over" in america, rather than a whole bunch of other "confusing" ones. The PSP is multimedia too, music and movies, and introduces a new media type--maythe this launch has total priority...
or maybe im just a gamer, but i think the PSP has something to do with this.
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