Feeds

Farewell then, Sony Ericsson

The Reg looks back over a rollercoaster decade

Choosing a cloud hosting partner with confidence

It promised to bring together the best of Swedish design and Japanese consumer electronics marketing, and at times, it did. But after 10 years and one month, Sony has pulled the plug on its mobile phone venture with Ericsson.

The venture was born out of necessity, with two great storied giants forming a sort of losers' alliance. A decade later it ended with sales in free fall: SE's shipments were just a quarter of their peak of four years ago, and staffing a third of the 9,000.

Both parents had pretty illustrious pasts behind them. In 1876, electrical engineer Lars Ericsson began repairing telephones made by Alexander Graham Bell, and realised they could be better designed. Within two years he was doing just that, and his company dominated both consumer and network technology for over a century. The Swedes designed the rotary telephone, which remained unchanged until the 1980s.

Meanwhile, Sony had created markets for portable music and games.

The two parents also had other assets. Sony had a movie studio and a record label (and publisher); Ericsson had the network expertise and an inside track on standards. These should have been enough to keep the newcomer in Tier 1 for a very long time, with enough muscle to seriously challenge the leaders.

Sony Z5 from 2000:
the wheel-based UI was incorporated into later products

Sony had not been able to replicate its success in portable games and music devices, and by the end of 2000 Ericsson was also struggling, as Nokia's simpler, cheaper and more friendly phones were embraced by the mass market.

A partnership between the two was unusual, and on paper, it was very promising.

The JV would be free from the sprawling bureaucracies of its parents. Sony encouraged divisions to fight each other, and even sabotage each other's products. Ericsson invested hugely in R&D and design but had problems getting products to market, and then marketing them attractively. For its part, Sony would bring its global brands to the phone business. A joint venture could be more entrepreneurial, finding opportunities faster and executing more quickly. In theory.

It was fortunate that the joint venture embarked on its journey with a hit. This was Ericsson's T68, released at the end of 2001, and became the ailing Swedes' comeback phone.

The T68 was colour, a blotchy, grainy colour by today's standards, but even a year later most devices on sale were still monochrome. It had Bluetooth, which Ericsson had devised and nurtured. It was tri-band, supporting US 1900Mhz frequencies. Best of all it was small and svelte; Ericsson's earlier models had been characterised by its stubby, signature antenna, just when Nokia's engineers were making the antennas disappear.

With these assets people could overlook the flaws. Within 18 months Sony Ericsson had fixed these, and was producing (in the T610, and the K700) incredibly slick-looking consumer gadgets for a low cost: a real manufacturer's dream, which translated into healthy margins. And so SE was well placed to reap the reward when Nokia stumbled in early 2004. Nokia had neglected its mid-range, which looked crude and shabby compared to the slick, themable UIs of the Sony Ericsson feature phones.

The Ericsson T68: ensured the joint venture started with a hit

In addition, Sony Ericsson had produced the most eye-catching new phone of the decade – one that even caught Steve Jobs' eye – the P800 smartphone. This was refined less than a year later in the P900, the high point of the joint venture's design and technology efforts. Of all the smartphones produced before Apple entered the market, this crossed the bridge between the needs of advanced IT users and people looking for an ordinary business phone.

Beginner's guide to SSL certificates

More from The Register

next story
Xperia Z3: Crikey, Sony – ANOTHER flagship phondleslab?
The Fourth Amendment... and it IS better
Don't wait for that big iPad, order a NEXUS 9 instead, industry little bird says
Google said to debut next big slab, Android L ahead of Apple event
Microsoft to enter the STRUGGLE of the HUMAN WRIST
It's not just a thumb war, it's total digit war
Ex-US Navy fighter pilot MIT prof: Drones beat humans - I should know
'Missy' Cummings on UAVs, smartcars and dying from boredom
Netscape Navigator - the browser that started it all - turns 20
It was 20 years ago today, Marc Andreeesen taught the band to play
A drone of one's own: Reg buyers' guide for UAV fanciers
Hardware: Check. Software: Huh? Licence: Licence...?
The Apple launch AS IT HAPPENED: Totally SERIOUS coverage, not for haters
Fandroids, Windows Phone fringe-oids – you wouldn't understand
Apple SILENCES Bose, YANKS headphones from stores
The, er, Beats go on after noise-cancelling spat
prev story

Whitepapers

Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
Cloud and hybrid-cloud data protection for VMware
Learn how quick and easy it is to configure backups and perform restores for VMware environments.
Three 1TB solid state scorchers up for grabs
Big SSDs can be expensive but think big and think free because you could be the lucky winner of one of three 1TB Samsung SSD 840 EVO drives that we’re giving away worth over £300 apiece.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.