Sony Mobile has admitted it will be disadvantaged by retailers when releasing new smartphones running older versions of Google's Android operating system in Australia.
Speaking at a media launch in Sydney to unveil its new Xperia P and Xperia U smartphones, both running the older 2.3 "Gingerbread" version of Google's Android operating system, Sony admitted the new phones will be disadvantaged by retail staff who will usually recommend "the latest and greatest."
"The main disadvantage [of running Gingerbread software] is the perception from retail staff, said Sean Coulson, Marketing Manager, Sony Mobile. "When they are recommending phones they always recommend you the latest and greatest."
While acknowledging the retail perception, Coulson stressed that the older software is not a real issue from a consumer point of view.
"From a consumer perspective I don't think it's a huge disadvantage. It's something that we are working really hard to address as quickly as possible," he explained.
"We would never deliberately launch not on the latest version of Android but it comes down to a choice between delaying the launch or going to market with an older version. We've made a really public commitment to ensure it is upgradeable."
The latest version of Google's Android operating system, 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, adds some new features but mainly improves the user experience of smartphone and tablet devices. Sony has promised all of its current range of Xperia phones will be upgraded to Ice Cream Sandwich "by the end of July", though carefully stated that the timeframe is dependant on the carrier in most cases.
The Xperia P and the Xperia U will become the third and fourth Sony branded smartphones to release in Australia since Sony paid Ericsson US$1.45 billion to buy out its share of the Sony Ericsson joint venture in October 2011. The flagship Xperia S went on sale in Australia in March through Optus and Vodafone, and the Xperia Sola hit the market as an outright sale through Harvey Norman retail stores last month.
Sony is aiming to keep consistency in its smartphone releases. Both the Xperia P and Xperia U models are part of the 'NXT' range, short for next generation. The new smartphones feature a square, block-style design and a transparent band below the screen that houses three touch-sensitive shortcut keys.
The Xperia P, available first through Telstra, is a mid-range model constructed from unibody aluminium. It has a 4in "WhiteMagic" display that claims to be one of the brightest smartphone screens on the market. It also promises increased visibility in direct sunlight, includes an 8-megapixel camera with Sony's Exmor R image sensor and comes with NFC (Near Field Communication) built in.
The Xperia U is an entry level model targeted at pre-paid users. It's constructed from plastic rather than unibody aluminium and has a smaller 3.5in screen in order to keep down the price. It omits NFC, a HDMI-out port and the WhiteMagic display, all standard features on the Xperia P.
Coulson said the Xperia P is not exclusive to Telstra and stressed that Sony Mobile prefers not to do exclusive deals with telco partners.
"It's not an exclusive [the Xperia P], Telstra's just the only network operator that's ranged it," he explained. "We generally are trying not to do exclusives, we want customers to have the option of buying a handset outright or on a network and we really feel that the outright sales are growing at a faster rate than the contracts."
The Sony Xperia P is available through Telstra from 26 June for $0 on the $49 Freedom Plan over 24 months. It is also available outright through Sony Centres from "mid-June" for $449 and through Dick Smith Stores from 14 July for $447.
The Sony Xperia U will be available through Crazy Johns from 22 July for $0 on the $15 value plan. It will also be sold outright through Sony Centres ("mid-June", $299) and Dick Smith Stores (July, $289).