Sony’s surprising smartphone comeback

Sony Smartphone Market Gains
Sony Smartphone Market Gains

Over the past few months, much ink has been spilled over whether Nokia (NOK) or BlackBerry (BBRY) have a chance to stage a strong recovery. After a dismal two years, Sony’s (SNE) chances in the smartphone market have largely been written off. However, over the past month the new Sony Xperia Z has shown remarkable strength in Europe and some Asian markets. In the second half of February, the Xperia Z sold out in Japan and France during its launch. And this wasn’t a small volume sell out — the phone shifted 140,000 units at Japanese carrier NTT DoCoMo in one week.

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The Xperia Z has also hit the top of the Expansys UK smartphone chart. It’s outselling the BlackBerry Z10 at Expansys France and is only one slot behind in Italy and Spain. Surprisingly, Xperia Z also took the top slot of the USwitch mobile tracker after debuting at number 2 in February. No other brand has been able to outsell Samsung Galaxy S III in the USwitch tracker since last summer; not Apple, not Nokia, not HTC. On the Phones4U “most popular contract phones” list of six models, the Xperia Z and Lumia 820 are the only two phones that aren’t made by Apple (AAPL) or Samsung (005930). The United Kingdom retailers seem to be giving Sony robust support in marketing the new flagship.

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This raises interesting questions. Does Sony’s resurgence in Europe have something to do with how atrocious HTC’s (2498) February performance was? HTC’s annualized sales decline steepened between January and February — is it possible that operators are in some cases giving HTC’s slot as “the second Android vendor” to Sony? Is the Xperia Z powerful enough to play havoc with the HTC One, which is currently rolling out in Europe?

In general, the new handset market dynamics in Europe and to some extent Asia seem to suddenly involve a quartet of 2012 basket cases seeking redemption: Nokia, BlackBerry, HTC and Sony. The surprising strength of Sony is definitely adding pressure on its second-tier peers as we inch closer to the gigantic debut of the next Samsung Galaxy super phone.

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