Sony Ericsson Mobile Communications AB will add developers in the U.S. and China as it shifts away from Europe and seeks to become the largest maker of handsets using Google Inc.’s Android operating system.
The company aims to expand its global share of Android handsets to at least 25 percent from 14 percent now, Chief Executive Officer Bert Nordberg said in an interview in Beijing today, without specifying a timeframe. In a shift of strategy, the venture between Japan’s Sony Corp. and Sweden’s Ericsson AB will also introduce models in the U.S. ahead of Europe, he said.
“The epicenter of the mobile industry has moved to the West Coast of the U.S.,” Nordberg said. “When I grew up, it was a European industry.”
Sony Ericsson, competing against HTC Corp. and Samsung Electronics Co. in the Android market, has more than tripled its development staff in California to 300 in the past year while those in Beijing jumped 60 percent to 1,600. Google’s software is facing mounting competition after top handset maker Nokia Oyj agreed to adopt Microsoft Corp.’s Windows Phone 7.
“It’s a good goal, and it’s simple and clear: we are in the Android market and we want to be number one,” said Nordberg, 54, who became president and CEO in October 2009. “That’s a goal for the whole company to unite around, and you can’t reach it without the U.S.”
Sony Ericsson already moved Chief Technology Officer Jan Uddenfeldt to California eight months ago, Nordberg said. From next month, the company’s Chief Creation Officer Rikko Sakaguchi will also be there, he said.
Mobile-phone makers are increasingly turning to software developers to boost demand as applications such as maps and games become popular in smartphones.
Nokia Oyj, the world’s largest maker of mobile phones, said last month that it plans to phase out its Symbian software platform as it adopts Seattle-based Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7. Taoyuan, Taiwan-based HTC is the world’s largest maker of handsets using Google and Microsoft operating systems.
Sony Ericsson in January announced its first high-end product in almost a year, Xperia Arc, a slim phone with an 8- megapixel camera. The Xperia Play, unveiled in Barcelona last month, was accompanied by the Xperia Neo, and the Xperia Pro, a touchscreen model with a slideout Qwerty keyboard. All run Gingerbread, the latest version of Android.
Over the rest of this year, Sony Ericsson will announce at least four more new phones, Nordberg said today, without providing details on the new handsets.
As new devices are introduced, the company will increasingly sell them in the U.S. first as the nation represents about 45 percent of the Android market currently, Nordberg said.
“The market has changed,” Nordberg said. “We see a lot of our products being rolled out in the U.S. first, or in parallel when we roll it out on the global market, which is a change for this company. It has always come later in the U.S. previously. That’s a change which required us to invest.”
The company plans for all eight new devices to be available through operators in the U.S., Nordberg said, without providing details. In China, the company plans to make them all available through China United Network Communications Group Co., the parent of China Unicom Hong Kong) Ltd., for its W-CDMA mobile network, he said.
Sony Ericsson is also in talks with China Mobile Communications Corp. about adapting some of the new devices for the domestically developed network, which is called TD-SCDMA.
Last month, Sony Ericsson announced the Xperia Play, a touchscreen smartphone with slide-out Sony PlayStation console controls, to carve out a gaming niche. That device goes on sale in the U.S. in April and should come to China about three months later, Nordberg said.
When the Xperia Play releases in the U.S., there will be about 50 games available for it, Nordberg said. In China, the company still has to set up the “ecosystem” for the device, including an on-line store and systems for downloading and billing for the games, he said.
--Edmond Lococo and Diana ben-Aaron. Editors: Anand Krishnamoorthy, Young-Sam Cho