Multi-touchpoint priorities drive Sony to purchase Ericsson stake

Ten years ago, in 2001, Sony and Ericsson formed their joint venture. However, in that time, Sony Ericsson has failed to capitalise on a unique opportunity: the chance to achieve an early lead in multi-touchpoint experiences by integrating its mobile device strategy with Sony’s interests in video, music, gaming and personal computing.

Of course, it created some memorable products: the W900i, with its unique flip out screen and Walkman music player; the Cybershot series, with its ‘two face’ strategy, placing as much importance on the design of the exterior camera as the screen and keypad; and, more recently, the Arc, where industrial design tricks are used to create the illusion of an impossibly thin profile. Experiences which extended across multiple touchpoints, however, remained elusive.

Today, Sony announced it will acquire Ericsson’s stake in the venture, taking full control with the express purpose of driving this multi-touchpoint strategy.

Sir Howard Stringer, Sony’s Chairman, Chief Executive Officer and President, stated: “With a vibrant smartphone business and by gaining access to important strategic IP, notably a broad cross-license agreement, our four-screen strategy is in place. We can more rapidly and more widely offer consumers smartphones, laptops, tablets and televisions that seamlessly connect with one another and open up new worlds of online entertainment. This includes Sony’s own acclaimed network services, like the PlayStation Network and Sony Entertainment Network…”

It is the right strategy, but I remain skeptical of Sony’s ability to execute. There was nothing inherent in the structure of Sony Ericsson’s joint venture to prevent them from pursuing this strategy over the last 10 years. Indeed, Ericsson’s expertise in network services and the talent of its teams in Sweden and London have always been complimentary to Sony’s skills on consumer marketing and industrial design.

How will Sony’s EUR 1.05 billion purchase of Ericsson’s 50 percent stake make them any more likely to deliver products which provide a truly integrated experience for users across all the digital touchpoints in their lives?

Sony is not alone in struggling to achieve this ambition. Toshiba, LG, Samsung, Acer and Sanyo all have or had complete consumer electronics portfolios, from mobile devices to TV. None has provided customers with a truly usable multi-touchpoint offering. Instead, it has been left to Apple – a company which ten years ago was best known for a quirky line of PCs used by a small minority – to lead the way in offering an integrated experience across TV, PCs and mobiles.

The unique challenges of researching, designing and implementing multi-touchpoint experiences are at the heart of MEX Pathway #2. Work on this area has been evolving for some years through our MEX research and events; it will once again be a focus at the next MEX in London on 30th November and 1st December 2011.

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