Sony Extends Lead Over Apple In Japan As Discounts Drive Sales

Sony Corp. (6758)’s share of Japan’s smartphone market rose to a three-year high, widening its lead over Apple Inc. (AAPL), as new models and a discount program from the nation’s largest wireless carrier NTT DoCoMo Inc. (9437) stoke sales.

Sony has more than doubled its share of shipments to 36 percent in the past four weeks as Apple dropped to 25 percent in the same period, according to researcher BCN Inc. DoCoMo, with more than 60 million subscribers in a nation of 127 million people, is focusing on just two handsets for promotions to cut costs as it remains the only carrier that doesn’t sell iPhones.

Xperia smartphones are part of Sony Chief Executive Officer Kazuo Hirai’s strategy of winning back customers and reviving unprofitable electronics operations with new mobile devices. The division will generate an operating profit of about 100 billion yen ($1 billion) this fiscal year, compared with a 130 billion yen loss a year earlier, as it adds new tablet computers and handsets, the company said May 10.

“Xperia sales are rising thanks to DoCoMo’s” promotion of the new smartphone, said Keita Wakabayashi, an analyst at Mito Securities Co. based in Tokyo. The handset’s functionality also appeals to Japanese consumers, he said.

DoCoMo’s strategy is the first time the carrier has focused on “one or two” models, Chief Financial Officer Kazuto Tsubouchi said in an April 30 interview.

While other handsets are available in DoCoMo stores, promotions and discounts are targeted at Sony’s Xperia and Samsung Electronics Co.’s flagship Galaxy S4.

Sharp Falls

Unit sales for Samsung, the world’s biggest smartphone maker, slipped for the second consecutive week to 13 percent of the Japanese market in the week starting June 3, according to Tokyo-based BCN, which draws its data from more than 2,000 retail outlets. Domestic market share for Sharp Corp. (6753), which makes Aquos phones, fell to 7.9 percent last week, down from 10.3 percent four weeks earlier, according to the researcher.

Apple’s market share of 25 percent last week compares with more than 40 percent in the week starting May 6, when Sony’s share was just 14 percent.

DoCoMo is offering discounts of as much as 20,000 yen and carrying out an advertising campaign on subways, television and online for Sony’s Xperia handset. With discounts the carrier announced on May 15, the phone’s selling price starts at 5,000 yen while the Galaxy S4 can be bought for 15,000 yen.

DoCoMo sold about 630,000 of Sony’s Xperia Z within two and a half months of its introduction and about 600,000 Aquos Phone Zeta handsets for a similar period, according to the carrier.

Sony, Japan’s biggest smartphone maker, expanded its share of the global market to 4.5 percent from 3.9 percent in the final quarter of 2012, according to research company IDC.

The Tokyo-based company shipped 30.4 million units last year, compared with Suwon, South Korea-based Samsung’s 218.2 million, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.