It’s been a full month since the biggest tech coverage of my life to date. Having finished Legal Management in college, and then eventually making a career in Creatives, never did I think I’d be in Spain, as a journalist, covering one of the world’s biggest tech events.
But last month I made it, as part of GadgetMatch’s two-man team covering Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona.
There was a lot to see at MWC, where almost all the biggest names in smartphones and mobile communications came out to play. Our small team didn’t have time to be at every launch event, so we instead visited as many booths as humanly possible, spending more time at those that offered more stories worth telling. Four days was not enough.
One of the events we completely missed while in Barcelona was the launch of Sony’s Xperia X. We spent a significant amount of time at Sony’s booth checking out their new devices, so upon returning to Manila I knew it was one that I had to watch back online.
Sony’s keynote lacked the flashy things most brands would have to make their announcements an experience on its own and highlights that would leave a lasting impression. There were no grand stages. No dramatic lighting. No mind-blowing products or moments. No surprise appearances by tech celebrities. There weren’t even any leaks or teasers to hype it up prior to the event itself.
I don’t know how I would have felt had I been there in person – underwhelmed maybe – considering that the night before I came face to face with Mark Zuckerberg and my personal hero, Pranav Mistry, at Samsung Unpacked. (Still not over it, tbh.)
But while the likes of Samsung and LG battled it out in on stage, Sony’s no non-sense, no-frills event took a step back and reminded us of what makes smartphones and technology so great.
Sans any gaudiness, Sony’s keynote was just as insightful, its simplicity allowing me to appreciate and digest its vision more.
Sony President and CEO Kazuo Hirai was first to take the stage. Recognizing that Barcelona was home to one of the world’s best football teams, he likened Sony to football – it is all about excitement, the joy, the wonder, about providing that feeling of wow.
He then asked, “how often do you check your smartphone during the day?”
Apparently, in the United States alone, smartphones are checked 8 billion times a day. “That’s an awful lot of checking smartphones,” he remarked.
This, he says, is why smartphones and other communication devices are so important to Sony. Also maybe part of the reason the Japanese brand hasn’t stopped making smartphones despite losses year after year.
Sony’s Dream Destination
Next on stage was Sony Mobile Communications President & CEO Hiroki Totoki.
“To bring ideas to life, we’ve been continuing our journey. A journey has a destination, which is defined in our vision” Totoki said.
Sony’s destination? A world where people are looking up at the sky, not down on screens. A world where devices don’t just provide ease and convenience, but wonder and joy. A world where people and devices interact in a more meaningful way so that we can spend more time experiencing the world around us.
With the new Xperia X lineup, Sony hopes to achieve that world, but not without a bit of confusion first.
For years Sony’s top of the line smartphone has been the Xperia Z – a gold standard in premium design, top of the line smartphone cameras, and the industry leader in water resistant smartphones. At MWC, Sony was abandoning Z for X, introducing a new line of smartphones, that like their launch event, wasn’t as flashy.
The decision is one that Sony can justify, “Wouldn’t you rather be a part of the things happening around you and leave the worries and tasks to your Xperia?” challenged Totoki to an unresponsive crowd.
No one really expects a brand like Sony to come out with a smartphone that’s not better than its previous flagship, unless it’s a midrange phone. Sure on paper the X Performance actually bests the Z5 Premium, but there’s something about this release that feels like concessions have been made, and while bigger and better is a mantra of this tech industry, that may not be a bad thing.
Instead of adding new features to smartphones people don’t really use, Sony’s strategy was to improve things that matter most to us ordinary folk: battery life and camera. We have yet to find out how true the promises are as the phones will not be officially released until summer. But the promise of a not so high-end, top of the line smartphone appeals to me, and should to most users.
I don’t necessarily need a processor with screaming speeds, or an ultra high definition display with more pixels than my eyes can see. But I’d love a well-balanced, reasonably-priced smartphone, with a great camera and solid battery life.
I haven’t been around this industry long enough to say whether Sony’s decision to regroup, drop the Z, and launch an all-new Xperia X lineup, is a step in the right direction. Sony also has yet to make an official statement about the big change, but after time with the phones in Barcelona, I am more than hopeful.
At MWC, Sony also announced a bunch of concept devices, like the Xperia Eye, a life-blogging camera that has sensors smart enough to detect faces and moments so that it captures only those that truly matter. Sure you’re still capturing the moment, which we millennials have a predisposition for, but the technology is designed to take a step back so you can enjoy and experience moments instead of trying to capture them.
It’s unsure at this point whether this camera will actually hit the shelves or just remain a concept but it reiterates Sony’s destination, where technology doesn’t distract us from the world we live in.
Reality vs Virtual Reality
While companies like Samsung try to make virtual reality more attainable to the masses, Sony chose to get in touch with a different reality – the one we live and breathe.
“We want our Xperias to help you interact and connect in a closer, more natural, more meaningful way – to understand your preferences, activities, and behaviour, and to recognize the environment around you. To predict and understand what you want to do making it hassle-free so you can enjoy and experience more of the good things in life,” said Totoki.
There’s a little bit from my humanities-heavy education that helps me appreciate where Sony is going. Earlier I talked about Pranav Mistry, whose TED Talk was a requirement in my Philosophy of the Human Person class. It’s a video that stuck with me all these years, and the technology he demonstrated then continues to amaze me to this day, despite everything I’ve seen so far.
Like Sony, I dream of a world where technology allows us to do two things: a) extend our capabilities so that we can do things that weren’t humanly possible before, and b) do things with so much ease and convenience that it allows us to be more human.
It’s always been a hit or miss for Sony at events like this, and Sony Mobile’s numbers would tell you it’s been a miss for quite some time. And it’s ironic that Sony is trying to sell me more devices, as if everything I already have is not enough, just to achieve a world where interactions are more meaningful.
But if there’s one thing I know Sony got right this time, it’s this: there’s a world in front of us that’s so much bigger and I’d happily look up and be inspired by that. Now I don’t know about you, but more than the specs of a shiny new phone, that’s what I’m more excited about.