Sony's Bravia2 video engine powers this 5-inch smartphone.

In the smartphone market, third place is the new first.

Just ask Sony, which like just about everyone else is aiming for the moon and not the stars when it comes to its smartphone efforts. Rather than target the near-insurmountable hegemony of Samsung and Apple, Sony says it’s aiming for the spot right under them.

It’s tempting to make fun of Sony for this supposed capitulation, but the company’s mission makes a whole lot of sense. Not only is third place a hugely profitable position in the cutthroat smartphone market, but it’s a very clear step up for Sony, which didn’t even register on Gartner’s 2012 smartphone sales chart. Aiming for third place isn’t exactly throwing in the towel. (Not that Sony can’t realistically hope for anything else right now.)


Above: Notice anything missing here?

And how does Sony plan to climb the ranks? According to Sony mobile head Kunimasa Suzuki, Sony will tweak its smartphones for each market, which should, in theory, give it an edge in needs, as Reuters reports.

The idea seems obvious (almost stupidly so), but Sony’ success with it hinges on some big questions. Can Sony make its devices cheap enough for emerging markets like China and India? Huawei and ZTE have catapulted to their current spots because they’ve managed to create cheap devices that somehow aren’t intolerably crappy. Will Sony be able to consistently do the same?

The second question involves devices like the one in the photo above. Mid- and high-end Android smartphones are plagued with a certain, seemingly unavoidable plague of sameness that Sony, despite its best efforts, hasn’t done the best job of overcoming. Besides making cheap phones cheaper, Sony’s other mission is to make its more expensive phones are more, well, interesting.

Sony’s history gives me confidence that it can pull off the latter, but the former might be a more difficult task.

Photo: Devindra Hardawar/VentureBeat