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Sony Ericsson Aims to Play Its Way Back Into Android Smartphone Lead

Sony Ericsson is counting on its new Xperia Play phone to be more than just a novelty.

The cellphone maker is hoping that its PlayStation phone, combined with several other new smartphones, will help lift the company to the top of the Android race as opposed to being just one of the pack.

In an interview at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Sony Ericsson CTO Jan Uddenfeldt told Mobilized that the company intends to capitalize on Sony technologies beyond gaming, particularly in the areas of screens and cameras.

“We think we have a really competitive edge,” said Uddenfeldt. The Xperia Arc, for example, uses the Bravia Engine that comes from Sony’s television heritage. “We will introduce 3-D technology and that will come from Sony, of course.

Uddenfeldt said that the company is now leading on Android as well, being the first company outside of Google itself to release a Gingerbread-based phone, with its Arc that was announced at CES. At Mobile World Congress, it announced the Xperia Play and two other phones.

“From being a little bit of a laggard when it comes to Android releases, we are now the leader,” he said. “We intend to really stay that way. Our intention is to be the number one player in this Android world.”

First and foremost, Uddenfeldt said the company has to be a leader when it comes to using both the latest version of Android and the newest chips and other hardware. “It is a technology race, so it is very important to be on the latest technology,” he said.

With Xperia Play, Uddenfeldt said, the company has something that takes advantage of the latest and greatest version of Android but also does something unique.

“We don’t see anyone else doing this in the near future,” he said. In addition to being PlayStation certified, it will also work with a lot of Android games, including many customized just for the Play.

“Most of the games that we will launch are actually non-Sony-based games, Android games,” he said, referring to deals with Gameloft and EA Sports to create Xperia Play-optimized titles. “There’s going to be like 50 games when we launch the product in March or April.”

Though most Americans wouldn’t know it, Sony Ericsson is a top-three global player in Android phones, with about 20 percent market share, he said. Until recently, Uddenfeldt said, the company would tend to introduce phones first in Europe and Asia, bringing them to the U.S. several months later–and that, he said, “was absolutely not the right strategy.”

“The U.S. is now the leading market,” he said. “The U.S. is the country where the most advanced products are being launched first. That was not the case two or three years ago.”

Sony Ericsson is realizing this and is changing, he said, noting that Verizon will be among the first carriers to offer the Play. “We will work very closely with AT&T in launching different products as well,” he added.

The company is also shifting more of its design and engineering to the U.S., Uddenfeldt said, noting that the Redwood Shores, Calif., office where he works, established just two years ago, now has about 300 workers doing everything from product design and engineering to business development.

“It’s the right place to be,” he said. “We have Android there. We have Facebook.”

Uddenfeldt has a unique perspective, having been with Sony Ericsson for only six months but at the same time being a 30-year Ericsson veteran and being based in Silicon Valley for the past several years. He’s also not afraid to admit that the company has made mistakes, including in the past year as it tried to move from proprietary Walkman and Cybershot phones to a fully Android-based lineup.

“I don’t think Sony Ericsson fully understood the importance of being on the latest Android release,” he said. “That kind of hindered a little bit the growth of the company during last year.”

However, he said, with the move to Android, the company has stemmed its losses and has now had four profitable quarters. This year, he said, it is time for growth.

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— Gitesh Pandya of comments on the dreadful opening weekend box office numbers for “The Fifth Estate.”