* Mobile is weak link in Sony's struggling electronics
* New Xperia to be launched in Japan for winter holiday
* Sprint looking to bolster handset line-up to keep
* Sharp Corp developed smartphone exclusively for
(Adds details on Sprint pricing strategy, Sony carrier
By Yoshiyasu Shida and Reiji Murai
TOKYO, Aug 29 Japan's SoftBank Corp and
its U.S. mobile carrier Sprint Corp will offer a Sony
smartphone for the first time, sources with knowledge
of the matter said, as the two technology titans confront
daunting challenges in the U.S. market.
The deal could give a much-needed boost to Sony's struggling
mobile division, which last month said it no longer expected to
make a profit in the year to next March. It will also bolster
Sprint's handset line-up as it seeks to stem a flight in
SoftBank, Japan's second most valuable company, is pushing
price cuts and promotions at Sprint while unveiling joint
smartphone offerings to shore up the No. 3 U.S. carrier, after
U.S. regulators thwarted its hopes for a merger to give it the
scale to take on bigger rivals.
Sony, long one of Japan's best-known brands but now
struggling to pull its flagship electronics division out of the
red, has been unable to gain traction in the key U.S. smartphone
market, depressing a mobile unit that it hopes to make a pillar
of its revival.
Sony managed only a 2.1 percent share of the global
smartphone market in 2013, according to market research firm
Gartner, and now faces rising competition from low-cost Chinese
smartphones. In the U.S. market, the only carrier offering its
handsets is No. 4 T-Mobile US Inc.
Sony will sell a soon-to-be launched Xperia flagship phone
in the United States via Sprint, four sources familiar with the
matter told Reuters. In Japan, SoftBank will make the phone
available in time for the winter holiday season, they added.
Sony and SoftBank declined to comment.
SON AND SONY
Sony is expected to unveil its next flagship smartphone, the
Xperia Z3, at next week's IFA tech expo in Berlin.
But the company remains far behind the big names in the
industry: Apple Inc, which is set to unveil its new
iPhone 6 next month, and Samsung Electronics Co,
which makes the Galaxy series.
"I can't see this making much of a difference," said
Deutsche Bank analyst Yasuo Nakane of the Sprint deal, stressing
the importance of a deal with a major carrier such as Verizon
Communications Inc - along with AT&T Inc one of the
top two U.S. carriers - to get critical mass in that market.
Sony offers an Xperia tablet through Verizon.
"Even if they put out a phone on Sprint, Verizon is the
priority any way you think about it," Nakane said.
Masahiro Ono, an analyst at Morgan Stanley MUFG Securities,
nevertheless saw the deal as a move in the right direction.
"They haven't been able to maintain very good relationships
with carriers, unlike Samsung who has done very well," he said.
Sprint's aggressive strategy on new handsets and price cuts,
with the unveiling last week of a smartphone developed by Sharp
Corp exclusive for Sprint and SoftBank, is likely to
accelerate under new chief executive Marcelo Claure, plucked
from handset reseller Brightstar Corp which SoftBank acquired
SoftBank CEO and founder Masayoshi Son has vowed bold moves
by Sprint since a proposal to merge with T-Mobile US was
withdrawn early this month.
(Writing by Sophie Knight; Editing by Edmund Klamann, Ryan Woo
and Mark Potter)