- Nov 30, 2015
This has crossed into 'ridiculous' territory — but we now have a better idea of why.
This article was previously published in February 2017, but in light of Sony once again releasing phones in the U.S. with no fingerprint sensors, we thought we'd resurface it as a resource for those trying to understand what's going on.
Another year, another
The question of why this is the case has been a constant bugbear for us as we speak with Sony representatives time after time, and
Speaking with Don Mesa, who is Head of Marketing, North America for Sony Mobile U.S., we started to get a more concrete picture of what's going on here. When asked about the exclusion of fingerprint authentication on the Xperia XZ Premium specifically, Mesa explained, "There are a lot of external and internal factors that contribute to us making a conscious decision not to include [fingerprint]."
For now, in order for Sony to sell phones in the U.S. it cannot include fingerprint sensors.
The "external" portion of that statement is the interesting part, and something that wasn't previously disclosed. For the past couple of years, Sony's stance on not including fingerprint sensors in the U.S. was that it didn't see demand for them and there was a business decision made to not include the feature. This external factor, it seems, is something to do with deals it has made (or terminated) in the U.S. specifically. When asked further about those factors Mesa continued, "[...] that was very much about us consciously deciding that we want to continue our business here [in the U.S.], and [that's] one of the conditions for us to be able to do business."
So here's the meat of the issue: based on some deal previously made relating specifically to the U.S., in order for Sony to sell phones in the country it cannot ship them with functioning fingerprint sensors. Taking the lesser of two evils, Sony chose to continue to sell phones with the fingerprint sensor disabled instead of give up on the U.S. entirely — and this seems to be the case still, as Sony has continued to sell a wide range of unlocked phones here. So despite this bizarre limitation against using fingerprint sensors, Sony still sees the U.S. as an important market and wants to keep selling its top-end devices here.
When pressed for specifics, Mesa acknowledged the rub with U.S. carriers in Sony's transition from selling carrier-backed phones to going entirely unlocked, eventually leading to this fingerprint situation in some way. Events like the
So what can we take away from this? Well, the first part is that Sony confirms it is indeed consciously shipping its phones to the U.S. with fingerprint sensors ... and that at the same time it is explicitly disabling them in software. Sony Mobile U.S. is, for the first time, also confirming that without these outside factors influencing these decisions, it would prefer to be shipping phones in the U.S. with fingerprint sensors enabled. That in no way completely lets Sony off the hook here, though — it takes two to tango, and Sony itself was obviously involved in whatever mechanism led to this odd limitation surrounding fingerprint sensors. Someone signed off on this, and it's been a constant thorn in the side of the company since.
And no matter the mechanism of how this all came to be, it isn't much solace for those of us in the U.S. who are big fans of Sony design and hardware but will continue to refuse to buy its phones until they have such a basic feature. U.S. customers deserve a fingerprint sensor just as much as anyone else in the world buying a Sony phone. And Sony itself seems to think this is a short-term limitation that, when lifted, will comfortably be put in the rear-view mirror as it continues to sell unlocked phones in the country.