Sony buys image sensor firm, denies sale of mobile unit


Sony has acquired an image sensor company in a move which highlights the firm's focus on its rapidly-growing semiconductor unit, and has denied plans to sell its struggling mobile business.

The Japanese electronics giant said Thursday it had bought Softkinetic Systems for an undisclosed sum. The company makes so-called "time-of-flight" range image sensor technology which Sony said will be used to create a "next generation" range of image sensors for cameras.

The technology detects the time it takes for light to leave a light source, reflect off an object, and return to the image sensor. Sony expects it to be used in other applications too, such as medical devices.

John MacDougall | AFP | Getty Images

The move follows a restructuring of Sony's devices division - which currently houses Sony's image sensor business, battery and storage media arms. It is one of Sony's fastest-growing units. The business saw operating income hit 30.3 billion yen ($249 million) in the three months to June 30, a 163.8 percent year-on-year rise, primarily driven by image sensors.

Sony spun out the image sensor business on Tuesday into a separate unit in order to make it more transparent to investors and bring products to market faster. The acquisition of Softkinetic Systems highlights a continued focus on bolstering this profitable division.

‘No plans’ to sell mobile unit

The news comes after comments from chief executive Kazuo Hira that next year is make-or-break for the mobile business and could dictate the future of the unit.

"We will continue with the business as long as we are on track with the scenario of breaking even next year onwards," Hirai told a group of reporters on Wednesday, according to Reuters. "Otherwise, we haven't eliminated the consideration of alternative options."

It was not clear what those options might be but a Sony spokesperson said the company had no plans to sell its mobile unit.

"We are on track with proceeding with the transformation to be completed in fiscal year 15 for the mobile business. At this point in time, there are no plans to sell the mobile business," a Sony spokesperson told CNBC in a statement.

We want to make uniquely Sony smartphones: CEO

Sony, like many other smartphone makers, has struggled in the face of continued dominance from Apple and Samsung and stiff competition from low-cost Chinese manufacturers. In the three months ending June 30, Sony booked a 22.9 billion yen ($188 million) operating loss on its mobile communications division.

The company has already spun off its embattled TV business and sold its PC arm. Earlier this year, it decided to spin off its audio and video business as part of Hirai's turnaround plan for the Japanese giant.

Sony may also sell its half of Sony/ATV Publishing - a music publishing company which owns the rights to songs by artists from the the Beatles to Taylor Swift - to the Michael Jackson estate, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal.