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Friday, April 2, 2010

DoCoMo goes gunning for iPhone

Staff writer

NTT DoCoMo Inc. released its Xperia smart phone Thursday, taking direct aim at the Apple iPhone's dominant share of the Japanese market.

News photo
Hot item: People line up to buy NTT DoCoMo's just-released Xperia smart phone at a Yodobashi Camera outlet in Tokyo's Akihabara district Thursday. KAZUAKI NAGATA PHOTO

"While we think the iPhone is a really good phone, this can match it," NTT DoCoMo President Ryuji Yamada told reporters after an event at the Yodobashi Camera store in Tokyo's Akihabara district to celebrate the Xperia's debut.

Made by Sony Ericsson, the Xperia has a 4-inch touch screen on which users can handle most tasks by sliding a finger, just like on the iPhone.

It has an 8.1-megapixel built-in camera and is powered by Google Inc.'s Android operating system, which provides synchronized Google services, including Gmail and Calendar.

It also has proprietary features, including Timescape, which can display e-mail, calls and posts on social-networking systems like Facebook in a unified manner.

"I am sure the Xperia will be used by many customers as a new entertainment tool," said Yamada, noting DoCoMo has more than 50,000 preorders.

With DoCoMo strongly promoting the Xperia through TV commercials and special events, some industry observers say the initial reaction will be quite strong.

The Xperia's popularity "will depend on how strongly and articulately DoCoMo will promote the product, but the initial sales will probably be high," said Hiroshi Sakai, chief analyst at SMBC Friend Research Center.

Sakai said that while ordinary users may take some time to get used to the device because it differs from regular mobile phones, the Xperia could reach a wide audience once more people get comfortable with it, as was the case with the iPhone.

The popularity of the iPhone has created momentum for smart phones, which have more computing power than regular phones.

Following Softbank Mobile, which handles the iPhone in Japan, and DoCoMo, KDDI's au announced its first two smart phones Tuesday. They will hit store shelves in June.

"I feel that the era of the smart phone has finally come to Japan. Other carriers will be releasing smart phones as well," said DoCoMo's Yamada.

Meanwhile, the iPhone dominates the smart phone market with some experts estimating that more than 2 million or even 3 million units have been sold since its Japan debut in July 2008. A product is usually considered a big hit if sales exceed 1 million.

Sakai said the spread of Android as an operating system will be key if Japan's smart phone market is to keep growing.

And that appears to be the recent trend, as Softbank announced its first Android smart phone, HTC's Desire, on Sunday, while one of au's smart phones will use the OS as well.

Although DoCoMo released its first Android phone last July, that handset didn't become a big hit, while iPhone users grew by leaps and bounds.

But the hype has been growing for the Xperia, the first new phone provided to DoCoMo by Sony Ericsson since July 2008. Some analysts say the time allowed Sony Ericsson to focus on creating a good product.

Sakai said the industry will be keeping a close eye on how the Xperia sells to get a sense of whether Android-based phones will spread.

Some of the people who came to Akihabara to buy an Xperia expressed interest in smart phones in general and Android specifically.

"I've wanted to buy a smart phone for quite a while," said a 25-year-old man from Ibaraki Prefecture who was lining up for an Xperia.

He said that since he started working for a company this month he will have more financial stability, so he decided to get a smart phone.

He chose the Xperia because he likes programming and Android has more freedom than the iPhone's OS. Applications for the iPhone must be written on an Apple computer.

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The Japan Times

Article 6 of 9 in Business news

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