NEC’s recent launch of the Medias N-04C, which the company claims is the world’s slimmest Android-based handset, might be one signal of a revival in the rather stagnant Japanese handset vendor space.
The likes of Sharp, Panasonic, NEC and Casio produce solid, fashionable hardware but have been restricted for decades to the rather unique Japanese marketplace that thrives on mobile wallets (locally dubbed Osaifu-Keitai) and One-Seg, a national standard for digital mobile television.
These vendors have suffered of late when more aggressive foreign brands such as Apple’s iPhone and Samsung’s Galaxy S found its way into the hearts of the Japanese consumers.
Long bound by OEM manufacturing contracts with carriers such as NTT Docomo, these brands received little international recognition, despite Japan’s reputation as the seat of quality consumer electronics. As such, flagging domestic sales caused by the influx of foreign brands into Japan forced Casio, NEC and Hitachi to merge their handset units in September 2009, while Fujitsu and Toshiba followed suit in June last year.
It appears the only antidote to what might have been the inevitable death of the once-lauded Japanese handset manufacturer could come in the form of Google’s Android.
“With the much-publicized Nokia-Microsoft partnership, Sharp and Fujitsu, who have several handsets based on the Symbian platform, may have little room to progress once Nokia stops work on that platform,” TY Lau, a senior analyst at Canalys told Telecom Asia.
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