Panasonic joins NEC in exiting smartphones

Caroline Gabriel/Wireless Watch
02 Sep 2013

With the notable exception of Sony, Japanese handset makers have failed to make much impact outside their own country, but they have traditionally enjoyed high market share at home.

This was thanks to a user base which was, in the early days of mobile data, demanding a far more advanced experience than the global OEMs were providing, and drove the operators to invest heavily in close ties with cellphone makers.

However, Japanese consumers have been converted to open smartphones over the past few years, and news that the largest cellco, NTT DoCoMo, may finally offer an iPhone, sounds another death knell for the native vendors and their rarefied ecosystem.

As uptake of Android and iOS rises, the Japanese suppliers see their home base shrinking and they lack the scale or brand recognition to compete with Samsung and the others with their own Android offerings. Their old differentiations are lost, and one by one they are consolidating or exiting the market.

The latest casualty is Panasonic, which is finalizing plans to withdraw from the local smartphone business, although it may still produce specialised devices for enterprises. It will reportedly cease selling consumer cellphones by the end of this year and will stop all production by March next year.

Like other suppliers, Panasonic previously provided a high percentage of the handsets sold by NTT DoCoMo and KDDI, in particular (third cellco Softbank leapt earlier into the smartphone race, narrowing the market gap with its rivals by adopting the iPhone on an exclusive basis in 2008).

The final blow for Panasonic was DoCoMo's decision, announced earlier this year, to focus its sales efforts mainly on Sony and Samsung devices, in order to streamline its supply chain, and probably to add an iPhone to its catalog too, like its main rivals.

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