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Japanese smartphones making headway overseas

One of smartphone maker Fujitsu’s offerings in the French market.

Publication Date : 14-01-2014


Japanese smartphone makers have struggled to compete with foreign companies such as US-based Apple Inc., maker of the iPhone, but some have found success in overseas markets by loading novel technologies in their products.

Fujitsu Ltd. and Kyocera Corp. have developed untapped overseas demand from elderly consumers and users at construction sites by boosting audio and other fundamental functions.

Market in older consumers

In June last year, Fujitsu began selling smartphones targeted at older users in France through major French telecommunication firm Orange SA.

Sales were initially limited to 90 outlets in areas heavily populated with elderly citizens, including the Paris suburbs, but a strong market reception led the company to expand sales to 250 outlets throughout the country in October.

This particular model is based on the Raku Raku smartphone, a device especially developed for elderly users, which was launched in Japan in August 2012.

The smartphone provides larger manual operation buttons on the screen and offers a function to automatically slow down the speed of the speech of a conversation partner, making speech easier for the user to understand.

Fujitsu also highlighted a feature that aids comprehension by automatically adjusting the high frequency components of voices to compensate for age-related changes in hearing.

Older customers, who can sometimes have trouble operating the devices, have reportedly expressed high regard for the free phone consultation service provided for the first three months following purchase.

Fujitsu, which began marketing mobile phones targeted at older customers in 2001, has put more than a decade of experience and know-how into the device.

Fujitsu President Masami Yamamoto said the model’s popularity has spread gradually through word of mouth. “Several other telecommunications companies have approached us to express interest in dealing in the model, too. We want to see the model spread throughout Europe, and then through the world,” he said.

Perfect fit for construction sites

Kyocera has used the company’s distinctive applied ceramic technologies to create a smartphone that is easier to hear.

The phone, released in the United States in summer 2013, works by vibrating the entire unit to relay sound.

The device eschews a traditional earpiece, instead using sound and vibration to enable the user to hear, regardless of which part is held against the ear.

Kyocera says the phone is especially useful at train stations or in crowded streets.

A similar model adding improved impact resistance and waterproofing to the advanced audio performance is said to have been widely used at construction sites and other places exposed to intense noise.

Kyocera held the fourth-largest share of the North American market in the January-June 2013 period after Samsung Electronics Co. of South Korea, Apple and LG Electronics Inc. of South Korea.

Some Japanese mobile phone makers have withdrawn from the smartphone business in the face of strong competition from Apple and Samsung, but Fujitsu and Kyocera have been able to maintain a presence by developing demand in local markets with unique or innovative technologies.

“We will keep our ears to the ground to continue improving our products,” a Kyocera official said. Whether Japanese makers can make good on this promise is likely to be the key to increasing their foreign market share.


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