Japanese Manufacturers Staking Their Survival on Unique Smartphones

Fujitsu has iris verification technology
At the Mobile World Congress (MWC) held in Barcelona, Spain, various Japanese manufacturers held booths along with brands from around the world. Compared to several years ago when they attempted to expand globally through smartphones and mobiles, however, their focuses looked quite different this time.

Fujitsu once introduced the international version of their Raku-Raku Smartphone in France and widely promoted the lineup at MWC.
At this year’s MWC, their main features have shifted from devices to solutions and technologies proprietary to the brand.

“In the global market, Japanese manufacturers cannot beat competitors in the price competition or with brand strength. So, we redirected our strategy to push after our advantages, which are our technologies and solutions.” (Mr. Katsumi Takada, Fujitsu’s Mobile Phone Division Director)
One of the features attracting visitors and media alike was the test model embedded with iris verification technology.

By combining the preinstalled camera designed to read iris with infrared, the device authenticates the user’s iris. It only takes the user to look at the smartphone for a fraction of a second to unlock the device. I also tried registering my iris (the registration process was also quick), and the mobile successfully authenticated me in an instant.
“Solid registration and instant authentification is our development policy. We are already preparing for the miniaturization of parts, and verification data has been collected up to several thousand people to further improve the authentification accuracy. It would not take so long for the commercial launch.” (Mr. Takahiro Matsumura, Fujitsu’s Acting Manager for Ubiquitous Business Strategy Headquarters)
It seemed like a highly potential technology that may replace passcodes and fingerprints.

Panasonic, once trying to expand in the global market by fully engaging in platform companies like Linux and Tizen, has also changed their direction dramatically towards B2B solutions for the past several years.

The only consumer item they displayed this year was DMC-CM1, a full-fledged digital camera equipped with one-inch sensor shrunk into the size of a smartphone.
Since autumn last year, the product has been sold in Germany, UK, and France. In the Japanese market, a limited 2000 units will be released in March. With this SIM-free LTE device, users may choose any SIM card by MVNO of their choice.
“Since its conception, DMC-CM1 has been developed for the global market. Europe is already a largely SIM-free market, and Japanese and US markets are also following suit.” (Mr. Yusuke Ibata, Next Mobile Product Development Promotion Office at Panasonic System Network)
After withdrawing from smartphone manufacturing for carriers, some members of the company’s smartphone development team joined the Camera Business Department, and their integration gave birth to the new product, which is DMC-CM1.

DMC-CM1 boasts high popularity among consumers across the world, many of them camera enthusiasts, and the company is eager to further promote the product in the European market. In Japan, advance orders are also pouring in.

While the majority of Japanese brands are shifting towards enterprise solutions and other products, Kyocera is one company determined to globally establish itself as a smartphone brand.
Their TORQUE, a waterproof, dustproof and highly durable smartphone Kyocera currently manufactures for KDDI, is steadily expanding its market outside Japan.
The company has already sold the model to the four major carriers in the US and Canada. Since this February, the product has been introduced in the European market as well. Unsurprisingly, TORQUE dominated Kyocera’s booth at MWC this year.
“Although we did have booth in the past two years, they were basically a showcase of Kyocera products. As this year marks our advancement in Europe, we managed to present products more precisely targeting the market.” (Mr. Takashi Nohara, Director for Kyocera’s Sales Management Division)
During the booth exhibition, “inquiries came from many regions, although our target countries in Europe are Germany, Spain, France, UK and Italy. Responses from Russia are also excellent.” (Mr. Nohara)

The interesting fact is that TORQUE is operable with gloved fingers, which may be the reason for much attention from Russia, where gloves are indispensable in the cold weather.
According to Mr. Nohara, “We sell TORQUE in Canada, where people wear gloves for two thirds of the year in some region. That seems to be where the needs come from.”
The product may be in demand not only in the cold countries, where gloves are an integrated part of life, but also in hot climate regions.

“Visitors from the Middle East also showed up in the booth. They told me that normal smartphones keep breaking up due to sand grains getting in the devices.” (Mr. Nohara)
Although Kyocera is not the only company that produces heavy-duty smartphones, its technical strength and quality seem to receive the credit worldwide.
As it is also a fact that Kyocera’s brand perception is not significant in the international market, they may primarily target corporate clients rather than consumer users.

In the past, Japanese manufacturers fell hard in their attempt to advance in the international market without the backing of brand strength.
Based on the past lessons, they are now expanding solid basis globally by combining smartphones with high-performance camera or high durability to differentiate their products as one-of-a-kind smartphones or by exclusively targeting corporate clients.