Today, Teruo Katsura and Panasonic Mobile Communications announced something we’ve been lusting for over two years: A Japanese maker with brilliant technology showing the true grit to attack the world market!
We were fiddling around with Panasonic’s new FOMA 900i-series phone (not at a store near you in Europe or the United States, unfortunately) and noticed the plastic battery cover kept on falling off. At that moment, Katsura-san, managing director and member of the board of Panasonic Mobile Communications Co. Ltd. (PMC) – who we were rubbing shoulders with – turned around and said “Don’t Worry! These are only the test models!” We had a great chat with Katsura-san, who earlier today announced Panasonic’s aggressive move into GSM, Europe, Asia and the world; but that, the X700, the X60, and X66 are for later in this article. Having handled the P900i, we think it’s a cracker. It’s sleek and light and full of action, a folding design that’s beautiful in its simplicity and feather-light to touch (Oh! So far has FOMA come…!) but packing a full 3G punch – plus an SD card that plugs into a whole range of Matsushita/Panasonic equipment for what the marketing guys used to call a “richer multimedia environment.” Heavyweight congratulations to Panasonic for delivering a killer 3G phone!
The best news we have is that, aside from our love at first sight with Panasonic’s 900i, the model is alive and well and officially on sale mamonaku (soon). Of course, that could mean anytime from today, Feb. 10, to the next 10 days, although for probity’s sake, Totaro Uchiyama, manager of PMC’s Overseas Mobile Terminal Division, says the launch will be before the end of February.
In a presentation today, Katsura-san finally announced what WWJ has believed in since we launched three years ago: an aggressive and well-thought-out strategy that takes the best of Japanese engineering and ingenuity onto the world stage.
The X700 running on Symbian will be out in July, but Panasonic’s 3G launch will have to wait until September, possibly with this model, according to Uchiyama. But beyond that, Panasonic has announced that is launching what, for a Japanese maker, amounts to a full-blown attack on the international market.
Yesterday, Katsura got out the charts and the tables and quoted some of PMC’s forecasts for GSM through to 2006. After a dramatic recovery from 257 million shipments globally in 2002 to 309 million in 2003, PMC expects demand to be in the 325-335 million range over the next three or so years.
Here’s the rub. PMC’s forecasts have GSM demand running at about 130 million handsets and stable 2004 through 2006. However, the company expects demand from China and Asia to grow from about 134 million last year to about 160 million! Before hyping this point too much, we’d like to point out that, as many analysts (including Mitch Kimura of IDC) have pointed out, PMC is taking a more sensible public line than Samsung. Samsung’s strategy, based on flooding the market with good products, echoes Japanese thinking as it was until the mid-90s. According to Bob Morioka, PMC’s managing director, Panasonic is taking a smarter route.
According to Katsura, Panasonic is targeting a 1-trillion yen, 40-million handset production schedule for 2006 and aiming at an 8-percent global market share in terms of terminal shipments by 2006. But Panasonic, for a variety of reasons, won’t be attacking Nokia head-on. As indicated in PMC’s forecasts, European shipment demand is seen as stable. Morioka believes Panasonic in particular has a brand image that means at least some of its overseas push will be into Asia.
“Nokia is dispersed so widely, but they are not the kings everywhere. We know their Achilles’ Heel. ‘Made in Japan’ still has a very big recognition, so while we will go for Europe, we’ll also go to Asia, we’ll go to new markets,” he told WWJ.
Saying this, we’d like to note that while Panasonic is not making a fuss about shipping 200,000 G51s a month, it’s hardly small beer for anyone.
Morioka-san’s honest response highlights a number of points about Panasonic’s potential, we feel. Earlier today, Katsura issued a mea culpa about Panasonic’s inability to deliver 3G dual-mode phones to Vodafone. As mentioned in our October coverage, Vodafone KK had intended to launch the V-Live wireless Internet service on Japanese mobile phones last October. October became December, and with the Christmas market missed, Panasonic is due to unleash very, very soon. So much for Japanese prowess? (Isn’t software just cut and paste? – Eds.)
On the other hand, it is clear that Panasonic (PMC) has brushed off the cobwebs and is not only looking clearly at the future, but thinking big. Mr. Morioka’s stance was that there is a lot of growth potential out there for great Japanese phones in certain areas. Trying to go head-to-head with a company such as Nokia, which is used to making 10 times as many phones as Panasonic, is, well, not exactly futile. But the growing Asian markets – well used to Japanese technology – are more inviting, he said. Moreover, when it comes to markets such as China, competitors from Taiwan can perhaps imitate Japanese quality, but can’t match it.
“We can’t expect to take a double-digit share of the European market, but we can pick up better markets,” said Morioka.
The point about today’s briefing was that whatever flavor is offered to the locals, Panasonic is going to be vending some licka-delicious hand-held. As Morioka-san put it, “the x700 is only the beginning!”
Strong deeds to follow strong words, we hope.