The Nikkei reported on 22 January 2013 that NTT Docomo is planning to launch by spring, a competitively priced tablet (officially called a "multi-purpose mobile computing terminal") that will be priced at around 10,000 yen. It will be priced lower than the amazon Kindle Fire, selling at 12,800 yen in the Japanese market.
NTT Docomo aims to put more tablets in consumers' hands so that their video and e-commerce services will reach a much wider audience. Apple and Google are already competing in the Japanese market, and competition is only expected to intensify.
Docomo's tablet will be manufactured in China by leading communication devices manufacturer Huwawei Technologies, and will have a 10-inch screen. The device will NOT support the high-speed LTE (Long Term Evolution) or 3G transmissions, and will utilize wireless LAN to connect to the Internet. The device will be available through all the Docomo Shops as well as major electronics stores.
The Google Nexus 7 is priced at 19,800 yen while the iPad Mini is 28,800 yen in Japan.
According to IDC Japan, tablet sales in Japan is expected to increase by 40% over 2012, to 5.61 million units. Docomo endeavors to take a significant chunk of that pie to increase access to its video streaming, social gaming, and e-commerce services. NTT Docomo operates its own e-commerce portal, "dMarket."
### CarpediemJapan Comments and Observations ###
Is price really the only deciding factor?
Although "it is not the iPad," the beauty of the Kindle Fire is its extremely user-friendly plug & play feature: your account is already set up on the Kindle when it first arrives. Let's hope Docomo had not overlooked that very important point, especially as Docomo users are traditionally the more conservative and older consumer.
And how much software or apps can Docomo offer is another challenge they need to meet.
It seems my then four-year old kids were not too far off when they referred to the iPad as "a giant iPhone."Since most smartphones in the market are already used more as connectivity devices and less as phones, I have heard interesting comments from 35 to 40-year old women who have been Docomo subscribers all their mobile-owning lives that have a smartphone but not an iPhone say, "I am thinking about getting the iPad Mini to access the edutational apps," and the like. When asked, their number one motivator to actually get an Apple device as their third "phone" or first "tablet" is the wide range of apps available on the iTunes store.
So it seems it is not just the price or hardware functionality, but the software that really counts. (Not rocket science, I know.) And there seems to be plenty of grizzling about the lack of choices in the Android store.
Another point that comes to light is that while the Kindle Fire is a pricing benchmark, but e-books and its digital reading functionality is not. (Note how Docomo plans to increase users accessing their video streaming, social gaming, and e-commerce services and the conspicuous omission of e-reading.)
According to an article in the Toyo Keizai, on 14 November 2012, there is not one digital reader that has done well in the Japanese market. To cut a long article short, the journalist, Jun Yamada, credits this to two idiosyncrasies in the Japanese e-book market:
(1) 80% of e-books are manga comics, predominantly porn, which is a legacy of the Japanese "keitai" mobile phones market where such digital content were first distributed. Yamada claims that be it iPads or the Kindle, let alone SONY's Reader and Rakuten's Kobo, none of the e-book readers are optimized for reading manga.
This also means that the majority of e-book readers in Japan are the manga generation, or young adults many of whom do not own PCs, TVs, or a land line phone, not to mention cars. Their wallets are already stretched to the limit in obtaining a smartphone. Another digital device is a luxury they are currently opting to do without.
(2) It is near impossible for amazon to realize the kind of price cuts on digital editions over hardcover and paperback publications, seen as a key driver for consumers to switch from paper to digital in the US, due to the nature of the publishing rights ownership in Japan. Where in the UK and US, publishers own the right to price the books and distribute them and can assign those rights to a distributor (the wholesale model), in Japan, distribution rights are retained by the individual authors and publishers are agents of the author in an agency model. Which means that publishers cannot distribute books via amazon without the consent of the authors.
Yamada suspects that the above two were blind spots for amazon in launching the Kindle devices here.
I found it interesting how Yamada spends the first third of his article explaining how businesses have tried to promote usage of e-book readers, and yet, many of them are just collecting dust. I was personally very tempted to get a Kindle Fire HD Japanese version for myself, but ended up not getting one as my Kindle 2 US version is sufficient for me to take advantage of the lower prices on English publications and the fast online delivery.
The graph indicates the total number of books (blue) and magazines (red) published in Japan by year, an excerpt from the 2010 Publishing Index posted on Garbagenews.com. So, the Japanese market may be seeing stagnant growth, but it is not contracting; and it is not yet switching to e-reading en masse.
Nikkei: ドコモが１万円タブレット キンドルに対抗 ：日本経済新聞
Toyo Keizai: キンドルが売れないこれだけの理由 日本は電子書籍の「墓場」だ