Fans of e-readers in Japan will soon have more choices as to where to get their e-books as Sharp announced that it will launch an e-bookstore service and two compatible e-readers in December 2010.
The e-readers, available in either 5.5 inch or 10.8 inch types, will operate on Google’s Android operating system, and offer an initial selection of 30,000 books, magazines, and newspapers. In an October 5 press release, the company announced that it would collaborate with Japanese entertainment company, Culture Convenience Club (CCC), most widely known in Japan for popular video and CD rental store Tsutaya, to create the e-bookstore service.
Sharp plans to launch the service and e-readers under the brand name “GALAPAGOS,” a term usually used to describe Japan’s tendency to tailor to the domestic market, particularly in the mobile phone industry. However, Sharp has stated that it means to subvert this negative image, and claims that the devices will be open to various e-book formats, as well as videos, games, and music in spring 2011. The company has also been rumored to be in talks with Verizon Wireless for a U.S. launch. Nevertheless, initial reports indicate that GALAPAGOS seems to be limited to the Japanese market. The cloud-based service will primarily focus on Japanese content and feature the XMDF e-book format (primarily used in Japanese mobile phones) in order to fully accommodate Japanese vertical text.
Sharp’s announcement comes four months after Apple’s successful Japanese launch of the iPad, and represents another player in an already crowded market as Japanese firms play “catch-up” in the tablet wars.
The biggest competitor for Sharp’s GALAPAGOS (and the iPad), will most likely be Samsung Electronics’ Galaxy Tab. The Galaxy Tab will also support up to 32GB of external storage, two cameras, micro-SD capabilities, 3G, wi-fi, and twice the RAM of Apple’s iPad. Samsung has also stated that as an e-reader, the Galaxy Tab will offer the whole package; international versions of the Galaxy Tab will come pre-loaded with the Kobo e-reader, the Zinio application for magazines, and PressDisplay for newspapers, according to a Wall Street Journal report.
So far, the Galaxy Tab also addresses many complaints directed toward the current king of tablets, the iPad—namely a smaller, lighter 7-inch display and the ability to read Adobe Flash. Like Sharp’s GALAPAGOS e-readers, the Galaxy Tab will also run on Google’s Android operating system, which promises unlimited access to applications and a degree of user customization. The Galaxy Tab will also be first to reach Japanese consumers, as Samsung has announced it will launch in late November via a partnership with DoCoMo. The partnership is especially beneficial for consumers as Galaxy Tab users will be able to access 3G through DoCoMo service, in much the same way as iPad users can access 3G through Softbank.
Not to be outdone, Canada’s Research in Motion (RIM) has also announced that it will launch the BlackBerry Playbook tablet in 2011, and has already confirmed that it will be pre-loaded with the Kobo e-reader and has an Amazon Kindle application already in the works. Currently, RIM holds a 39.3 percent lead in the smartphone market in the U.S. and is the smartphone of choice for many business people, according to BBC News. With the Playbook, RIM aims to build from its solid reputation and create the first business-centric tablet. For example, the Playbook will feature front-and-rear video cameras for video-conferencing.
However, despite the general excitement, the Playbook is not without its detractors. Critics noted that co-CEO Mike Lazaridis failed to demonstrate a working model of the Playbook at BlackBerry’s Developer Conference despite carrying one onstage. Similarly, critics also noted that promotional videos of the Playbook featured heavy CG effects, but no actual footage of the product in use. As of this writing, RIM has not announced a date for a Japanese launch.
Although Japan was one of the first pioneers of the e-reader market with Sony’s Librie e-reader in 2004, the current Japanese e-book market is nowhere near as vibrant as it is in the West. According to The New York Times, Amazon.com announced that it sold 180 e-books for its Kindle e-reader for every 100 hardcover books. However, in Japan, growth has been slow as Japanese publishers have been reluctant to make the change. When the ACCJ Journal asked Dentsu senior executive, Shusaku Kannan, about the effect these new products might have on the domestic market, he replied “I believe that any new entry will contribute to the development of the e-book market, and this can only be a good thing.”
With so many tablet formats to choose from, one arena for potential growth is in e-content service distribution. Sony Corp., KDDI, the Asahi Shimbun, and Toppan Printing have already partnered to launch an e-bookstore by year’s end. A rival bookstore service from NTT DoCoMo and Dai Nippon Printing is also set for 2011.