By Keiko Kanai
OSAKA, Japan (Reuters) – Japan’s Sharp Corp plans to start selling its Zaurus multimedia personal digital assistants in the U.S. in October and in Europe early next year, marking the global expansion for its top-selling product.
Hiroshi Uno, general manager of Sharp’s mobile systems division, told Reuters in a recent interview that the company would aim to sell one million PDAs worldwide in the first year after the company starts to sell Zaurus abroad.
The move comes as Zaurus, which has held the largest share of Japan’s PDA market since its debut in 1993, faces increasing competition from new rivals such as Palm Inc of the U.S.
To take its Zaurus line of handheld computers abroad, Japan’s top maker has decided to use Java technology developed by U.S. computer maker Sun Microsystems along with free-of-charge, open-source Linux (news – web sites) as operating systems.
Applications written in Java language can run on any type of computer and a host of devices, allowing Zaurus users to share information with other digital gear, including mobile phones and fax machines.
“By using Java and Linux as a platform, we would like to create a big PDA market. That’s our message,” Uno said.
The model for the U.S. and European markets will have audio and video functions, but will be able to access the Internet only by hooking up with a mobile phone.
Uno said Sharp, through talks with U.S. carriers, will add a wireless function to the U.S. model.
SECOND TIME LUCKY?
This will be Sharp’s second attempt to enter the U.S. market after its first try in 1993 fell through.
Uno said Sharp should succeed this time with Java, which has been widely used in various electronic goods and therefore makes it easier for Sharp to provide technical support outside Japan.
“I think we’ve made the right decision on Java since it is gaining currency in the market,” he said.
The U.S. PDA market has been competitive and Palm has issued profit warnings because of slackening demand and discounted prices, although its fiscal fourth-quarter results announced on Tuesday were not as bad as had been feared.
But Uno said Palm’s recent struggles would give Sharp opportunities to venture into the U.S. market.
As for Europe, in addition to multimedia PDAs to be released early next year, Sharp will start supplying wireless PDAs to Deutsche Telekom in the autumn.
The wireless PDAs, capable of voice and data transmission, will be marketed under the German partner’s brand name although the timing of the launch has yet to be decided.
TOUGH DOMESTIC MARKET
Uno said Sharp is also pushing for Asian expansion.
“We have been approached by Chinese and Hong Kong makers to jointly make Zaurus,” he said.
About one million PDAs were sold in Japan in the business year that ended on March 31, and the market is expected to grow to 1.65 million in the year to March 2002, Uno said.
Sharp has set a target of 500,000 this year to keep its market share of 30 percent, Uno said.
Still, the domestic market has become competitive with firms such as Toshiba Corp and NEC Corp saying they plan to enter, although no details have been announced.
Unlike the U.S. where PDA users usually have desktop computers and swap data between the two devices to carry information around, cellphones have served as PDAs in Japan with address books and scheduling functions.
The Japanese market is too small to cope with the number of newcomer firms, Uno said. “One of our issues now is how to expand Japan’s PDA market.”
Uno said Sharp will eventually adopt Linux for Zaurus models sold in Japan, which currently use Sharp’s original operating system.
Shares in Sharp edged up 0.12 percent to 1,651 yen, while the benchmark Nikkei average fell 1.15 percent.