When the iPhone launched in 2007, some Japanese phone makers didn't think it would be a problem. After all, their clamshell feature phones already came with powerful hardware and let users watch TV, automatically swap contacts, or pay for subway access; through the 1990s and early 2000s, they had pioneered now-ubiquitous features like the cellphone camera. But five years later, Sharp, Sony, and other Japanese high-tech companies are in a slump. The Wall Street Journal chronicles their efforts to recapture the domestic market from Apple and Samsung and to reach out to the rest of the world.
This year, Panasonic and Casio are attempting to ship phones with unique features like waterproofing or shock resistance to foreign markets, and Sharp is targeting the Chinese market. Sony, meanwhile, has been one of the most successful, shipping the majority of its smartphones outside Japan. Whatever their success, though, most of these companies must make up for losses in the TV sector as well. "The golden age of TV is over," former Panasonic president Kunio Nakamura has said. "TV will never be king again in the consumer electronics space."