Panasonic to begin smartphone sales in Japan in 2011

TOKYO (Reuters) - Panasonic Corp said on Tuesday it will begin sales of its own smartphones in Japan early next year and overseas in 2012, in a late but ambitious attempt to grab share of the booming market.

Based on Google Inc’s Android operating system, the new phones will compete against Apple Inc’s iPhone, which dominates the Japanese smartphone market, as well as with Samsung Electronics’ Galaxy S.

The Japanese consumer electronics giant admitted it was late joining the smartphone party, but said it hoped to differentiate its handsets by emphasizing network capabilities with other Panasonic products.

“We misjudged the speed at which smartphones would be taken up in the Japanese market,” Osamu Waki, head of the company’s mobile communications unit told a news conference. “With the rapid shift to Android, we want to catch up quickly.”

Panasonic aims to raise total mobile phone sales to 15 million units worldwide in 2015, compared with forecast sales of 5.4-5.5. million units in Japan alone in the year to March. The company pulled out of overseas mobile phone markets in 2006.

Rival Sharp Corp, which currently ranks a distant third in Japan’s smartphone sales, said on Monday it was aiming for 30 percent of the domestic market in the next two to three years.

Reporting by Reiji Murai; Writing by Isabel Reynolds; Editing by Edwina Gibbs