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Panasonic Android Phone Rejoins The Mobile Race

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelance and long standing contributor to TechWeek Europe

Panasonic plans Android smartphone launch in Europe next year, after previously abandoning that market

Six years after Panasonic abandoned selling mobile phones outside its domestic Japanese market, the company has now announced it will once again enter the global mobile market, starting with Europe.

According to Reuters, Panasonic said it now plans to launch an smartphone in Europe in 2012, joining an already crowded market dominated by the likes of Apple and Samsung. The announcement came as the Japanese electronics warned it would posted a huge annual loss of $5.5 billion (£3.5bn).

Sleek And Thin

The new smartphone will apparently arrive in Europe next March, and the company will then broaden the launch to include the United States and Asia. It reportedly hopes to sell 15 million units during the first year of the smartphone’s launch.

Image courtesy of The Verge

Panasonic revealed images of the reference model of the new ultrathin device to some media outlets, including technology news website The Verge. At first glance the handset looks to have a slimline body, and reportedly comes with a 4.3-inch quarter high definition (qHD) organic light-emitting diode (OLED) display purposely built for the European market. Reportedly, it is also waterproof and dustproof.

This follows on from Panasonic’s announcement in November of an Android-based Toughbook Tablet, for those seeking a ruggedised tablet alternative.

The new smartphone is also said to feature a near field communication (NFC) chip, and the company told Reuters it will initially target business people in their 30s and 40s. There is no word on what version of Android it will run, but it seems a safe bet that Panasonic will opt for version 4.0, known as Ice Cream Sandwich.

Tough Sell

Panasonic executives have seemingly acknowledged that it has a tough fight on its hands, taking on the likes of Apple and Samsung, but also a perhaps refreshed Nokia with its new Windows Phone 7-based devices. There is also Sony, which revealed recently its intention to buy out Ericsson’s stake in the firm’s joint mobile phone venture, Sony Ericsson. And not forgetting the likes of LG and HTC as well.

“We are well aware of our powerful competitors,” Toshinori Hoshi, head of the company’s Mobile Communications Unit was quoted as saying. “However, market shares are changing dramatically and, if we launch into this fast-changing market, we believe we have a chance of a hit.”

But some analysts are questioning whether Panasonic can hope to make a profit from mobile phones.

“It’s hard to imagine they can improve profits by making phones,” said Yuuki Sakurai, president of Fukoku Capital Management, as quoted by Reuters. “From the investors’ point of view, it looks as though they are casting around for something else to do after slipping up in televisions. It’s not very appealing.”