Businesses quick to embrace iPad

Coveted tablet already leads the race, while other entries are looking to find a niche

by May Masangkay

Kyodo News

It’s been only a month since Apple Inc.’s iPad tablet computer hit the Japanese market, but already a string of businesses are looking to use the multifunctional gadget in their marketing strategies.

But as the iPad, which runs on a unique operating system, outsells the competition, makers of tablet computers using Microsoft Windows or Google Inc.’s Android will have to come up with innovative ideas to avoid being left in the dust.

“The impact of the iPad on the information and communications industry has been extremely big (in Japan) . . . the iPad (business) will likely spread fast to other sectors,” said Suguru Kagawa, a senior researcher of the information and communications industry and finance research section at Yano Research Institute.

Where other tablet computers failed to take off over the past decade, Apple’s iPad, which looks like a larger version of the popular iPhone minus the telephone functions, appears set as a viable marketing tool welcomed by retailers and medical and academic circles.

Kagawa said products similar in terms of hardware or with better features, including higher display resolution, may emerge, but Apple’s success lies in its entire package, which goes beyond manufacturing and embraces highly sophisticated, unparalleled marketing and brand image creation.

Softbank Mobile Corp., the exclusive iPad sales agent among mobile phone operators, has declined to reveal the number of computers sold, but since its May 28 Japan debut, customers continue to flock to Apple’s flagship store in Ginza and retail outlets to check out the touch-screen iPad, which allows immediate Internet browsing, and access to electronic books, music and games.

Data from Tokyo-based market research firm BCN Inc. show iPad sales in the first 10 days were seven times more than the iPhone when it was first sold in July 2008.

One eager customer is Novarese Inc., a firm that offers wedding services and wedding gown rentals, with spokeswoman Kazuka Nohara saying the iPad provides more effective communications between the firm and its customers, especially grooms.

“Whereas grooms before used to be less participative, we were surprised at how they became more active in speaking with our coordinators and choosing wedding dresses since our coordinators began giving them iPads to freely browse through choices,” Nohara said.

Dresses that weren’t popular before are starting to catch customers’ eyes thanks to the iPad’s appealing visual presentation, which has a different effect than print catalogs, she said.

Novarese has been using two iPads at its Ginza shop, and it plans to expand their use to its core business of arranging and running wedding hotels and guest weddings.

“What’s important is to allow customers to be proactive in selecting dresses, and the iPad fits in with that kind of strategy,” Nohara said.

Otsuka Pharmaceutical Co. said its medical representatives will begin using iPads during visits to doctors to market the company’s medicines.

Spokeswoman Yuko Kikuchi said the firm looks at the iPad as an excellent tool for medical representatives to “speedily provide the necessary information to busy doctors.”

The iPad is also making its presence felt elsewhere, including at the Tomihiro Art Museum in Gunma Prefecture, where visitors can use them in the museum’s cafe to see information about the museum, and at Chubu Gakuin College in Gifu Prefecture, where piano classes are held using the computers.

Kagawa of Yano Research said the iPad “just hit the right note” for firms and institutions wanting to introduce a computer system to make operations smoother but couldn’t find a system that was easy to use.

Ichiro Michikoshi, a senior analyst with BCN, said that while there continues to be demand for smaller, low-cost netbooks, the iPad is now ushering in a time for computer makers to rethink consumer demand for touch-screen, easy-to-launch units.

Michikoshi added that the user-friendly iPad also “opens an opportunity for new demand, such as the elderly.”

While challengers to the iPad appear for now to face a tough road, given the large number of Apple followers in Japan and the iPad’s polished operating system together with several thousand applications, Michikoshi said he is hopeful about the potential of units running on Windows or Android.

Among the iPad’s rivals are Microsoft, Google and Taiwan’s AsusTek Computer Inc., which have or are set to unveil what they hope will be iPad killers. Japanese makers may also try to play catchup.

The iPad has a formidable foe to face in the electronic book business, where Amazon Inc.’s Kindle e-book reader is the current leader. Kindle has yet to enter the Japanese market.

Aurelio Valenciano, an information technology network engineer based in Tokyo, said he is unlikely to abandon his Kindle.

“With the Kindle, you forget that it is an electronic device because there is no glare, unlike the iPad, and there’s no worry about having to recharge it often,” he said. “I am just very satisfied with the Kindle when it comes to reading electronic books.”