Salarymen stick with laptops over iPads

Lighter computers win out in highly mobile domestic market

by Yuki Yamaguchi and Kazuyo Sawa

Bloomberg

When Yuta Moriya was offered Apple Inc.’s 613-gram iPad by his employer last summer, he envisioned a future free of lugging his laptop around for client visits. He was wrong.

“I used to have to carry my laptop, a charger and some brochures,” said Moriya, 29, a used-car salesman at Tokyo-based Gulliver International Co. “After the iPad, I carried the iPad, a charger for the iPad, the laptop, the charger for the laptop and the brochures.”

Salarymen like Moriya are reluctant to embrace iPad tablets, the fastest-growing segment in the computer industry, because they aren’t light enough or functional enough to replace laptops in Japan.

For each tablet shipped to corporate customers in Japan, dozens will be sold in the U.S. and Western Europe through 2015, according to estimates by U.S. research firm IDC.

“Japanese businessmen already tend to carry around light laptops because they’re on the train so often,” said Masahiro Katayama, a PC group manager at IDC.

“IPads are not suited for inputting and processing data, so people end up having both their laptops and iPads.”

An Apple spokesman in Tokyo referred queries about Japanese iPad sales to Softbank Corp. Fumihiro Ito, a spokesman at Softbank, declined comment on its iPad sales.

Tokyo salarymen prefer lighter, sleeker products because space is so scarce in a region with 36 million inhabitants. Some hotels offer lodging in coffin-sized capsules instead of rooms, and typical whiskey bars in the Yurakucho and Shinjuku districts are only big enough for about a dozen customers at a time.

According to Tokyo-based Kakaku.com Inc., Japan’s largest price-comparison website operator, Acer Inc.’s 1.23-kg Aspire one D250 AOD250-Bb18 ranked highest in customer satisfaction among laptops purchased in the past year. “Portability” was one of the characteristics considered.

Four of the five top-rated laptops weighed less than 2 kg, according to the website.

By comparison, four of the five “most wished for” laptops on Amazon.com Inc.’s U.S. website weighed at least 2 kg. All of the top five in Amazon’s U.K. site weighed more than 2 kg.

“In the U.S., it’s clear what the iPad offers with its size and weight, but in Japan, iPads fail to distinguish themselves as a business tool from lightweight laptops,” said Ichiro Michikoshi, an analyst at research firm BCN Inc. in Tokyo.

Tablet computers are more suitable for watching movies and listening to music than writing reports and crunching data on spreadsheets, Michikoshi said.

Most business users in Japan who purchased tablet computers found them less useful than they initially expected, according to an April survey of 450 workers by research firm IID Inc. Of those polled, 88 percent said they bought the product expecting to use it for work.

That’s the dilemma facing Kokuyo Co.’s information-technology department.

The Osaka-based furniture maker planned to give away 1,500 iPads this year to boost productivity, yet has only handed them out to 251 employees, all of whom are still using their laptops, said Jun Enda, one of the workers receiving one.

“The iPad on its own isn’t enough to get work done,” Enda said, citing difficulty in typing emails and using spreadsheets.

As companies such as Kokuyo and Gulliver face difficulties adopting tablets, corporate shipments of the product in Japan are projected to grow at a slower pace than the worldwide average.

Shipments in Japan will climb at a compounded annual growth rate of 54 percent to 430,340 units by 2015, while growth will average 89 percent to 7.9 million in the U.S. and 96 percent to 6.8 million in Western Europe, according to IDC.

Worldwide, tablet computers, led by the iPad, are the fastest-selling products in the $263 billion PC industry, according to IDC. That helped Apple deliver record earnings and boost its market value to the world’s second-largest behind Exxon Mobil Corp.

The tablet market is poised to jump almost fivefold over five years to $53 billion by 2015, according to IDC.

Japan matters enough to Apple that it is the only country where sales are regularly disclosed by the company. The world’s largest maker of tablets and smartphones generated $1.51 billion in sales from Japan during the third quarter, or 5.3 percent of overall revenue.

“Tablets won’t drive away mobile PCs,” said Yukihiko Shimada, a senior analyst at SMBC Nikko Securities Inc.

“Tablets are good for browsing, but they are not suited for business as it is hard to use them to produce something,” Shimada said.

Japanese electronics makers are seeking to meet the preferences of salarymen and other domestic consumers. NEC Corp. began selling its 699-gram LifeTouch NOTE tablet, featuring a keyboard, in March.

Sharp Corp. launched its Galapagos line of tablets in December, aiming to attract domestic consumers by offering models as light as 220 grams and sporting a trackball so users can hold the product on one hand during train rides.

Those functions still aren’t good enough for Moriya, the salesman at Gulliver, who gave his iPad back to the company earlier this year after a three-month trial.

“The iPad really looked light and convenient in Apple’s commercials,” Moriya said. “But carrying an iPad on top of a notebook and brochures was really annoying.”