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Panasonic returning to global smartphone market…in 2012?

At a news conference in Japan, electronics giant Panasonic has revealed it plans to get into the Android smartphone business, starting in Japan in 2011 and rolling out to international markets by 2012. The company admits it’s getting off to a late start, but forecasts it will be able to sell some 15 million units worldwide in 2015.

“We misjudged the speed at which smartphones would be taken up in the Japanese market,” said Panasonic mobile communications chief Osamu Waki, according to Reuters. “With the rapid shift to Android, we want to catch up quickly.”

Panasonic still makes phones for the Japanese market for the likes of SoftBank and NTT DoCoMo, where it says it is on track to sell 5.4 to 5.5 million units for its current fiscal year. Several phones are built around Panasonic’s Lumix and Viera brands. However, the company withdrew from markets outside Japan all the way back in early 2006.

Although interest in the Android smartphone market is burgeoning at the moment, by 2012 the industry will certainly be seeing its first casualties, which might serve as a way for Panasonic to get its foot in the door of international markets. However, Japan’s mobile phone market has historically diverged significantly from other mobile markets around the world, with products that are popular in Japan rarely translating well to other markets. It’s not clear whether Panasonic could design Android-based mobile phones with broad appeal outside Japan. Furthermore, the “race to the bottom” of the Android handset market has already begun (at least in North America) with units like the T-Mobile Comet and Motorola Citrus, which may complicate any plans Panasonic might have to undercut existing Android handset pricing.

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