Ever since Steve Jobs announced the coming of the God Phone in January, industry analysts started taking bets on which cell-phone manufacturer would meet the Apple challenge first. My money has been on Samsung, the new electronics leader in Asia, who has recently been besting Sony at every turn. But an unlikely player called Sophia Mobile has stepped up to challenge Jobs' creation with a device called the Nani.
In Japanese, "nani" (literally translated means "what?") is usually what you'd say to someone taking on Cupertino's favorite hippie-mogul. But Nani has a few things going for it: a large, 4.3-inch touchscreen (yes, a touchscreen!), video playback at 800 x 400 pixels, a MicroSD card slot, Wi-Fi capability, a camera and a TV tuner. Is this the iPhone killer? In Japan… maybe.
The odd thing about the Japanese cell-phone market is that despite the country's love affair with Western pop culture, few Japanese consumers go out of their way to acquire electronics from the U.S. and Europe. Finland-based Nokia learned that lesson firsthand, getting repeatedly spanked over the years by the Japanese market, but the case for the iPhone isn't as bleak. Apple has stores in Japan's central hubs of Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya, Sapporo and Fukuoka, and the iPhone has a huge cool-factor advantage. Unfortunately, the other Apple advantage — unending hype from high-profile Apple zombies like The Wall Street Journal's Walt Mossberg and The New York Times' David Pogue — isn't something the iPhone can count on in Japan.