The smartphone battle is heating up -again- in Japan.

Realizing that it was clearly lagging in that fast-growing segment -hey, we’re talking 4m units this year in a cell phone saturated market-, au KDDI, Japan’s second biggest mobile carrier, has decided to take a bold move. It entered an alliance with Skype, the peer-to-peer VoIP company.

Because calls between Skype users are free, mobile-phone companies have feared their revenue would decline should they make the service available. For that reason, the Skype app was viewed as verboten until now

Bold enough? At least in the eyes of Tanaka, KDDI’s Senior VP.

No details have been released yet, though. No package pricing in particular.

Skype on WiFi?

It’s only the second time that Skype partners with a cellco. Their first deal was made with US Verizon Wireless.

If you didn’t know, Skype calls are actually not made using the data service there. They’re being done on the voice line. Skype’s press release says KDDI will also do that.

That’s a big no-no for Wifi, sorry folks.

It has to be noted that calls will need to use a bit of data before being re-routed to the voice line. Hope KDDI won’t charge users for that.

Skype to Japan numbers?

The Verizon deal only allows Skype calls to be made while on US soil. And while Skype-to-Skype are free, the Skype-to-cell/landine minutes are charged against the plan. That should be similar with KDDI in Japan. Or will it?

If you read the press release I just mentioned between the lines, you see that

users will be able to make unlimited Skype-to-Skype calls to any Skype user in Japan and around the globe

Yeah, ok, basically what Skype is for, but let’s read on.

KDDI customers with data plans will also be able to […] call international phone numbers at competitive Skype Out calling rates.

Nice. But, if you didn’t get it, no mention to Skype Out calling rates for phone numbers in Japan. None. Zip.

So, unlike the Verizon deal where the application lets you call mobile and landline numbers, KDDI’s Skype might well force you to exit it for these types of call. Not very practical, isn’t it?

Skype on Android

So, starting this November, Japan’s second biggest carrier should pre-install the Skype application on all its smartphones (pre-register if interested)

The flagship phone will be Sharp’s IS03. Mobile in Japan’s good friend Steve and I had the chance to play with it at the recent CEATEC in Tokyo.

We both found it to be a very solid smartphone. Of notice is the integration of an e-wallet function, a feature existing on many keitais but not on the iPhone, and the faculty to keep an existing KDDI mobile email address, again something SoftBank was not able to provide with the iPhone (oh yeah, it also has a pimp-your-email decorating function -so important for the teenager market here).

We weren’t able to fully test it, but our limited look at au One Market, a carrier-branded Android app store, left a good impression.

The app will also be rolled-out on the less noticeable IS01, but, strangely enough, no news about Sharp’s IS05 that was announced today, nor Toshiba’s IS04.

Skype on keitais?

While KDDI promises to use Android for all its upcoming smartphones, the future roadmap for Skype and KDDI promises to go beyond Google mobile operating system.

Other phones might get an app too, not unlike what Verizon is offering in the US with LG and Samsung. I’d say not before Q2 2011 though.

But, in a time when DoCoMo is rolling out its Android smartphone with full fanfare, IS03 + Skype might very well be a sweet deal for KDDI.

Skype on DoCoMo?

Yeah, what about DoCoMo? Does it have to reply with an VoIP offering?

Right now, the king of carriers is kinda blunt. Skype is simply banned from its Android-powered devices. It’s as simple as that. And, anyway, none of its Android-powered phones is running 2.1 yet, a pre-requisiste for the application.

But rumors are floating that it is negotiating a similar deal than KDDI’s. Skype with DoCoMo might become true by the end of the year, if you’re of the optimist kind.

As for Softbank, it already allows Skype on the iPhone, but no news on any other front from them. At least, they can be satisfied that Ustream, a company they’ve partnered with and invested in, was used by KDDI for its press conference.

My guess is that things are only getting started on the smartphone front. Oh boy, I love that.

We would like to show that we are (competing in the segment) in earnest and with dedication

Tanaka seems to be up for the battle. Let’s rumble.

Sharp, the biggest mobile phone manufacturer in Japan, is set to launch a 3D smartphone later this year.

3D? Aren’t the smartphones in three dimensions already? Well, it’s the display that will show images in 3D. You know, that new craze all the movie & consumer electronics industry players talk about -trust me, I was a CEATEC Tokyo last year and everyone seemed to wear dizzy glasses.

The technology supposedly lets people see the multiple dimensions without those nerd-looking glasses, but it remains to be seen -in 3D?- if it will let us watch without keeping a certain distance and specific angle like similar already existing tech.

I’m not so sure. Last April in Tokyo, the company presented a multi-mode 2D-3D LCD screen that required not to move your head (or your hand) too much. Better not drink too much before playing with 3D.

But it might support touch, since that same LCD was a touchscreen. That would make sense for a smartphone.

The most talked-about spec is the potential inclusion of a camera able to take 3D imagery. Sharp is leaking samples of a 3D-capable HD camera module these days with mass production set to start any time now, so it’s only obvious geek bloggers are all sweaty about sharing their shiny LEGO Millenium Falcons with their friends.

Now, Sharp isn’t very well known for its smartphone line. But with the iPhone, the Android and DoCoMo hinting at more than 300,000 smartphones sold during the last quarter -most of them Xperias, it was only a matter of time until the company started to realign. It is unknown what OS it will run, but it should be noted that Sharp has recently released a giant Android thing, the IS01 (that’s for KDDI, it’s superbly called Lynx SH-10B on DoCoMo) -well, and an iPad non-killer running Linux.

The unnamed device will be a Japan-only offering, if you want my 2 cents. Sharp might be the biggest player here but has so far failed at any international ventures –Kin, anyone?

Image credit: [Sharp 3D LCD video]

Not to be outdone by other table offerings that seem all the rage these days (and by that I mean totally outdone), Sharp has announced a new model in thier Ubuntu powered nettop computer range with a release date for Japan sometime in May.

The PC-T1 sports a 5-inch touchscreen, wi-fi, bluetooth, and 8GB of flash memory (but with a measly 1.5 leftover after preloaded system and software).

Slimming down a bit by dropping the keyboard from previous models, the PC-T1 weighs a respectable 280 grams (down from 400 grams from the previous model) and has an impressive 6 hour battery life.  Considering this is a Sharp device, we can expect a nice screen and the 1024×600 resolution is something to look forward to. Throw in a USB port and you have a pretty neat little device.

That said, I can’t imagine it will be worth the price.  Expected to be around 47,000 yen (around $500 USD), this device looks straight across the table at the iPad and tops most entry level netbooks with only average specs.  If your dream in life is to have a small, lightweight Linux based tablet netbook, this could be your lucky day, but at that price you are paying a premium for obscurity.  You might be better off with a Nintendo DS LL/XL if you just want a lightweight nettop.

Still, it is nice to see Japanese makers testing out the tablet waters and with a release before the Japan release of the iPad Sharp should capitalize a bit on the tablet buzz.

SHARP Netwalker PC-T1

NTT DoCoMo has its HT-03A and SoftBank its HTC Desire. KDDI doesn’t seem to want to be left behind.

Well, sorta, since they’re announcing a phone for …October.

A Smartbook, err, a Notebook, err, a Smartphone.

The Sharp IS01 Communicator is a unusual phone for nowadays standards, reminding me of Psions and Nokia Communicators of the past, with a full QWERTY keyboard notebook-like design.

The CDMA handset will be powered by Android 1.6. Yes, 1.6, not the current 2.1 featured in the Desire. The data will get througn EVDO Rev A for 3G and 802.11g Wifi is added to the mix. Users will have to do with 4GB of internal storage, but microSDHC should give some more room if necessary.

Sharp touts that the handset can be used with thumbs only, but has thrown both a trackball and multi-touch.

960 x 480 room for TV love

More interestingly, it’s the first Android device to natively support 1Seg TV, the mobile audio/video/data broadcasting service –basically TV on your phone, regularly found on keitais in Japan (and on the iPhone, thanks to a SoftBank-specific device).

Popular social networking mixi will have an app installed, as for Twitter & Sekai camera. Quick image editing for blogging is also mentioned by the manufacturer, as to clearly hint at whom it targets this device.

Dedicated Application Market

KDDI has concurrently announced the linking of its app market au one Market to the Google Android market, adding its own billing platform in the mix.

It also hinted at a later version of an Android smartphone with touchless payment.

We’re going to watch out for this one for a review, but, again, the announcement comes very early.

No pricing is yet known.

Oh, it also comes in light blue.

Images by Sharp and Impress