Japan's Ceatec to Bring Robots, 3D and Gadgets

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Ceatec will be the focus for technophiles this week as a stream of new gadgets and technologies are expected at Japan's largest electronics expo.

The show, which is being held for the eleventh time, brings together most of Japan's major consumer electronics and electronic component makers and attracts around 200,000 visitors to the Makuhari Messe convention center in Chiba, near Tokyo.

Among the top attractions for visitors this year is likely to be a new Toshiba television that lets viewers see 3D images without wearing glasses. The TV will be the first from a major manufacturer to feature the glasses-free technology, which is seen as vital if 3D TV is going to grow beyond a niche and into the mainstream.

Panasonic will use the show to unveil its Lumix Phone, which packs photography features beyond those typically found in cell phones. The phone, due to bow Tuesday, is the first from the company to carry its digital camera brand name.

Perhaps some of the most interesting demonstrations at Ceatec won't be of new products but of technologies or devices that are under development.

NTT DoCoMo, Japan's largest cellular operator, is due to show prototype handsets packing the Qi wireless charging system. The system, which allows phones and other gadgets to be charged by simply placing them on a charging mat, is beginning to make its way into portable devices and promises an end to plug-in chargers.

Sticking with the wireless theme, Sony will be demonstrating the latest version of its Transfer Jet. The technology is meant to replace cables for connecting gadgets to PCs and is far simpler to connect and use than Bluetooth.

With what's sure to be a crowd-pleaser, Murata Manufacturing will be demonstrating a new version of its Seiko-chan unicycling robot. Unveiled for the first time at Ceatec 2008, the robot has been improved and will this year keep balance while unicycling on a curved beam. Murata develops the robot to highlight and demonstrate its sensor technology.

Such demonstrations often leave visitors' heads spinning with impressions of the advanced state of Japan's high-tech industry. But just as Ceatec serves up the best of the country's technology, it also highlights some big differences between Japan and the rest of the world.

Some of the largest and best-known electronic brands in the world, companies like Samsung, Nokia, LG and Motorola, are nowhere to be found at the show. Japan is a notoriously difficult market for foreign companies to crack and many companies that are household names in the west are virtually unknown here. As a result Ceatec is a largely domestic affair.

This disconnect between Japan and other major markets has led to a sometimes different evolutionary path for electronics products and services. Nowhere has this been seen better than in the cell phone market, where Japanese phones quickly adopted features and services that were seen as futuristic in other countries. This phenomenon is described as "Galapagos syndrome" in Japan

Sharp has adopted that name for its new e-book reader, which will get its first public showing at Ceatec on Tuesday. The Galapagos e-reader supports a Sharp-developed e-book standard and is scheduled to launch in Japan before the end of the year. A different version of the Android-based tablet, yet to be shown, is expected to hit the U.S. early next year.

Ceatec runs from Tuesday to Saturday at Makuhari Messe convention center in Chiba, near Tokyo.

Martyn Williams covers Japan and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Martyn on Twitter at @martyn_williams. Martyn's e-mail address is martyn_williams@idg.com

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