The RoboHon is real, it's going on sale, and (obviously) it's going to Japan first. At a press launch at the Sharp's HQ in Tokyo, we finally got some important details, and it's not all good news. Launching on May 26th in its homeland, the robot phone will cost 198,000 yen (plus tax!) which comes out at over $1,800. In the spectrum of expensive zeitgeist technology, that makes the Oculus Rift et al. seem like a bargain. (Then again, the Rift doesn't do a cute little dance or talk to you in a kawaii robo-anime voice -- but your opinion may differ.)
If you hadn't heard of the RoboHon before, it's all the basic smartphone functions reborn into a tiny robot body. It walks, it dances, and an embedded projector inside its head can display photos and video at a functional-enough 720p resolution. Sharp confirms that it does have LTE radios inside: this was a big question mark when the phone was first announced, and the company adds that it's already working on NTT Docomo, Japan's biggest phone carrier -- although its plans to couple with smaller MVNO carriers at this point, rather than announce a launch with a big phone network. This could be crucial in deciding whether the phone sells in Japan: carriers will advertise with their own money -- Sharp may have to do a lot of the heavy PR lifting itself.
"Do you think RoboHon will sell?" Sharp: "Of course, yes!"
The screen is the most questionable specification here: a two-inch QVGA screen -- the company's response here is that the phone is a robot that you talk to, reducing the need for screen interactions. Well, at least a little. To that aim, there's three different voice recognition technologies working inside the bot, including offline voice recognition. Cloud voice recognition comes courtesy of Nuance, although even if the initial price doesn't sting enough, there's another gut punch: users will have to pay a monthly fee (starting from six bucks) for voice recognition functions.
Sharp, the company that first brought color screens and cameras to smartphones, says it's already looking into bring RoboHon elsewhere in the world, but barring robot enthusiasts (and Engadget editors, it seems), it will have difficult time pitching such a pricey oddity -- plus additional monthly pricing. (My favorite question during the press briefing: "Do you think RoboHon will sell?" Sharp: "Of course, yes!")
Sharp is now looking to expand its unofficial mascot's repertoire: it's working on a companion fishing app and a simple taxi app that connects with the company's national taxi network just by telling the robot to call a taxi. (It takes care of the communication and sending your location.) Other apps in development aim to help with recipes and discovering nearby restaurants, cafes and bars.