iPad wrestles with sumo fat finger problem

The iPad is about to come to the rescue of Japan’s burly sumo wrestlers, whose beefy digits are ill-suited to wrestling with tiny smartphone handsets.

In Japan, sumo’s governing body said it would provide Apple iPads – with their larger touchscreen keyboards – to each of the country’s 51 training stables.

The Japan Sumo Association said on Tuesday the tablet computers would be part of its efforts to improve communication between coaches, wrestlers and association officials, following a series of scandals that have cost the ancient sport lucrative sponsorship and television exposure.

A handful of top JSA officials will also receive iPads, on which the association is spending about Y3m ($35,644).

Until now, internal messages have been passed on exclusively by telephone or fax.

“With faxes you can’t be sure if the message was actually received but with e-mail we can prevent that,” the JSA said. “Plus, you can carry them around.”

However, Japan’s sport newspapers reported that the iPad was chosen in part because its larger touch-screen keys would be easier to use for current and former wrestlers, whose average weight during their careers is around 150kg.

“When they try to send e-mail on mobile phones or PCs they often end up pressing two or three keys at once,” according to the daily Nikkan Sports.

While fewer markets could be more niche than top-knotted sumo wrestlers, the JSA’s choice reflects what experts say is one of the iPad’s great sales strengths: its appeal to otherwise tech-averse consumers who may never have thought to buy a computer.

The device has also been hailed for its potential appeal to the elderly, with its large, crisp display and lack of fiddly buttons.

In Japan, where more than a fifth of the population is past retirement age, several municipalities have sponsored classes to teach older residents the iPad basics.

Sumo officials, meanwhile, may also have been attracted to Apple’s fresh, modern image during what has been a dark period for the sport.

Revelations of illegal gambling by wrestlers on baseball matches – a vice with long-standing links to organised crime – resulted in the expulsion of a top wrestler last month and the cancellation of television coverage of one of the sports’ two-week tournaments for the first time in 53 years. That was only the latest in a string of scandals.

Solid demand for the iPad helped Apple to report surprisingly robust sales and earnings in the latest quarter.

The results dispelled fears that its launch – and that of the iPhone 4 – would lead to a bumpy ride for investors.

Executives said that the iPad, launched in April, was making a far quicker transition to the mass consumer market than was typical for new tech gadgets, making it hard to produce enough of the machines to meet demand.

“In the scheme of things, it’s a good problem to have,” said Tim Cook, chief operating officer.

He denied that Apple had deliberately restricted supply of the iPad to whip up interest.

“We would like to fill every order as quickly as we can.”

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