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Amazon

Knocking Amazon Strategy, Rakuten CEO Bets on Messaging

Amazon.com has raised eyebrows by pursuing a strategy of launching smartphones, tablets and TV hardware to try to boost its shopping and video content.

Hiroshi Mikitani, CEO of Japan-based Rakuten, Amazon’s e-commerce rival in Asia and elsewhere, thinks that strategy is misguided.

In an exclusive interview on the sidelines of the Allen & Co. technology and media conference last week, the 49-year-old Mr. Mikitani, who goes by the name “Mickey,” said he subscribes to the notion that mobile hardware will become commoditized, so competing against the likes of Apple and Samsung isn’t worth it.

Instead, he is sticking with software, banking on Rakuten’s newly acquired messaging app Viber to be the central mechanism for expanding the company’s core services—namely, online shopping—outside of Japan and becoming a more global player in commerce, like Amazon.

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The elephant in Mr. Mikitani’s room is Alibaba, the China-based Internet giant that has designs to expand well beyond China, perhaps even to Japan.