Just one day after we mentioned that one of KDDI 's au-branded prototype mobile phones was deemed gorgeous enough to officially be a work of art, the company goes and surprises everyone by actually releasing it. The Media Skin handset will be part of an invasion fleet of ten new au phones to hit Japan at the end of January.

The new handset is unusual in that it is wrapped in a leather-like resinous hard case with a rigid flip that folds open. KDDI reckons the design gives the 13mm-thick phone a high-class air of desirability, so we can expect it to appear at a premium price of around JPY30,000 (£127) in a couple of weeks.

What customers want

As for the hardware inside the new phones, like the Media Skin, the others include a pretty standard spread of mainstream (for Japan) features. These include 1-seg digital terrestrial TV tuners, Bluetooth audio, GPS, music downloads through KDDI's Lismo service and IC-based e-cash functions.

While it is ambitious of the firm to announce so many new phones at once, KDDI is going to be up against some stiff competition from the newly invigorated Softbank , which is aiming squarely for a slice of that tasty au customer pie.

The new holder of the former Vodafone's assets isn't too worried about high-quality design, instead focusing more on finding a way to consumers' hearts through their wallets. Softbank's newest price plan, which kicked off this week, starts at just JPY980 (£4) a month - a price previously unthinkable in Japan. J Mark Lytle