The difference is that Apple announces new things AFTER Christmas. Sony just announced something new a week before Christmas.
So? An enormous part of the market is in countries where Christmas is celebrated (including Japan as you pointed out):
A very large portion of the world celebrates Christmas - and an even larger portion of the countries which are major consumers.
As I said, it is conceivable that there are good reasons to pre-announce this product that won't be available for a couple of months. It doesn't, however, make sense to wait until a week before Christmas. If they had announced it last month, it might have reduced demand for competitors' products as some people would choose to wait.
But seriously, we can all see that having a crap load of physical buttons, just in case a game needs them, without having to cover the display gives you a lot more options in game play design. But why does something so obvious need so much defense?
Remember, the best camera is the one you have on you and we all know that the best smartphone camera pales in comparison to the best DSLR. Bottom line is I'm not going to consider this device because I don't want another device to carry.
And that's the big issue.
Personally I think the idea of the 'hardcore gamers' is overstated at best. I know a few hardcore gamers but they are very much in the minority and they ditched consoles years ago and use the PC exclusively. Even used to be one myself, but never really bothered with consoles - purely PC.
The problem is there are just not enough 'hardcore' gamers to make these things viable any more.
And please stop kidding yourselves that 'hardcore gamers' are some sort of market elite which are a huge market. Sony and Nintendo want to sell millions of units to anyone who will buy it, not just some exclusive group that measures maybe 2-3m at most.
Then there is the issue of convergence, which is well underway. Mobile phones are becoming better cameras every day, and they've long since become adequate gaming platforms.
This is a device that will be consigned to a foot note of technology history.
And finally, we have the price of games - did we really used to spend $/£40 on a game? The game (so to speak) has moved on.
That's my concern. The 'hardcore gaming' market is getting more fragmented. A small percentage of PC owners are hard-core gamers. Of those, only a fraction will choose to play mobile games. Of that percentage, only some portion will choose the Vita. It's not going to be overwhelming.