Sony Corp said on Thursday it would launch an e-reader and online content distribution service in Japan by year-end, taking on rival Apple Inc whose iPad hits shelves in the country on Friday. The maker of PlayStation games and Bravia flat TVs said it also plans to launch its e-book operations in China, Australia, Spain and Italy this year. Sony’s Reader electronics book reader, which vies with Amazon.com’s Kindle and Barnes & Noble’s Nook, is available in the United States, Canada, Britain, France, Germany, Austria, Switzerland and the Netherlands. The debut of the iPad, a computing and entertainment system that also functions as an e-reader, is expected to boost Japan’s still-small e-book market, which Chimera Research Institute expects to double to about USD 1bn in four years. Sony has partnered with telecoms operator KDDI Corp, printing firm Toppan Printing Co and the Asahi Shimbun newspaper to set up a planning company to prepare for the service, which will offer book, comic, magazine and newspaper content.