Thursday, October 8, 2009

iPhone in Japan: Storming the Galapagos

Jason Lackey

I recently had the pleasure of spending some time in Japan, a wonderful wonderful place, particularly when you speak the language. Even if you don't speak Japanese, the country is very English friendly, most can speak at least a little bit and very welcoming. That said, reality is often far weirder and more unexpected than whatever you might imagine so being able to parse the protocol does add to the experience.

The picture above probably doesn't remind you much of an Apple store, does it? Then again, perhaps it shouldn't. It wouldn't really be Japan without attractive young women wearing Space: 1999 costumes pushing electronic gear in an overamped, overcrowded frenzy. I don't recall if this was Yodobashi Camera or some similar place, but it was in Akihabara, an odd and peculiar place at the very core of Geek Chic, a place where costume play, manga, anime, maid cafes and all the latest and greatest gadgets, widgets and toys all come together in a frantic mass of churning, burning consumption.

Apple's iPhone, when initially launched in Japan July 10, 2008, was regarded as a lukewarm success at best. It lacked features, it wasn't a portrait formfactor clamshell, no keyboard, no special animated messaging characters. A foreign oddity, a misborn, malformed freak unsuited to survival in the rarified air of the Japanese hyperphones, a gimpy cripple doomed to playground bullying and a life best characterized as traumatic, brutal and short.

Yep, even Wired got on that bandwagon.

However, as seen here: things are less grim for the feisty little scrapper from Cupertino than you might think.

Rankings courtesy of Wireless Watch Japan (thanks for a great site, Lars!)

Yes, of the Top 10 Handsets in Japan, 3 are iPhone variants, including the #1 slot. This is in spite of being on the SoftBank network, a newcomer in a deeply conservative land where many still view Toyota as being a car for an adult but a new, wet behind the ears company like Honda? Bit too new, best for ricer kids, car from an unproven company lacking in history and depth like that.

Wonder what would happen if it was available on DoCoMo and KDDI as well? In France, it seems the answer is about 40% market share.

It is not clear that this would happen in Japan, but it is clear what has happened with SoftBank since the launch of the iPhone.

7/2008: 19.1m total market 103.6m (18.44% share)
1/2009: 20.0m total market 105.8m (18.89% share)
9/2009: 21.1m total market 108.9m (19.37% share)


  1. Hi Jason:

    Good to see you had a fun visit..

    Notice your image used here - which is English translated version from the original - must have come through us via:

    At any rate.. while certainly the iPhone handsets are moving, sadly there are no official numbers released to go by, but most estimates show it still accounts for 'perhaps' 1% of total market share.. just to keep things in perspective.. 8-)

    Also noted the SBM market share figures.. would suggest they were jumping well before the July 2007 launch based on their attractive so-called "White Plan" price packages!



  2. Hi Lars,

    Great site and thanks for all the good stuff. I have been a fan of the work you have been doing at Wireless Watch Japan for some time now.

    I wish that I had some hard numbers on the iPhone in Japan but I don't. I do have anecdotal evidence from watching people on trains etc that indicates that the iPhone, while still relatively modest in total installed base, is growing and seems to be more popular with trendy, relatively affluent, young early adopters - right in line with expectations.

    BTW I love the white dog ads, also imagine they appeal to the kawaii chic over there.