The iPhone and Japan
A few days before Apple officially announced the first release of the iPhone in Japan, I wrote on whether or not it would be popular here. The popular belief was that the iPhone would flop, because of stiff competition from “advanced” Japanese mobile phones, and because the iPhone lacked features like emoji or a strap loop. Many articles were published stating why the Japanese people would just hate the iPhone.
My prediction, not surprisingly, was that the iPhone would succeed, but would take off slowly in the first year or two. Which is what happened. My take at that time:
[A]s soon as Japanese users–conditioned to simply take the standard Japanese fare without question–begin to see and hear about what the iPhone can do, it will take off.
It might take a year or two, but it will eventually trend that way. I seem to recall that when the iPod was introduced in Japan, people similarly predicted it would have trouble catching on because the Japanese market was already saturated with and dominated by advanced, domestic-produced music players. But today, when I walk around town, I see most people using iPods. The success was not immediate, as I suspect the iPhone’s will not be. But the iPhone should succeed despite the naysayers’ reasons, in just the same way as the iPod did before.
Sure enough, for the first year or two, the iPhone was not easy to spot in public. The best place to see what kind of phone people have is to ride the trains, where most people seem to use them pass the time. In that initial year, I did not see many iPhones in use.
Now, however, it is very different. When I ride the train, I will often look around and take a quick count of phones within view.
Almost invariably, about half the phones in view are iPhones.
Now, that does not mean that iPhones have 50% of the Japanese market; it may just mean that iPhones provide better entertainment on a train. However, it is kind of telling.
Amusingly, a site which tracks the best-selling smartphones in Japan biases its results on iPhone sales. Since the time the iPhone came out in Japan, the site reported sales of iPhones divided by internal flash memory capacity—a measure it uses for no other phone. When carrier Au picked up the iPhone, the site further split the rankings by carrier—again, only for the iPhone. Other phones with multiple carriers and capacities are given a single, consolidated ranking.
The reason is obvious: were they to do otherwise, the iPhone would be the only phone ever to inhabit the #1 spot.
Take today’s rankings, for example. The Xperia A tops the charts, having been released just a few months ago. Sitting at #3 is the Galaxy S4, released in late April.
The iPhone, release almost a year ago, has the #2 slot. And the #4 slot. And #5, and #6. The slots are for the 16GB Softbank iPhone, the 16GB Au iPhone, the 32GB Softbank iPhone, and the 32GB Au iPhone, in that order. The 64GB Softbank iPhone rests at #29, with the 64GB Au version at #31.
This despite the fact that not only is the iPhone 5 much older than the competing models, but it is about to be refreshed in just a month or so—a fact which usually depresses sales rather significantly.
Clearly, if the iPhone were treated like all other phones and ranked as a single device, it would be #1, and it would stay there all the time.
Which is strange, because Japanese people were supposed to hate the iPhone.