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The iPhone 6 and Carriers in Japan

September 13th, 2014

So Sachi and I have been with Softbank since the iPhone first came out in Japan—me because Softbank was the only carrier with the iPhone at that time, and Sachi because she wanted to be on the same carrier as I was. There are good reasons for that: family members get to call each other for free, for example. Also, when we renewed last time, Sachi opted to use my old iPhone 4 (the one I repaired, in fact) for a substantially reduced data fee, something like ¥3000 a month. I believe that was only for family members also.

With the iPhone 6, Apple has upped its prices, however. The low-end iPhone used to go for ¥55,000 ($515), the iPhone 6 will go for about ¥73,000 ($675) in Japan.

So a few days ago, I went to Au, and asked what they could offer. I couldn’t get much information at the time, though, because it was Thursday and they wouldn’t give any info on pricing before the official sign-up period started on Friday at 4:00 p.m. (it had to be timed to start with the U.S. release, which was midnight PST).

Instead, they printed out a sheet showing me what the would offer were I to sign up under the iPhone 5s: ¥5985 ($56) per month with the iPhone discounted to zero—free with the 2-year contract. Then I went to check with Softbank; same thing, they couldn’t give me the new pricing, but they could tell me how much I was paying for my iPhone 5, and it was much higher: around ¥7100 ($66) a month. That’s a $20 difference per month for two contracts, or $480 over two years.

Well, that seemed like a no-brainer. I figured we’d go with Au. I knew we’d have to wait until November, however, since that’s when my Softbank contract runs out (a month after my payments for the iPhone 5 stop).

Then Friday came, and for fun, I thought I would pass by the Au shop on the way home to see how miserably long the lines were.

To my shock, there were no lines. Previously, with almost every other iPhone, there were long lines of people signing up. Not this time. I saw all of two people in the store. Interesting.

I figured I’d go in to get the pricing then. I did, and got a shock: a discount they offered before was now dropped. Monthly pricing: ¥7425 ($70) per month. For the entry 16GB iPhone 6. Softbank was cheaper than that!

OK, I thought. Back to Softbank!

So I went there today to get their new pricing. As it turned out, I had overlooked something: The new entry-level iPhones were free with a 2-year contract… only to people who switched carriers. That was not something that had been in place last time I renewed. Continuing customers pay ¥610 ($5.70) a month, or about $137 over 2 years. That rises to ¥1160 ($10.80) a month, or $260, for the 64GB iPhone 6.

Yikes. That would bring my monthly bill to about ¥7700, or $72 a month, even just for the 16GB model!

OK. Back to Au.

On my way, I thought I would drop by DoCoMo, just to see what they offered. The rep asked me, “Do you want the 2GB monthly data plan, or the 5GB plan?” “Um, how much for the flat rate?” “We don’t offer one!” Buh-bye. (It’s not even halfway through the month, and I have already racked up 5GB; I had no intention of counting packets and pennies all the time.)

When I go back to Au, I am in for a pleasant surprise: not only do I qualify for their ¥0 discount for switching customers, but they neglected to inform me before that I qualified for another discount: I have Au’s Fiber-optic plan for home Internet. This, they tell me, gives me a $14/mo. discount. For the 16GB iPhone 6, that brought me down to ¥5390 ($50). For the 64GB model—which I plan to get—it goes up a similar ¥540 per month, setting the price at ¥5930—about $55 a month. That I can live with.

But I was not through with problems: when you leave a carrier, your number portability is free for only a 1- or 2-month window. After that, you pay a fee of about $100. The problem: iPhones take several weeks between ordering and delivery, and you can only pick up the phone when after the portability window opens.

My Softbank contract only allows me to get off the bus between November 1 and 31. It is impossible to predict how long it will take for an iPhone to be delivered. They say 3-4 weeks, but it might arrive in 2 weeks. Or it could arrive in 6 weeks.

Let’s say I order my iPhone with Au early, on October 1. It arrives October 25. Au allows only 3 days to pick it up, else you lose it and have to re-order. I can’t leave Softbank until November 1, and the handoff has to be immediate. So I lose the phone I ordered, and have to re-order. Only this time, it takes 6 weeks, arriving December 10, and now I have to pay a $100 fee to Softbank to get loose. Argh.

So I have to time my order just right. Find out what delivery expectations are for the iPhone 6, and try to aim for the early middle of November.

Sachi, in the meantime, has a nice 2-month window—but one that started September 1st. So we’ll be going down to Au very soon to order hers, and maybe will wait 3 weeks or so to order mine.

She brought up an interesting point: if you quit your existing contract with your carrier inside the free number-portability window, you can avoid the fee, though you are without cell service until your new phone arrives. That sounds reasonable, though I would not be surprised if the official policy was not reasonable.

Hopefully, I’ll at least be able to get the phone before I leave for the U.S.; that way, I’ll be able to try out the Apple Pay system, and use the new camera for photographing Rica (my Dad’s dog) and other stuff.

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  1. Troy
    September 13th, 2014 at 23:18 | #1

    this is why I only have an iPod Touch (& iPad) and carry a flip phone on an $80/yr prepaid plan for actual calls . . .

    other than not having two devices on you — which is not always a negative, given how small & “handy” the phone is and how many days its battery lasts on standby — I don’t see the attraction of an iPhone as a phone.

    My next tech purchase will be either a Nexus 9 or iPad Mini; the decision will come to how aggressively Apple keeps the iPads synced with iPhone 6.

    Nexus 9 looks pretty sweet . . . looks like it matches my 2008 MBP in oomph quite easily, if the rumors are true.

  2. Troy
    September 14th, 2014 at 01:56 | #2

    heh, you really nailed Apple two years ago . . .


  3. Luis
    September 14th, 2014 at 02:30 | #3

    Well, I am pretty sure that I was right about Apple delaying because it had not been able to set deals where it got large cuts of the fees, and that the “people aren’t ready for it” line was BS.

    That said, I think I missed on the idea that Apple never waits to fulfill a need until everyone is doing it. Microsoft was trying to sell tablets almost a decade before Apple came out with the iPad; there were not just feature-rich phones on the market, but touch-screen phones available before the iPhone was released. There were digital music players before the iPod. And so on.

    What Apple does is to take a market that is ripe but has not yet been done right yet, and then tends to design and release a user experience that puts everyone else to shame.

    Microsoft’s tablets sucked because they were just honking big laptops with the screen facing the other way. Phones sucked because no one had gotten the interface right–same thing for digital music players. Hell, the same for all of them.

    With the watch, it seems that the competition–this time acting well ahead of any Apple announcement–has done a better job than usual of getting less-crappy stuff out the door. Their problem: it was all pretty predictable. Put a touchscreen on the watch, control it by swiping, same as with cell phones and tablets. Have it monitor heart rate, show appointments, link to the cloud, yadda yadda yadda. Who couldn’t see those features coming?

    Apple did what they do best: they created a whole new way of using the watch. Nobody had the idea of using the crown, or of zooming in like that, or having the icons crowd like that. Nobody thought of the personal touch of the heartbeat, or the little doodles. And nobody did the engineering and style even half as well as Apple did.

    I remember a few weeks ago, seeing a tech guy, David Rose, come on the Daily Show. One of the cool gadgets he had: a stone. Oooh, you might think, a pet rock! But it was a “smart stone” which could send haptic messages between him and his 11-year-old daughter. The audience was charmed, even enchanted with the idea. Critics laughing at Apple’s lameness for the same kind of idea are either missing the appeal of such a small, romantic touch in a tech device, or else are simply again looking for something to put Apple down with.

    Apple, however, is doing things in a very novel way. Whether this will work or not remains to be seen, but it is indeed following its past style–focusing on the user experience, not the tech specs or “me first” race.

    What is different is the range of choices. Jobs was more the “any color so long as its black” visionary–but he could make that work. Under Cook, Apple seems to be moving more towards the “Let’s pile on the options” approach, as was seen with Yosemite and iOS8, and the Watch, none of which could be completely introduced in an hour. Jobs never had anything that complex, or with so many choices.

    However, it should be noted that any car company that sold only black cars would not have made it to the 21st century. The Watch is, after all, a wearable, and wearables call for style ranges.

  4. Luis
    September 14th, 2014 at 02:39 | #4

    One note: Samsung/Android fans keep smarmily putting Apple down for doing stuff that had been “done before” by Samsung, and condescendingly snub Apple fans who are taken by things like the gold-colored iPhone. What they ignore: it’s not being simplistic, it’s being reserved. Any fool can take a coin out of pocket; a magician can make that into something special. Apple paid a price for being able to wow people with a third color: they did not have a rainbow from the start. Even more to the point, they did not just crassly choose a half-dozen colors at random, but chose a very specific color that would appeal to people. That sense of awe at the coolness of an object may be just a sense, an illusion, but that’s what coolness is. Never anything more than an illusion, an idea that catches on. That’s what people like, and what they pay for. And that, not so much engineering prowess or market analysis, is the challenge that Tim Cook has to live up to.

  5. Troy
    September 14th, 2014 at 04:22 | #5

    Dunno man, Apple seems kinda disappearing up its own ass, now.

    Kinda like the late 80s when they wanted to be the Bloomingdales of personal computing.

    They coulda updated the 5S to 6 specs, but no, we have to go 4.7″ or above now.

    They’ve got almost $200B in the bank now but can’t spare the design resources to make a decent headless prosumer mac of the IIcx or IIsi (or, more accurately, the LC III)

    What’s really sad is I’m basically waiting for Intel to ship Skylake and Nvidia to ship the 900M series and Samsung to ship its PCIe 4X NVMe and Sharp to ship a cheaper 4K LCD so Apple can do the hard work of telling the Foxconn factories what to build as the Macbook Pro sometime next year.

    Apple’s just too damn conservative or something. Timid? I’d love to see Google come in and eat their lunch with Chromebooks on the OS X side and Android on the iOS side.

    Apple needs to stop trying to see how many hundreds of billions it can put in the bank and start really making its tech an affordable and value-fair proposition for people.

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