Home > Focus on Japan 2011, iPhone > Will the iPhone Succeed in Japan?

Will the iPhone Succeed in Japan?

October 26th, 2011

When the iPhone 4S was released, the iPhone was divided into eight different listings in Japan’s smartphone sales figures; no other phones were so divided. Despite this, the iPhone 4S dominated the top six spots, with the old iPhone 4 taking two of the following five spots for a total of 8 of the top 11 best-sellers.

How’s it doing in the second week? It now holds the top seven spots, and eight of the top ten.

In other words, every single variation (in capacity and carrier) of the 4S outsells the total number sold for any other smartphone–but even if you subtract all of those, the year-old iPhone 4 still tops the charts. Even just one of the the capacity versions (the 32GB) all by itself outsells the latest of any other brand.

Remember when the iPhone was supposed to fail spectacularly in Japan? From Businessweek, December 2007:

[C]onsumers here won’t be as starstruck by the iPhone’s high-tech gadgetry as users elsewhere. Japan’s 10 handset makers, which dominate the domestic market, already offer dozens of models typically costing several hundred dollars that send e-mail, browse the Internet, shoot photos and videos, and even pick up live TV broadcasts. Most come with a built-in global positioning system, and some even double as credit cards and commuter passes or safeguard personal data using fingerprint or face-recognition technology. … In its current form, the iPhone’s 3.5-inch touchscreen and its access to online applications such as YouTube and Google (GOOG) Maps are about all that set it apart from other handsets in Japan.

Ha. A few months later, when the iPhone was still seen as an unsure thing in Japan, I wrote about how these “features” in Japanese cell phones were virtually useless:

I tried using some of those feature-rich ones a few times when I passed a cell phone shop and had some time to look. It was painfully hard. I had a tough time understanding what the heck to do even when I got the salesperson to switch the phone to English (it took them a minute or two to figure even that out themselves). After ten minutes with a nice-looking phone, I decided that I did not want to use the damned thing, as attractive as all its touted features were. Not to mention that some of the “great” features are in fact dogs.

I pointed out that while the iPhone had no TV reception, digital wallet, or even the all-important hook to let little plastic toys dangle from a strap, the magic of the iPhone was in its ease of use–that, seeing as Japanese phones were impossible to figure out how to use, any one feature on the iPhone was worth ten on any other keitai. Not to mention that with the App Store, the iPhone had far greater potential to multiply its utility. I had a hard time understanding why so few people could see this, but it has always been true–many people pay attention to little else but the list of tech specs, and completely ignore the user experience. That’s why tablet computers failed before the iPad came along. That’s what Jobs was great at–making things a joy to use, instead of simply having a something with tech specs you could brag about but not really put to much use.

And yet, years later, many people still don’t get it–ergo the number of people believing that removable media, USB ports, or faster CPUs are all that a tablet needs to dethrone the iPad. Sadly, competitors seem to be unable to think independently–or, to think different–as is evidenced by the fact that virtually all iPhone and iPad competitors look virtually identical to the Apple products they seek to outclass.

They won’t be successful until they do what Jobs did: come up with something new and better.

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  1. October 26th, 2011 at 17:43 | #1

    Better in the eyes of a user you mean, not comparer :)

  2. Luis
    October 26th, 2011 at 23:30 | #2

    Leszek: Absolutely. That’s what it was about–knowing what the user would want before the user knew it.

    Lots of companies did, and still do, use focus groups. The problem is, focus groups don’t innovate. They don’t ask for something they never heard of before. They will only ask for things they see in other products and for more of things that already exist. They’ll ask for more RAM, a faster CPU, more ports, more everything. They’ll ask for the best of one product combined with what they like in another one. But that’s not creating something new, it’s just rehashing the old–and explains very well why iPhone and iPad competitors look like Apple products, but with the specs amplified.

    Jobs was meticulous about making things easy to use, getting the weight and the look and the feel just right. He generated new ideas people hadn’t considered before, he wanted the user to feel the right weight and feel natural using the device. He regularly rejected features that many users wanted because he didn’t feel they would work, or be necessary, or maybe that they would cause security issues. Sometimes it was for profit motives, but more often, I think, it was to create an overall experience that made the product much better to use.

    Now, how on can explain Apple’s mice over the years is a mystery. Either it was a blind spot on Jobs’ part, or he farmed it out all the time.

  3. Tim Kane
    October 28th, 2011 at 03:11 | #3


    One such thing is mega pixels for a camera. I have a good friend who is an uber camera buff. He’s a software engineer with a master’s in mechanical engineering from Stanford. But camara’s are his biggest fascination. He buys broken point and shoot camera’s on the internet for $20 and fixes them and gives the away to friends. Meanwhile he has tens of thousands of dollars invested in his own equipment, including an 800mm lens that can be used to photograph Jupiter and its moons.

    Basically, he says that 90% of most people, 90% of the time do not need more than 3.3 megapixels (that’s the amount you need for a photo to still be clear if printed on an 8 1/2 x 11 inch piece of paper). In cheap cameras excessive megapixels are even a draw back because they cram the mixels onto a small sensor. It’s more important to put resources towards other areas, such as managing light settings. I know nothing about these sorts of things, so I hope I didn’t mis-represent his position as I’m drawing it from memory, but I do know my ipod-touch-4 has got a really crappy camera on every level, including megapixel, but this is one area where Steve Jobs type of perspective would really help the consumer.

    The average consumer thinks the more megapixels the better, when, after 3.3 megapixels he’d be better off paying for higher iso than higher megapexels – and maybe you wouldn’t need a flash as much.

    But you’ll note, that most camera manufactures, and that now includes smart phones, are just cramming more and more megapixels. Personally, I think Smart Phone mananufactures should stop at 5 megapixels, and enhance iso and other settings. If they want to do a neat trick they could put zoom lenses inside the smart phone – but that will make the phone thicker.

    Again the goal is total digital convergence. In my mind, that means someday having a smart phone that can do x3 zoom.

  4. Luis
    October 28th, 2011 at 08:39 | #4

    While not a perfect solution, more megapixels could allow for digital zooming, or at least stand in for it–just crop the image.

  5. November 8th, 2011 at 19:56 | #5

    Why did you deleted the Romney Medicare post? I’ve read it through RSS.

    I went through the link and something struck me – he elaborates about the necessity of spending cuts, recalls his shoestringing in a company he started, then all of a sudden he says no cuts for military, cut everything else and put more in military.

    Sorry, doesn’t it sound strange to you? It as sure as heck sounds strange to me…


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