Has the iPhone 4S finally gained traction in Japan?

Has the iPhone 4S finally gained traction in Japan?

Summary: With the iPhone 4S making record sales in Japan last month, Apple has finally reached the levels of popularity it enjoys in the West. How has the sudden shift affected networks?


For a country so focused on state of the art technology and new innovations, it almost seems strange that it took the iPhone so long to break the Japanese market. In the Western world, Apple has become the dominant force in modern communication, with imitators trailing after Apple with hopes of striking the iron whilst it's hot.

(Source: Flickr, CC)

The iPhone had a very lukewarm reception when it was initially brought over to Japan, and failed to gather much popularity. Unlike it's contemporaries it didn't have the multimedia focus, video camera or tv-tuner they were accustomed to with their own brands.

The iPhone 4S has changed that trend completely, with record amounts of sales propelling the smartphone to the height of fashion and popularity. Even though there were a few hitches with the launch, the iPhone 4S has been a huge success for the two major networks that support it -- Softbank, and KDDI -- making them serious competitors for market leader NTT Docomo.

It helps that the iPhone 4S is more in keeping with what Japanese consumers expect from their mobiles, and the wealth of apps available adds to the appeal. However, that might not be the only reason that the iPhone 4S has had more success than its predecessors.

Some have suggested the recent passing of Apple's co-founder Steve Jobs might be the cause, as the profound emotional relationship with his death might have boosted sales.

It is hard to deny the connection; walking around Akihabara district's "Electric City", there is a great deal of iPhone merchandise to immortalising Jobs. One example shows a wood-effect iPhone cover with a memorial to the Apple founder, with his famous inspirational saying etched on the back: "Stay hungry. Stay foolish".

The foreign market is already dominated by the iPhone -- providing ex-pats with some essential tools for survival in Japan. A few years ago, the iPhone was exclusive to Softbank's cellular network, and as the only smartphone with English predictive text functionality, it forged a small but loyal customer base for the network.

Considering Samsung's prior attempts to block sales of the iPhone in Japan, and NTT Docomo announcing large scale LTE roll-outs with the intentions of obtaining the iPhone, it becomes increasingly clear that the highly coveted smartphone has become a key playing piece in the battle for mobile dominance.

Is it strange that this big Western brand is becoming so influential in the Japanese market, or is it stranger that Japan has resisted the iPhone's popularity for so long?


Topics: Mobility, iPhone, Networking

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  • The addition of more popular cell network was obviously the reason

    ... and yet you fail to even mention this core fact, just stating that there are two networks that support the device -- as if it was so from very beginning.

    This misleads people to believe that there were some other reasons why iPhone in Japan was not huge from the start -- while the reason was that it for years could only be used in the marginally popular cell network provider Softbank. The addition of KDDI is striking change to that policy.

    Jobs' death hardly has much to do with anything.
    • read the article properly before mouthing off.

      Ok 2 things:
      Firstly - the article mentions that it was originally exclusive to softbank not both networks. It even states that this exclusivity no longer exits since, shock horror, KDDI now owning the rights to iphone 4S also.

      Secondly - the article title clearly reads HAS not HOW, so considering it's not a blow by blow account of iPhone sales history in Japan, it's not really relevant to talk about how having more operators means more sales. Of course having more than one provider will up sales - that goes without saying!
      • The article is poorly structured

        @silicon_salami: I stand corrected about Softbank issue, I somehow omitted the corresponding paragraph; sorry to Hana about that. But the article is poorly structured discussing the same thing twice, and the wrongly in the first time of two.<br><br>As to your second point, I do not see how it is relevant to my notion that the addition of bigger cell network was the key to bigger sales that are discussed with the article. So if this should "go without saying", then this article has no point at all. There is nothing else to seriously discuss other than addition of bigger carrier.
      • ddress - Going back to your first comment.

        @ddress: Goin back to your first post, I think your point is valid please don't misunderstand me, but I believe it's being applied to the wrong context. From my readings, it's an article about the implications of the iPhone gaining success in the Japanese market and not a blow by blow account of sales.

        Granted not all writing is perfect, but I can't see what you mean by it "discussing the same thing twice, and the wrongly in the first time of two."

        I think it's important to remember that the only iPhone generation to effectively penetrate this market is the iPhone 4S; the very fact that the iPhone 4S is making such large strides now, I think, is indicative of previous lack lustre of past generations. Why? Simple. Because it is only now that the iPhone has become significant enough of a tool and phone to match the current mobile competition in Japan.

        Also it's important to note that when the iphone was first held by vodafone in england, it was a much sought after device that stormed the mobile market. As such Vodafone had a significant monopoly on that market, with floods of customers wanting the first generation iPhones. In contrast Softbank had ownership of iPhone during it's first generations and as I mentioned before, the phone wasn't up to peer standards. So sales weren't great. Fast forward to recently, KDDI have realised that the iPhone 4S has potential to compete in the market now. So I would say that it's more the other way round, wouldn't you?

        Basically instead of the situation that existed in England where Vodafone had the monopoly because it garnered sales. KDDI now have ownership because there are sales to be garnered.

        TL/DR - The customers should be going to the provider for the phone and not other way around.
  • Haha Apple are only just breaking through.

    I was quite surprised by this article, I often take for granted that for the most part technology is pretty much universally accepted and used - especially when related to phones. Now I know that may be a bit naieve but when you know that most of the developed world, and more recently developing countries, have access to tablets, laptops, mobiles and gaming it becomes easy to forget that consumption of any product is relavent to the demand of the public in that area.

    For instance - the French tend to buy predominately French brand goods like Peugoet, Citron and other car brands that are Frenchl. Similar fact with the Italians and Spainsh. So in lieu of this I guess it shouldn't be too surprising to discover Japan is made for Japan brands like Sony, Toshiba, Samsung etc.

    Anyway nice article! Look forward to future posts.
    • RE: Has the iPhone 4S finally gained traction in Japan?


      Samsung is very much a Korean brand, not a favourite in Japan as it is beating the Japanese brands at every turn.
      • RE: Has the iPhone 4S finally gained traction in Japan?

        @jorjitop: sorry ^__^ silly blunder. Thanks pointing it out - save me from making the mistake again.
  • RE: Has the iPhone 4S finally gained traction in Japan?

    Not sure about iPhone 4S doing now but last month when I was in Tokyo, I've seen more Galaxy phones and LG flip phones than iPhones on Yamanote line, which usually comes free with the network. <br>I'd say it's about 25%-30% are iphones? <br>Sounds about right to Softbank network and, honestly, Softbank is a horrible network.
  • RE: Has the iPhone 4S finally gained traction in Japan?

    A quick Internet search would have shown you that the iPhone was huge in early 2010, taking up 72% of phone sales. So your point that the iPhone has finally caught on is at least a year and a half behind the curve. There were a slew of stories about this, like this one:
    • RE: Has the iPhone 4S finally gained traction in Japan?

      @lingualect Lingualect is correct. While it is true that the original phone, the iPhone 3, had difficulties making inroads here in Japan, the iPhone has been one of the most popular individual units for sale for the last two years. It is probably true that the iPhone 4S will help Apple battle against the increasing popularity of Android phones, but it is disingenuous and inaccurate to say that only with the latest model has Apple gained popularity among cell phone buyers here. The author should have done more research before publishing.
  • RE: Has the iPhone 4S finally gained traction in Japan?

    It's quite simple, SIRI ranks high on the geek meter. That's why I have to get an iPhone this go around. I'm not a big Apple supporter, but Apple has shown to be the leader in the mobile arena with constant breakthrough innovation.