Has the iPhone 4S finally gained traction in Japan?

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?
Written by Hana Stewart-Smith, Contributor

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.

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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?


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