Remember back in 2008 when there was a lot of talk about how the iPhone would flop in Japan? 91 percent of Japanese would not be buying the device, said one survey. By 2009, that talk inevitably turned to how it had already flopped. With some even writing about how the Japanese people “hate” the device. Then something funny happened. That kind of talk abruptly stopped. And for good reason. As it turns out, the iPhone is actually a massive success in the country.
Much like it did in the U.S., the iPhone is transforming the mobile landscape in Japan. Two stories today highlight this. The first, talks about the Japanese iPhone “craze” and details how app developers are rushing to get into the potentially huge market for Japanese iPhone apps. The second story notes how NTT DoCoMo, Japan’s largest mobile carrier, is turning to marketing to make up for the fact that they don’t have the iPhone (it’s sold there by rival Softbank). Marketing involving yes, Darth Vader.
The Vader choice is a very interesting one. You can also see him waving his hand in the commercials and stating matter-of-factly, “there is no iPhone.”
But there is. And despite the early doubts and reports, it has become a massive success in the country. I was in Japan for a few weeks earlier this year, and while I didn’t see a huge number of iPhones at the time, I also didn’t see a huge number of smartphones — most people seemed to have the same flip phone device. Apparently, that’s now changing, quickly.
From The Wall Street Journal’s Japan Realtime blog:
The iPhone accounts for about two-thirds of the domestic smartphone market, making DoCoMo’s efforts even more challenging in image-conscious Japan, where the iPhone is starting to become a must-have personal accessory among many young people.
And while I didn’t see a ton of iPhones, I did see a ton of iPods. And I do mean a ton. I feel like every other person I saw had one. So it makes sense that the iPhone would eventually catch on there. At first, there was talk that it was a matter of getting used to the touchscreen for character input. Again, apparently, that’s happening now.
From the Yahoo story:
Everywhere one turns, on commuter trains and urban cafes, people are tapping away at their iPhone screens in a relatively rare Japanese embrace of technology that isn’t homegrown.
Meanwhile, I can’t recall seeing a single Android device while I was there. Nor did I see any store advertising them (the iPhone, on the other hand, was everywhere). But that’s apparently changing now as well. In fact, Darth Vader’s campaign is actually to promote the Samsung Galaxy S, an Android device. And early sales have apparently been very good.
The next question: can Android use a similar strategy to mimic their U.S. success? Android has risen to power in this country thanks to a plethora of devices on a range of carriers. Many are quick to point to the fact that the single biggest factor of the rise has been that Verizon, the largest carrier in the U.S., put their marketing muscle behind the devices. That’s now what NTT DoCoMo, again, the largest carrier in Japan, is doing. And with The Force, to boot.
How will Apple strike back?
NTT Docomo is Japanâ€™s leading mobile communications company. The number of customers exceeds 50 million in Japan. docomo mainly provides phone, web (i-mode for mobile phones), and mail (i-mode mails, Short Mails, and SMS) services. Docomoâ€™s parent company is NTT, Japanâ€™s biggest telecommunications companies. In a strategic decision to put more emphasis on mobile phone operations, docomo was spun off in 1991 as a wholly self-owned subsidiary. The Japanese government is the top shareholder.