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Apple and the iPhone Top Japan’s Mobile Industry for the First Time

by Ron Duwell | February 13, 2013February 13, 2013 7:00 pm PDT

imeshi iphone cover japan

Apple and the iPhone are finally sitting atop the Japanese cell phone market after a slow and arduous climb. Smartphones from all companies have had trouble finding a foothold in Japan thanks to Web-enabled phones already being so well ingrained into the culture, but 2012 proved to be a popular year for the island nation to finally start joining the fun with everyone else.

In a report provided by Counterpoint Research, Apple walked away from 2012 with 15 percent of the cellphone market share under its belt, narrowly beating out Japan’s native companies Sharp and Fujitsu, both of whom control 14 percent of the pie. Both were armed with smartphones and Japan’s uniquely styled feature phones.

The iPhone started slow in Japan when it was exclusively picked up by SoftBank, which was the smallest of Japan’s three dominating cellphone carriers. However, KDDI picked up the phone later in the summer, and the two heavily promoted the phone to compete with Japan’s largest carrier, NTT DoCoMo.

NTT has yet to acquire the iPhone, but it’s had better luck landing exclusive high quality Android phones to fight back, and the ensuing smartphone battle led to the first time ever that foreign model phones took a total of 50 percent of the Japanese market. Samsung, LG and HTC might not have been able to put up the individual numbers to take down competing Japanese firms, but all combined for the final 35 percent to give foreign models a push over the top.

Counterpoint Research believes that Japan can no longer sustain its level of separation from the rest of the interconnected cellphone world.

Japan was once considered to be like a Galapagos Island, an isolated terrain, in terms of mobile technology. It had its own unique digital cellular technology. It was far more advanced than any market in the world and it seemed nearly impossible for any foreign technology company to penetrate the market. Motorola had failed and Nokia had failed. The wave of smartphones has changed the situation now and it looks like the Japanese market is a market that can be transformed after all for better or worse.

Despite the interesting development in foreign phones finally succeeding in the absurd Japanese tech market, the Blackberry 10 will still not be released in the country. Making it huge in Japan still remains a big gamble and it’s a task many companies have tired and failed at in the past. We’ll see if this trend lasts or if it’s just a matter of time before Sharp and Fujitsu can put together something to keep Japan’s admiration for its own products intact.


Ron Duwell

Ron has been living it up in Japan for the last decade, and he has no intention of leaving this technical wonderland any time soon. When he's not...

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