Apple's succeeding in a market where others have had their plans upset: The iPhone has sewn up 46.1% of Japan's smartphone market. Elsewhere, sales are growing fastest everywhere outside the U.S. The iPhone has truly gone global.
When Apple first took the iPhone to Japan, many commentators thought the device was going to simply fail to excite the Japanese consumer for two reasons. Firstly the typical Japanese phone is very far from dumb, being laden with almost every kind of gizmo you could imagine—even digital TV reception—and is interwoven with many aspects of youth culture. The iPhone looks overly simple in comparison. Secondly there's the fact that, as Wired put it, the iPhone is simply "not Japanese." That cultural inertia, combined with what seemed to be an extremely high unit price was just too much of a barrier, so the naysayers thought.
And these doomy suspicions were supported by other examples too: The Japanese tech market is a very hard nut to crack. The two most notable failures in recent years have been the Xbox and Google. Microsoft's Xbox 360 console was called a failure in Japan as far back as 2005—it was big, ugly, and the role-playing games that MS saw as leading titles for it really didn't appeal to Japanese games players. Google, meanwhile, has dominated Net searching everywhere else in the World, but in Japan it plays second fiddle to Yahoo—for a host of reasons that include the spartan nature of the site's design compared to typical Japanese pages. If even Google can't win in Japan, the iPhone simply had to fail.
But as the latest data from Impress shows, that's simply not the case. The iPhone has grabbed nearly 50% of the smartphone market in Japan. A single device (okay, really the 3G and 3G S, but you know what I mean), competing against the slew of uber-trendy and feature-loaded devices from a list of Japanese manufacturers.
Why the turn around? Impress notes the ease of use of the device and applications as the main reasons, with over 77% of 3G S users accessing data over wireless for over a half hour a day. And the ease of use factor is really key—though Japanese feature phones really do seem to have everything, as Japanese-tech writer Lisa Katayama points out they actually have too many gizmos, thanks to feature creep, and are difficult to use.
But it's not just a rosy story for the iPhone in Japan. AdMob's most recent figures most definitely place Japan at the top of the iPhone sales growth chart (shown at the top of this post), with over 300% growth between January and November in 2009. But France has seen a close to 300% spurt too, as has Australia. China's following behind with just over 200%. The States comes bottom of this list, with just over 100% growth. And these data have one extremely significant upshot: The iPhone is no longer a U.S. phone. 50% of them are owned overseas, and that's only going to rise. And as a result I can re-issue my call to U.S. iPhone users: Shut up whining about AT&T please? The rest of us out here are tired of it.