iPhone: Not a Big Deal In Japan …

by Sachin Balagopalan on February 27, 2009 · Comments

While the rest of the world may be oohing and aahing over the iPhone, in Japan the country’s largest cell phone carrier SoftBank is trying to boost sales by giving away a 8G iPhone 3G free if customers sign a two year contract. So why the cold shoulder towards the Jesus Phone? Apparently Japanese cell phone consumers are feature happy and like their devices to be complex and full of features unlike their cohorts from other nations who prefer usability and ease of use.

Wired: Japan has been historically hostile toward western brands — including Nokia and Motorola, whose attempts to grab Japanese customers were futile.

Besides cultural opposition, Japanese citizens possess high, complex standards when it comes to cellphones. The country is famous for being ahead of its time when it comes to technology, and the iPhone just doesn’t cut it. For example, Japanese handset users are extremely into video and photos — and the iPhone has neither a video camera nor multimedia text messaging. And a highlight feature many in Japan enjoy on their handset is a TV tuner, according to Kuittinen.

What else bugs the Japanese about the iPhone? The pricing plans, Kuittinen said. Japan’s carrier environment is very competitive, which equates to relatively low monthly rates for handsets. The iPhone’s monthly plan starts at about $60, which is too high compared to competitors, Kuittinen added.

And then there’s the matter of compartmentalization. A large portion of Japanese citizens live with only a cellphone as their computing device — not a personal computer, said Hideshi Hamaguchi, a concept creator and chief operating officer of LUNARR. And the problem with the iPhone is it depends on a computer for syncing media and running software updates via iTunes.

The lack of a video recorder is definitely something a few non-Japanese iPhone customers are peeved about also. Having said that the big question is how long can the iPhone sustain it’s popularity in non-Japanese markets without a major hardware refresh? It was not too long ago the Motorola Razr was the coolest and most expensive phone on the market and now Verizon is practically giving it away for free.

IMO it’s the development platform and the AppStore that will determine the longevity of the device in the marketplace. As long as developers keep churning out those apps there will always be a demand for the iPhone. With the recent surge in the number of AppStore apps I think Apple has proven their development platform is robust and capable of sustaining the device. If there is a thorn in the side for Apple it has to be Android of course. With Motorola and other manufacturers commiting to Android based devices it’ll be interesting to see if some of the momemetum will shift away from the iPhone.

The Japanese may be saying sayonara to the iPhone but I think the rest of the world will continue to embrace it a little while longer.

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