updated 02:35 pm EDT, Mon July 20, 2009
Japan Looks to iPhone
The Japanese are turning to Apple's iPhone as a source of ideas for how to rescue their ailing cellphone business, the head of a local think tank said today. Professor Takeshi Natsuno of Keio University told the New York Times that companies like Hitachi, NEC and Sharp have generally been unable to sell phones outside of Japan due to difficult, often highly customized interfaces and that the iPhone is a key example of how to solve the problem. Its emphasis on ease of use over hardware is believed to have made it more palatable worldwide and encouraged third-party app development that isn't usually present in Japan.
"This [iPhone] is the kind of phone I wanted to make," Natsuno admitted. He was previously best known for developing NTT DoCoMo's i-mode Internet service.
Many Japanese phones are often tailored to the specific needs of the country's market and, as a result, would usually lose much of their functionality if exported out of the country. Many often include FeliCa, a near-field wireless system that lets users pay for subway access or store items by swiping the phone, and TV tuners that support the Japan-only 1Seg digital broadcast standard. Japan was one of the first countries to adopt 3G data for Internet access but has usually been dependent on proprietary services like i-mode.
The iPhone as a result has had some trouble breaching the local market as it lacks many of the regional features, even though it now often matches or exceeds them in 3G, GPS and media playback. SoftBank, the official Japanese iPhone carrier, currently has to sell an external 1Seg tuner for iPhone owners.
The localized approach led to an explosion of cellphone use in Japan but has also resulted in a stagnant market for the past two years; phone shipments had dropped 19 percent in 2008 even with a healthy economy for most of the year and is predicted to encounter a similar problem this year. Outside phones from HTC and BlackBerry creator RIM are sold in the country but often have limited impact. iPhones have led smartphone sales in the country in recent days but, as they're sold only through SoftBank, have had limited reach compared to larger rivals like NTT DoCoMo or KDDI.