A Reuters report cites yesterday’s Nihon Keizai Shimbun (newspaper) as saying that Apple Computer plans to start a music download service in Japan by March 2005. The Nikkei said Apple aimed to offer more than 100,000 songs with an emphasis on Japanese music at its “iTunes Music Store,” which is expected to be the largest music download service in the country. But it’s unlikely to happen exactly as Apple might wish, and here’s why.
It may just be my gut feeling, but Apple’s success is by no means assured and may be extremely modest in view of the tremendous competition to be provided (starting in a couple of weeks) by full-song download to mobile phone. PDAs are dead in Japan, and the heavy mobile users (teens/tweens) all think of boxy, PDA electronic devices — no matter how packed full of 100-yen songs from iTunes — as 40-year-old guy things!
Note even the Reuters article admits that iPod sales only took off when the mini came out (small is beautiful in Japan).
Meanwhile, starting in December, every Harajuku i-moder & KDDI user will be happily downloading all the music they want via the new Chaku Uta Full music services on flat-rate packet plans. DoCoMo have just discontinued their 2G 50x-series in favour of migrating 100 percent of the i-mode subscriber base to FOMA (3G) — and music is the fundamental drawing point.
Every single Japanese teen has to have a mobile phone; an additional iPod-like device is merely an option. What’s she going to choose: a 3G celly that can download full tracks and an iPod — or just the phone?
Sitting in Sonoma’s restaurant last week in Shibuya, we asked Haruko-san, a 21-year-old Aoyama Gakuin university student, what she would prefer to live without: her TV or her phone? The look of horror on her face indicated serious turmoil deep inside, but the answer was finally decisive: the tube goes out the window. There is no life without a celly in Japan.
If Apple had started 12 months ago, then maybe they’d have a chance. But now that the phones have got real music too, it’s probably too late. But wish them luck!
— Daniel Scuka