iPhone in Japan: Past, Present and Future

Plenty of news today considering the recent announcement from Apple, the iPhone 3GS will hit here June 26th, so we thought it would be worthwhile to review where things stand to-date for Steves Amazing Device in Japan. Since both Apple and SoftBank Mobile have always refused to disclose unit sales, even targets for that matter, it has naturally been an ongoing obsession for many – how is the iPhone doing in Japan? There are several angles to approach this on so for starters lets just say that, while there seems to be recent awakening and therefore increased adoption, expectation often leads to disappointment.

As the 1st year anniversary since launch here last July is fast approaching we have assembled our most candid and personal observations, for WWJ Subscribers, after the jump.

Disney to Launch the iPhone in Japan

Disney to Launch the iPhone in JapanOnly those who have been totally blocked-out from all media sources over the last year would wonder what an iPhone is as the so-called “Jesus Phone” has been in the mainstream headlines since even before it was officially unveiled in January. However, for a combination of reasons, there has only been mild speculation about when – or indeed how – it would become available in the Japanese market. Citing the initial lack of 3G capability, not too mention an ‘unusual’ operator revenue share arrangement, the story so far has centered around deployments in the US and Europe. Full skinny after the jump!

DoCoMo Strikes Back with 905i-Series

DoCoMo Strikes Back with 905i-SeriesDomestic market incumbant NTT DoCoMo came out with all guns blazing during their press conference at the Grand Park Hyatt in Tokyo on November 1st. For the first time ever they combined the launch for both of their upcoming 700 and 900 series models – a record 23 handsets unveiled at once – and the announcement included several new service offerings as well. Marking another notable difference from previous line-up introductions was the absence of Natsuno-san, famed ‘father of i-mode’ and always energetic MC, from the stage.

The companies flag-ship 905i-series included 10 models which will all come fully loaded with high-speed HSDPA, 1Seg digitial-tv, DCMX m-commerce, GPS, 2in1 dual-sim identity and enabled with GSM chipsets to allow global roaming complete with voice-to-text translation capabilities for English, Chinese and Japanese. Further enhancements in handset design include increased multi-media applications in motion sensor gaming, flat-rate music subscriptions and i-motion videos along with updated i-area mapping and cell broadcast emergency announcement services and Flash Lite 3 pre-installed all coming as standard features across the board.

Impressions from the MoMo Global Summit

Impressions from the MoMo Global SummitThe 3rd annual MobileMonday Global Summit was held in Helsinki, Finland, on 10 September with an estimated 1,500 attendees; this year included a bonus side-trip to St. Petersburg, Russia, the following evening. WWJ was there once again, as founders of the MoMo Tokyo chapter, along with representatives from over 20 MoMo cities around the world. In addition to our Trip Report, WWJ’s ed-in-chief Daniel Scuka offers these thoughts about the experience.

Viewpoint: What Leads Mobile in Japan?

Holographic projection demo at DoCoMo R&D Labs, November 2006 ©MobikyoThe genesis of today’s Viewpoint was back in March, when we spotted this op-ed referring to Japan mobile that had stated: “What’s different about the Japanese mobile market is that innovation is moving toward business models and marketing tactics instead of technical features and functions.” That op-ed piece in turn cited a new research report on eMarketer, “Japan: Marketing to a Mobile Society,” which insisted: “What stands out in the current Japanese experience is the fact that the center of gravity for getting through to Japanese mobile users has shifted in favor of business models and marketing tactics as opposed to new technical features and mobile phone functions.”

We took exception to both these as serious mis-analyses of the cornerstone role that technological innovation and network infrastructure competition have played – and continue to play – in powering Japan’s mobile success story. After contact with the eMarketer editors, we agreed to write separate opinion pieces, which we would both republish side-by-side in our newsletters, as an excellent way to hash out the topic and let you – our collective readers – decide.

Sadly, the marketing guys at eMarketer quashed the idea, as the subject and the detailed discussion would be “too technical a topic for our [eMarketer’s] newsletter.” But we know that WWJ readers are more than smart enough to figure out for themselves what’s really driving the mobile Internet in Japan! So we wished the eMarketer editors best of luck in the future, again gave thanks that WWJ doesn’t have any meddling marketing guys, and herewith present to you our Viewpoint.
(Subscribers login to access the full article by WWJ editor Daniel Scuka)

Image: Holographic projection demo at NTT DoCoMo R&D Labs, November 2006 ©Mobikyo

Failure to execute doesn't mean i-mode is dead (yet)

After last week’s O2 and Telstra i-mode cancellation news came out, it took hardly any time at all for the obfuscation and mis-analyses to hit the Web.

Failure to execute doesn't mean that i-mode is dead (yet)

The news, in case you missed it, confirmed that Australia’s Telstra would, and the UK’s O2 most likely would, end their i-mode services; Telstra will terminate i-mode support at the end of this year, while O2 will stop selling new handsets this month and phase the service out over the next two years.

O2 UK was reported to have 260,000 active users, a dozen i-mode-compatible handsets and some 150 sites; O2 Ireland has not stated their subscriber numbers, but the Times said total O2 subscribers were 546,000, implying that Ireland had 286,000 i-moders. Telstra reportedly has fewer than 60,000 subscribers. WWJ members login for the full skinny.

Symbian Says BooHooForYou

Symbian Says BooHooForYouSymbian announced their 20 millionth handset sales milestone in Japan with a rather surprising Jekyl-and-Hyde campaign. First off, they ran a Fortune-500-style blitz – dubbed J20 – complete with CEO webcast and predictable press release – so far, so OK. If that was all they did, we’d certainly join in the chorus to congratulate them on a job well done. When any non-domestic entrant achieves 20 million sales of anything, much less ultra-cool Symbian smartphone installations, WWJ offers our heartfelt congratulations and more power to them.

However, at the same time global HQ launched an akward attempt at what seems to be a viral ad. campaign – called BooHooForYou – with a dedicated website and anime themed video posted on YouTube. Since BHFY provides full English text and subtitles in the animation, the obvious target audience for this little stunt are folks outside Japan. The Japanese audio and English subtitles combined give viewers the distinct impression the site was made in Japan to poke fun at (lagging) European and American mobile markets.

Anyone who understands how Japan’s business and wider civil culture operates will tell you that remaining humble – especially when you otherwise have strong reason to brag loudly in public – is not only expected and practiced, but to do the opposite is highly insulting. Thus Symbian’s BHFY comes across as at least culturally inappropriate and at worst directly insulting.

WWJ editors have lived in Japan for several (many?) years, and we’ve watched closely to see how mobile industry players here build, market and protect their reputations and brand images; we can confirm that video comes across as far too condescending, childish and downright tragic in the way it portrays the Japanese as openly gloating “boo hoo for you.” (Subscribers login for the full rant.)

DoCoMo 2.0 — Message Lost in Translation?

DoCoMo 2.0 -- Message Lost in Translation? by Mobikyo KKOn Monday 23 April NTT DoCoMo unveiled their latest 3G handsets, the 904i-series, at a press conference held here in downtown Tokyo.

WWJ pointed to this webcast of their presentation, which clearly stated from the very beginning the new “DoCoMo 2.0” campaign theme.

We shouldn’t really be surprised that the main message, from Japan’s dominant mobile operator, contained in the announcement somehow managed to get 2.0 attention from the mainstream media. With few exceptions, the entire tech web focused on the motion-sensor for gaming application. Few if any noted how ironic it was that while the company insisted it was going to “focus on offering unique applications and services that will be difficult for the competition to duplicate” they were in fact introducing a functionality which was originally made available in Japan [video here] by Vodafone and Sharp over two years ago.

Perhaps the gritty details — such as the fact that all five new models will (of course) ship pre-installed with the Osaifu-Keitai FeliCa mobile wallet together with related security services — are less appealing to the overseas media than Nokia’s recent announcement that they, too, have the mobile wallet urge?

To be sure, there were a few interesting new offerings in Natsuno-san’s presentation, such as the 2-in-1 dual-identity option and flat-rate access to Napster’s full music library service. However, one of the main observations we take away from this news is that the rest of the world still tends to focus only on the most quirky headlines (wait until the MSM find out about this one). WWJ subscribers login for our thoughts on this latest development.

Wireless Watch – Spring Fresh Site Design

Wireless Watch - Spring Fresh Site Design by Mobikyo KKA pleasant April Fool’s surprise for all WWJ regulars here today as we’ve finally moved our tired old website – circa 2003 – into the digital trash can. We have made a few changes, beyond the somewhat tricky migration from Nuke to Wordpress, with this new offering. The ‘tag cloud’ for keywords, ‘share this’ option (with easy article bookmarking) and ‘send to friends’ function, ‘related entries’ (below all posts), a mobile feed version and an improved archive structure should help you navigate the large amount of content WWJ now makes available. As the saying goes, you don’t realize how much stuff you have.. until you have to move it!

One of the more notable changes is that we have opened the extended section of most ‘quick posts’ to free view; we are also happy to bring a couple of great outside contributors into the fold and will be making a seperate introduction for them soon. Full site access to our original Viewpoint articles and Video Programs will continue to be available only to paid subscribers.

Finally, on behalf of our parent, Mobikyo, we are pleased to join with a new local partner, Infinita Inc., to begin offering Japan Mobile Research Reports. Considering our combined experience and network of contacts, this development is a natural evolution for the content and services already on offer. We expect to make a more formal announcement, including additional partnerships, in short order. Meanwhile, we hope you enjoy the new WWJ site style and look forward to your feedback.

Japan: The Future of Mobile Markets

Japan: The Future of Mobile Markets by Mobikyo KKAccording to an article on eMarketer, “What stands out in the Japanese mobile market is the fact that innovation is shifting toward business models and marketing tactics as opposed to technical features and functions … the explosion of non-official mobile content Web sites is causing the sun to set on the i-mode business model of a dominant mobile carrier selling incremental content and services to its user base,” says John du Pre Gauntt, eMarketer senior analyst.

There are several ‘gee-whiz’ statements in this summary, starting with “Marketers are looking to the Japanese mobile market as a model of the converged media future,” which are clearly designed to help sell their research report. However, we really must challenge outright some of the assurances offered. For example, the eMarketer quote above which states that “Innovation is shifting toward business models and marketing tactics as opposed to technical features and functions” is off-base on both counts.

The continued innovations from DoCoMo and the other carriers in network speed, handset design and content & service offerings speak volumes about the Japanese mobile market and the continued utterly fundamental role of the carrier in driving innovation. Granted, the increase in non-official content sites was obvious and predictable, given how easy the continuing carrier-led innovations make getting onto the mobile web for both providers and surfers. And the carriers have known this from Day 1 of i-mode.