How Apple’s iPhone conquered Japan

“The Japanese were using their cellphones to watch TV, navigate with GPS, download music, make movies, pay bills, and check their emails years before American consumers were doing the same. Japan also had touch screen phones 8 years earlier than iPhone — the Pioneer J-PE01,” Michael Fitzpatrick reports for Fortune. “And yet it is no surprise that Apple’s iPhone was the best-selling phone in Japan last year. After over a decade of trouncing any foreign handset looks and talent wise, Japan’s legendary ‘ketai’ are been given the heave-ho in favor of foreign models.”

“According to IDC Japan, the iPhone was number one best seller for 2012 in both handsets and smartphones. Quite a feat for a phone that the country’s ketai-watchers and industry leaders said would fall at the start,” Fitzpatrick reports. “Apple now has 15% market share putting it ahead of Japan’s Sharp and Fujitsu who both enjoy 14% of the market according to IDC. Japan’s top mobile provider, NTT Docomo, which does not carry the iPhone, hit back by promoting mostly foreign-made smartphones like Samsung’s Galaxy.”

“What happened? Japanese mobile phone guru Nobuyuki Hayashi believes there are three main reasons Japan has fallen out of love with its own handset makers,” Fitzpatrick reports. “First, he says, you have to understand what a colossal and unexpected hit the iPhone was with Japanese women.”

Read more in the full article here.


  1. From the article:

    “As Steve Jobs once said, Japanese manufacturers biggest mistake is they didn’t realize how important software technology has become. Most of the executives at Japanese consumer electronics manufacturers were hardware engineers and they don’t get the importance of software or how software business works.”


  2. “First, he says, you have to understand what a colossal and unexpected hit the iPhone was with Japanese women.”

    Who all wore flowered dresses and paused their work to look at half-dressed worker guys. This explains Samesung’s misstep in the G4 launch: They were copying the wrong demographic!

  3. Keitai denwa would be an older term used. “Keitai” by itself just means portable. A “keitai denwa” would have originally stood for any standard cellphone. Japanese call smartphones “sumaatofonsu”

    Although I’ve seen Korean smartphones used in Japan, I wonder if there’s any lingering ill feelings from the Korean War about Japanese not preferring Korean-made products.

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