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How Steve Jobs Got the iPhone Into Japan 104

hcs_$reboot writes "Masatoshi Son, SoftBank CEO, remembers the early days when he tried to cut a deal with Steve Jobs in order to be the first to offer the not-even-named-iPhone-yet- 'new phone' from Apple, back in 2005. At the time, Son didn't even own a mobile carrier. He then purchased Vodafone, and was indeed the first to sell the iPhone in 2008 (then Au-Kddi in 2011, and DoCoMo in 2013). Today, 75% of smartphones sold in Japan are iPhones."
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How Steve Jobs Got the iPhone Into Japan

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  • BULLSHIT! (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 14, 2014 @05:45AM (#46480901)

    Android phones far outsell iPhones in Japan. See these charts as just one example

    IPhone sales only surpass Android sales for a few weeks after each new model comes out. Then it settles back down into the top 5 to 8 phones sold being Android phones.

      • by Flytrap ( 939609 ) on Friday March 14, 2014 @09:37AM (#46481961)

        I think that the charts are depicting different things... the first is based on online votes (and we all know the kinds of people who flock to those), and the second is actual retail sales.

        Mobile network operators do not care which mobile phone brand you choose (save for the amount of subsidy each brand may require)... as long as you take it with a contract from them. In other words, they have little reason to lie about which smartphone brand their customers are choosing when they sign up for new contracts.

        I am more inclined to believe the CEOs of 3 different publicly listed companies who are fiercely competitive and have to answer to the scrutiny of shareholders and analysts, than some random web site running an unscientific online popularity contest.

    • Re:BULLSHIT! (Score:4, Insightful)

      by invictusvoyd ( 3546069 ) on Friday March 14, 2014 @06:33AM (#46481057)
      Irrespective of what sells and what does not , both the iphone and the android have let down the geeks. Iphone is a decent platform but the proprietary bulls**t of apple is anything by geekiness.. The android on the other hand is pure evil . based on big data money models , google cares a squat about the users. The application layer is inherently insecure and the whole open sauce thing is pseudo.
      IMHO Both are crap phones .
      • Re:BULLSHIT! (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Lumpy ( 12016 ) on Friday March 14, 2014 @10:23AM (#46482407) Homepage

        And anything else will also be the same way. I have been trying to use the Ubuntu phone releases for 2 years now and they have the exact same problems that geeks hate on android and iphone. It also is a walled garden (Yes kids android IS a walled garden, go ahead and install a new hardware driver in your phone)

        Ubuntu phone suffers from a lot of the same problem because it is designed by a company looking for profits. not by a bunch of engineers and programmers that want to make something powerful and extendable.

        we will NEVER get a cellphone that is perfect for "geeks" not in the sense of a tiny pocket device. now if you instead think outside that box and think in the lines of a "deck" like in the game shadowrun or the TV show "almost human" that is your computer in a larger formfactor that you always have with you, then use a small display+audio device to use the cellular modem/board in the "deck". this means having to carry around essentially a 13" laptop everywhere (OH THE HORROR!) but it will allow someone the best of all worlds. their choice of OS, their choice of Software with full open protocols. you pick the cellular board (arduino type cellular board, someone out there has an LTE type that has a full open control, data, and audio channels) and interface it to your hardware.

        and honestly with some of the arduino high power quad core clones out there, it's possible to make it smallish. will it be a tiny paper thin thing? nope, but it will be better than anything your non techie friends will ever own.

        • Yes kids android IS a walled garden, go ahead and install a new hardware driver in your phone

          The standard definition of "walled garden" is that the user can only install approved, signed, applications. That is not the case with Android.

          • Is it still a walled garden if 90%+ of what you encounter in an app store search is the result of search-optimising?

            So much irrelevant garbage in the android store.

            I really have no idea if apple is any worse or better, but I would be more likely to spend if I could actually find useful stuff.

            • by tlhIngan ( 30335 )

              Is it still a walled garden if 90%+ of what you encounter in an app store search is the result of search-optimising?
              So much irrelevant garbage in the android store.

              I really have no idea if apple is any worse or better, but I would be more likely to spend if I could actually find useful stuff.

              Until recently it seems, Google Play had a horrible search (from a search company, no less). Search for something like "angry birds" or other common app by its name and you'd find the actual app somewhere down the list

            • That would make it a messy, cluttered garden- not a walled one.

        • by antdude ( 79039 )

          I don't want a mobile phone, but I do want a smartwatch that doesn't need a mobile phone like the old school Casio Data Bank 150/300. :(

        • we will NEVER get a cellphone that is perfect for "geeks" not in the sense of a tiny pocket device.

          The problem isn't that nobody is willing to make a "perfect" cellphone for geeks. The problem is that when you design something for a limited market, its design cost has to be amortized over fewer sales. Consequently it costs a lot more.

          Unfortunately the same geeks who clamor for these features also demand rock-bottom pricing. They look at your expensive "geek" phone, complain why it's priced so high c

        • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 ) *

          Yes kids android IS a walled garden, go ahead and install a new hardware driver in your phone

          I have in fact done this in the past. Years ago when I had a HTC Hero I installed a modified GPS driver and upgraded the radio modem to one ported from another HTC device.

          • by Lumpy ( 12016 )

            On a stock phone without any hacking, rooting or other tricks needed? HTC hero must have been an awesome phone to come fully open like that.

    • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 ) *

      I was going to say the same thing. If you go to any major electronics retailer they have vast arrays of smartphones from manufacturers like Sharp, Samsung, Sony, LG, Google and carrier own-brand devices. The iPhone is just a small part of the line-up.

      In fact the iPhone has been getting kind of a beating lately due to lack of features and some failed publicity stunts. They gave a reported a new iPhone on launch day (4S?) when Apple Maps was brand new and she noted that even standing outside the Apple Store i

      • by Ark42 ( 522144 )

        How exactly do you pay for things with NFC. Do you have to download and run a specific app tied to your bank account? Or does it get billed to your cell phone bill somehow?

        • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 ) *

          You have an app. What you spend appears on your bill at the end of the month. Everything is recorded and itemized, great for claiming back business expenses.

          • by Ark42 ( 522144 )

            So vending machine purchases appear on your cell phone bill?
            Does the app have to be opened and accessed to make the purchase, or can you just take your phone out with the screen off and touch it to the vending machine?

            • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 ) *

              Everything appears on your bill. How it is shown depends on the phone company and if you want fully itemized billing.

              The app doesn't need to be open. It registers itself as a NFC handler so when the phone receives NFC comms it starts automatically. Having said that the app typically runs as a lightweight background service so that it can process the transaction instantly (so you can move quickly through the gates at the train station for example), but what I mean is you don't have to do anything to use it,

              • by Ark42 ( 522144 )

                That sounds amazing. I wonder if said app will run on my AT&T S3 if I go on an extended stay over there and get an NTT Docomo SIM.

    • by zioncat ( 632849 )

      Android phones far outsell iPhones in Japan. See these charts as just one example [] is a price comparison site and its popularity ranking is based on page views and not sales. It is a testimony to iPhone's popularity in Japan that a product without a need for price comparison still rank that high on price comparison site's list. As for sales number, let's go to the people who actually studies and publish [] those kind of number:

      In Japan, consumers' desire for all things Apple continued into the final quarter of 2013, with iOS taking 68.7% share of smartphone sales.

    • Re:BULLSHIT! (Score:4, Informative)

      by Anubis IV ( 1279820 ) on Friday March 14, 2014 @10:57AM (#46482807)

      Forbes disagrees that the number is "bullshit" [], though I doubt they'd agree with the 75% number being representative of the iPhone's current market share either, since they do agree with what you've said about the sales trends of iPhones. According to numbers from BCN (a group that measures Japanese smartphone market share on a weekly basis), the three-month rolling average for the period ending at the start of December last year was around 60% for the iPhone's market share, with a spike up above 75% for the first week of December. Apple had the first 9 out of the top 10 smartphones during that time, and 11 of the top 14.

      Of course, I'd be remiss if I didn't point out that iPhones historically do well at the holiday season compared to their competitors, and that, as you brought up, the release cycle for the iPhones also happens to correspond with the period being mentioned by Forbes. As such, I thought I'd dig a little, and if you look at the six months prior to that three-month window I just mentioned, iPhones had a 37% share [] of the market. Of course, that was mostly before they launched on DoCoMo, the nation's largest carrier, so it's likely that their average this year may see a boost compared to last.

      Long story short, yes, iPhones enjoyed a 75% market share in the Japanese smartphone market, but it was due to a combination of their release schedule and holiday sales, which makes the numbers legitimate, but misleading. It's likely that they are doing better than the 37% they had last year starting around this time, simply due to the greater availability of the device, but it's certainly not as high as it was during the holidays.

      • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 ) *

        How come you hardly ever see anyone using one then? On the train you see lots of Android phones, mostly Sony and Sharp, and quite a few Samsungs and Nexus 5s. iPhones are somewhat unusual. I use the trains every day.

        The only explanation I can think of it is that it is mostly older people buying them as they are less likely to use their phones in public. Only a little less these days though.

        • Are we speaking of Japan, or your local market?

          If Japan, I have no idea. I don't know any more than I said in my last comment.

          If a local market, I find the opposite to be the case where I live (College Station, Texas, USA; population ~200K). I probably see two or three iPhones for every Android device. I know my perception of the local trends is not representative of the nation as a whole. It might just be that I'm predisposed towards recollecting or recognizing iPhones over other devices and that my estima

  • by Luckyo ( 1726890 ) on Friday March 14, 2014 @06:14AM (#46480989)

    The story was hilarious as it showed the sheer depth of incompetence at apple, and Jobs' utter inability to be flexible until reality hit him in the face several times over.

    When you think about it, the Japanese market is perfect to iphone's "style over substance" approach. That's how it always functioned, and now just with phones but with many consumer goods ranging from electronics to plush toys (which have a huge adult market in Japan!) Problem is, Japanese have some very specific requirements when it comes to their goods that are typically completely unique to Japan and do not exist outside that country. They need to be made suitable for them functionally and culturally, as they have a very different approach to many things from one we have here in the West.

    So initial foray was an unmitigated disaster. People returned early iphones back to stores in droves and the reason was utterly obvious - Jobs' idea for iphone was "same thing everywhere", and Japanese absolutely needed several significant adjustments to their phone, such as integration of certain Japan-centric services and input methods. The crash of iphone in market that everyone thought it would immediately take it by the storm actually got major players like Fujitsu say that Japanese market was so different, Western companies just don't stand the chance.

    Then someone at Apple hit Jobs with clue bat hard, "one approach for all markets" paradigm was buried for Japan and iphones sold in Japan were significantly adjusted to match expectations of Japanese public.

    Rest was history. While numbers are not quite as silly as this article suggests, Japan today has one of the highest iphone sales per capita in the world, because the general idea behind iphone, the "style over substance" approach is simply what Japanese market and mindset is all about. All it needed was understanding that no, your product is not perfect for all people everywhere and that some important adjustments for cultural differences and expectations are necessary.

    In many ways, it makes for a good extreme case study on how products, no matter how good they are, always need to be adjusted for sales in target area.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      I'm not sure how per-market adjustments = "style over substance." That soundbite reduction seems unnecessarily condescending and simplistic.

      • by Luckyo ( 1726890 ) on Friday March 14, 2014 @06:56AM (#46481147)

        To clarify - Japanese take the East-Asian concept of "face (cultural concept, not part of the head) over reality" to the extreme in everything, from their ties with other people to the products they buy to their conflicts with their neighbours.

        As a result, many things sold in Japan personify this particular aspect. Substance is certainly important to an extent, but style is absolutely necessary to get anything sold. Iphone nails the style and image concepts, and these alone will often sell your product in Japan as long as it's not completely awful otherwise. The extreme popularity of plush toys with adults in Japan and the fact that you must own the current, heavily advertised plush toy and not one that's a year old shows this well.

        All of these are essentially the same part of the "image and style is important, substance is optional as long as it meets bare minimum requirements" as those clearly visible in Apple products. There's a reason why macbooks have a backlit apple on the opposite side of the screen, or why apple fights so hard over "curved rectangles" in courts - it wants to be distinct as to reinforce the concept of "apple is more stylish and very distinct from competition".

        I'm not attempting to be condescending and simplistic. I'm merely pointing out that apple's design paradigm of "image and style first" align very well with Japanese culture.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward

          I'm not attempting to be condescending and simplistic. I'm merely pointing out that apple's design paradigm of "image and style first" align very well with Japanese culture.

          I think every single person of Apple's design team would vehemently disagree with the "'Image and style' first" idea. Steve Jobs said "Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works." Part of that is the physical layout as well as the software functionality. Certain things may be too subtle for most people to recognize (like the differences between Helvetica and Arial), but that doesn't mean they weren't thought about.

          Now you may disagree on how well the iPhone works for you, b

          • How dare you try to bring facts to a wonderful fandroid rant?! I'm starting to think all these are paid shills. There can't be that many drooling idiots out there spouting all these nonsense...

        • Sorry, that's rubbish. The Japanese value features in the electronics above all else. Their entire economy is built in consumers replacing perfectly good appliances with new ones just to get some new feature the old one didn't have. Even mundane stuff like rice cookers keep adding new things and you can pay over 100,000 yen for a top of the line model.

          When the iPhone first came out it did have a bit of an edge on features in some areas. The problem is that it was rapidly overtaken. There are a lot of Japan-only phones that it was competing with but which people in the west know nothing about. These days the lack of things like NFC is a big issue. Even stuff like the camera, traditionally an Apple strong point, is looking weak in the face of competition with optical stabilization.

          It is absolutely about substance and tangible features in Japan. Style is important too, but the Japanese actually research stuff before buying and specs matter. Just visit any bookshop and see the shear number of books on which smartphone to buy, and how they evaluate them.

          • the camera, traditionally an Apple strong point

            What?! I have an iPhone 3GS and the camera was WORSE than the camera on my Sony Ericsson K750i which was several years older. Less resolution. No LED flash. Less light sensitivity. You name it. They only got it to be decent when the 4 came out.

        • by Jeeeb ( 1141117 )

          To clarify - Japanese take the East-Asian concept of "face (cultural concept, not part of the head) over reality" to the extreme in everything, from their ties with other people to the products they buy to their conflicts with their neighbours.

          The "East-Asian concept of face" isn't really a Japanese concept. Even the word for it ("mentsu") is a distinctly recent Chinese import.

          Even if it was though, I can't really see how it would serve as an explanation. Social prestige isn't gained through being the same as everyone else.

          A much simpler explanation is that in Japan Android phones tend to be sold as high-end, expensive smart phones, with add on features such as tv-tuners and electronic wallets. Last time I got a phone, I chose an iphone because i

      • by ed1park ( 100777 )

        It sounds that way because it is. Haha...

    • by Anonymous Coward

      As opposed to the android we know it's crap but it's cheap approach?

      I've got both an iphone 7.1 and Android Kit Kat Phone. They are both good in their own way.

      However I've also looked at a whole array of uttery dire Android phones.

      Biggest problem with Android? Which Android. Since Froyo phones are still available, it will give android a bad name.

      Which is a shame, as Android is "almost there" in comparision with iOS and mostly a hell of a lot cheaper.

    • I also remember hearing that the iphone was suffering poor adoption because they had a reputation for needing to be connected to a PC regularly. Many japanese customers didn't like that, a surprising number didn't have any home PC. Low-end japanese phones (sold for a penny) in the early 2000s were capable of most of what people use smartphones for today: they got e-mail, they could surf the web, they could take pictures.

      I went there for a few months, and was really annoyed at having to take a step do
      • by MrMickS ( 568778 )

        As we all know, apple is mainly a marketing wonder

        Speak a lie often enough and its accepted as the truth.

        Apple is not, and never has been, mainly a marketing wonder. They have made good use of marketing but the success they've had is based on quality and usability rather than simply marketing. Check out the user satisfaction surveys of Apple users.

        Yes phones in Japan were more feature rich than phones elsewhere when the iPhone was released but that was largely due to carrier limitations. I had a number of Nokia 'smartphones' whose facilities were crippled

        • Not all apple products are garbage. But Apple products that are garbage (e.g. MacOS prior to X) sell well and a derped all over by fanboys who tell themselves the same things about the garbage as the good stuff.

          • While MacOS9 was positively embarrassing technically, relative to its competition, it still ran Mac software and had the Mac interface. Macs at that time were still generally easier to use than Windows machines. An inferior product you can use to the fullest can be better than a harder-to-use superior product, depending on your needs.

    • This racist bullshit is modded "insightful"? WTF are you talking about "style over substance"? Guess what you racist piece of shit, the iPhone does as much as Android does, and in my opinion, it does it better. I personally find Android to be incredibly buggy and have a really frustrating interface. But guess what, that's just my opinion. I hate you dipshits that think "since I don't like something it must be worthless, because I am the absolute judge of everything. If you have different preferences t
      • The Japanese buy fully half of the worlds overpriced designer bullshit. They are very status and style conscious.

    • What does style over substance mean in this context? The only thing I can think is design over specs?

      That's not a strictly Japanese, or apple thing though. It's what makes an M3 better than a neon srt (obviously other things, this is an extreme example, as they were priced no where similar ).

      The iPhone provided a good browser experience, yes, it wasn't 3g, but the browser was great, and there was WiFi. Everything you wanted to read on a phone, you could see twice as much of on an iPhone, calendars were bett

  • by Anonymous Coward
    "Today, 75% of smartphones sold in Japan are iPhones" is not true and is not claimed by the linked article.

    What the article claims is that according to one research company this happened for one month last year, in October, the first month after launch of iPhone 5c and 5s.

    • Re: Summary is wrong (Score:4, Informative)

      by Pikoro ( 844299 ) <> on Friday March 14, 2014 @06:34AM (#46481067) Homepage Journal

      the iphone is a non player here in japan. a good estimation based on what i see on the train is one in ten. the rest are a split between android and flip phones, which still offer more features than an iphone. things like saifu keitai, one seg, etc.. are considered necissary features here. the iphone just cannot compete.

      • Yep, "most popular smartphone in japan" is a rubbish statistic. Japanese feature phones were so far ahead of those in other parts of the world in features and usage that making a distinction between smartphones and featurephones in the same way one does outside Japan is just nonsense.

        It's almost enough to make you wonder if the introduction of the "smartphone" is not what really changed the phone culture in the West. Really Japan had already transitioned to what we think of as the "new" phone-oriented

  • by Anonymous Coward

    This slashdot beta is ugly as hell.

  • by fullback ( 968784 ) on Friday March 14, 2014 @07:45AM (#46481299)

    That's the iPhone market percentage in Japan, but 8 out of the 10 most popular smartphones sold for the last four months are iPhones. So yes, the iPhone market share is increasing.

    Oh, and the "East-Asian concept of 'face'..." post above is utter nonsense. The real esoteric reason it's popular is because people just "like" it.

    • The reason of this increase is because DoCoMo, the main Japanese carrier, started to sell iPhones from end of last year. Thus, today, iPhones are the smartphones the most sold in Japan.
  • Sony Xperia (Score:1, Informative)

    I live in Japan. I have a Sony Xperia. iPhones are locked-down, corporate, American shit.

  • by tommeke100 ( 755660 ) on Friday March 14, 2014 @12:12PM (#46483701)
    He took one with him.
  • I must say the story itself and comments are pretty hilarious.

    First of all, Masayoshi Son is not even Japanese. He's Korean who was neutralized recently, with a very strong Korean background and ties to his home country.

    And Apple was really stupid to give Softbank an exclusivity for so many years. Softbank remains the smallest of the 3 major carriers in Japan with 26% market share even after years of iPhone exclusivity. With their shoddy reputation, almost fraudulent sales tactics, crappy reception and cove

Always leave room to add an explanation if it doesn't work out.