How Shinjuku Girls Helped Save The iPhone In Japan

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Steve Jobs spotted at the iPhone 4S launch in Japan. Photo by Damon Coulter – http://www.damoncoulter.com/

Remember when people were wandering around idiotically saying the iPhone was a total failure in Japan?

Yup, pretty stupid, but it’s true that, at first, the iPhone didn’t catch on in Japan, and that was a problem for Apple, because Japan is the country where gadgets rule.

So what changed Apple’s fortunes in Japan? Women!

Fortune has an excellent article about how the iPhone killed off the well-established Japanese cell phone market, and the part women played in that:

First, he says, you have to understand what a colossal and unexpected hit the iPhone was with Japanese women. “The iPhone has been very strong among women from very early on. The original round plastic iPhone 3G series soon become a fashion item for Japanese women who also enjoyed the huge variation of cases and ease of decoration. Then there is the brand loyalty of Japanese women.”

Japan had phones just as good-looking as the iPhone. The once popular Infobar candy bar phone even won international design prizes. But the craze for the iPhone, despite lacking all the bells and whistles Japanese telecoms executives thought were indispensable (e-wallet, TV, etc) proved overwhelming.

There were other factors too. The competition in Japan is still operating under a carriers-first strategy: while device makers like Nokia and Samsung sell phones in Japan, they modify their devices for the Japanese carriers. Apple has always refused to placate carriers by bloating their devices with a bunch of carrier-dictated crapware, which makes them a more attractive option for consumers.

Finally? In Japan, all of the device makers are still thinking in terms of hardware, but as Steve Jobs has been saying for years, no one really cares about hardware: it’s the software that counts.

“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.” he says.

It’s easy to see this corporate disconnect and executive befuddlement happening, even from these shores. Look at how hard Sony’s been struggling for years to turn the company away from an engineer-driven mindset. They’ve had a lot of success, particularly with the PlayStation brand, but that’s the point: on the PlayStation, software rules all. Sony’s been getting better — look at their Xperia line of Android devices — but up until recently, the rest of their product lines have been a total mess.

Anyway, food for thought.

  • Steffen Jobbs

    The only problem is that now the pundits are saying that iPhone software is totally outdated. iOS is supposedly way behind Android JellyBean. I’m not sure how that is determined. Some feature by feature basis, I assume. Everyone doesn’t use their smartphone the same way, so I would think it would be a tough call to say any OS is falling way behind or obsolete. Most Android smartphone users still use Gingerbread. I continue to use Windows XP and I don’t think it’s obsolete. I also have Windows 7 but it doesn’t make Windows XP obsolete. I have Macs running both Mountain Lion and Snow Leopard. I don’t find Snow Leopard obsolete or way behind the times. I don’t think most consumers concern themselves with small features. They have use for certain features and if those features work for them and are easy to use, they’re satisfied. Wall Street and tech-heads are always trying to nitpick about things not being on the cutting edge, but most consumers can’t afford to be buying the latest and greatest devices every few months. A carrier contract is two years and that’s how long a smartphone should last. A few bug-killing updates should be just fine.

    This freaking high-tech race between Android and iOS is honestly ridiculous and the average consumer doesn’t even realize it’s happening. Wall Street thinks consumers are high-tech junkies and they’re not. I do think large displays on smartphones make an immediate impact on consumers but that’s about it. If millions of consumers continue to buy iPhones, then they can’t be said to be out-of-date. The consumer determines what’s out of date, not tech-heads or analysts. One can never tell what will catch a consumer’s interest, so it’s just not as cut-and-dried as analysts make it to be.

About the author

John BrownleeJohn Brownlee is a Contributing Editor. He has also written for Wired, Playboy, Boing Boing, Popular Mechanics, VentureBeat, and Gizmodo. He lives in Boston with his wife and two parakeets. You can follow him here on Twitter.

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