Apple’s iPhone has become the dominant brandReversely, as Japanese consumers are highly discerning when it comes to mobile phones and foreign brands, foreign phone makers have struggled to enter the market in Japan. In 2008, just when the smartphone business climate started to change, with a shrinking demand due to a recession and an aging society, the first Apple iPhone hit the Japanese market. Lacking some features essential for Japanese consumers, such as infrared ports, a QR code scanner, TV tuner, and emojis, it initially achieved rather disappointing sales results compared to other countries, as consumers did not see the benefits of using iPhones instead of domestic phones. However, this changed in the following years.
Smartphone retail in Japan is dominated by three major mobile carriers: NTT Docomo, au by KDDI, and SoftBank. SoftBank played a big part in Apple’s success by obtaining exclusive rights to the iPhone for three years and running smart marketing campaigns. In addition, Apple approached Japan by partly adjusting its products to the Japanese market. With NTT Docomo and au by KDDI now also selling iPhones, the nation’s mobile phone sector has become one of the largest markets for Apple. A breakdown of the domestic smartphone shipment volume by vendor shows that Apple is clearly the leading brand ahead of domestic vendors like Sharp and Kyocera. iPhones also regularly dominate the ranking of the most sold smartphone models in Japan. More recently, Chinese smartphone makers, such as Huawei and Oppo Electronics, have also established themselves as key players and increased the competition.