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Smartphone market in Japan - statistics & facts

Traditionally, Japanese mobile phones had been years ahead of the rest of the world in terms of innovation. The first smartphone to be massively adopted within a country had e-mail capabilities and was introduced as early as 1999 by NTT Docomo Inc. in Japan. More features followed shortly after, such as camera phones in 2000, third-generation networks in 2001, electronic payments and digital TV in 2004 and 2005. The country even launched its own high-speed cellular data service, called i-Mode, well before other regions. Despite widespread acknowledgement and praise throughout the world, Japanese smartphones were never fully able to gain a foothold in overseas markets. Instead, the industry turned extremely inwards. However, the rapid dissemination of smartphones within the country was more than profitable and gave Japanese phone makers little incentive to market overseas.

Reversely, as Japanese people are highly discerning when it comes to smartphones and foreign brands, foreign phone makers have struggled to enter the market in Japan, as well. In 2008, just when the smartphone business climate started to change, with a shrinking demand due to recession and an aging society, the first Apple iPhone hit the Japanese market. Lacking some features essential for Japanese, such as infrared ports, QR code scanner, TV tuner and emojis, it achieved rather disappointing sales results compared to other countries, simply because Japanese consumers did not see the benefits using iPhones instead of domestic smartphones.

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 its 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 fallen into a state of homogeneity and become one of the largest markets for Apple. iPhones are by far the most sold smartphones in Japan. It remains to be seen if Apple can maintain the position, since Chinese smartphone makers, i.e. Huawei and Oppo Electronics, have also established themselves as key players, lately.

In 2019, the smartphone penetration rate of households in Japan exceeded 83 percent. The time people spent on average on the mobile internet has also increased in recent years and bears business opportunities for various related industries, such as e-commerce, application developing and the gaming sector. In March 2020, the 5G network was introduced for commercial use in Japan. All three mobile carriers, NTT Docomo, au, and SoftBank, began providing 5G network services in stages -starting from limited urban areas. With the postponed Tokyo 2020 Olympics and Paralympics planned to go ahead in the summer of 2021, the Japanese market is pushing to fully implement 5G services promptly.

Interesting statistics

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Smartphone market in Japan

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Important key figures

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Mobile phone usage

Mobile network operators

Smartphone apps


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