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.