Fortune reported an interesting survey on iPhone sales in Japan. Mashable, CrunchGear and some other blogs have also reported the news.
From Japan, I am trying to provide some more detail for people who want to better understand this news.
Is the ranking legitimate?
Yes. The shops which give their POS (point of sale) data to BCN include some nationwide chain stores, such like Eiden, K’s Denki, Bic Camera, Best Denki and, you may know this company name, Amazon Japan. The big chains missing I think are Yamada Denki and Yodobashi Camera, but it must be good enough.
The ranking’s Japanese page is available here [J]. The ranking is updated on the same URL so you cannot see the past rankings. (You may purchase them [J])
Some people commented that the ranking is only for “smartphones,” which are not popular in Japan. Is this correct?
No. The ranking includes all cellphones by Sharp, Panasonic, Fujitsu, etc. iPhone 3GS was the best selling cellphone in Japan.
It is true that the smartphone category is not as popular as it is in the US. Regular phones have a lot of, sometimes useless, functionalities. So regular cellphones can do most things smartphones do. In Japan, “smartphone” often means that the phone has a qwerty keyboard (which is not essentially important for Japanese input), and sometimes means that the phone does not have access to cellphone web networks and applications like DoCoMo i-mode and the like.
What is the reason behind this? Is iPhone suddenly so successful in Japan?
The ranking referred to is a “weekly” ranking for the 22th to the 28th of June. The new iPhone 3GS started to be sold in Japan on June 26th. For your information, interestingly, the iPhone 3GS (32GB) and (16GB) seemed to be ranked at No. 174 and No. 189 on last week’s ranking, even before its release date.
The old version iPhone 3G 16GB is ranked at No. 27 down a bit from No. 23 last week, which is also interesting. Who buys the old one when the new one is coming and your payment will not differ?
Sony Network Walkman was once No.1 in Japan
Well, only for a week, when the new product was released.
There is an interesting story around the BCN ranking. On April 26th 2005, the BCN Ranking of music players reported [J] that the newly released Sony Network Walkman produced a major reversal in memory audio player rankings against iPod shuffle, becoming the No. 1 music player in Japan.
iPod market share later in the same year, 2005, was announced as “over 60%” by Apple Japan [J], by using BCN stats.
Why don’t regular people jump on the iPhone in Japan?
There are many unresolved issues for the iPhone in the Japanese market. If I had to choose just one, I would mention that you cannot register on all three major social networking services, Mixi, Mobage-Town and Gree on the iPhone.
Apple seems to try to keep the same hardware/software all through the world, which is a beautiful policy, and forcing domestically customized non-standard protocols and rules on Japanese cellphones is not neat.
But would you buy a new cellphone/smartphone if you will not be able to use Facebook, MySpace or other common social sites? Only either rich people who can buy and maintain two cellphones or people who have no friends can be satisfied with the iPhone.
Be careful of numbers
Here in Japan, “No. 1 in USA” (Google [J]) is still a magical catch phrase for many consumers. This cliché can be seen on Hollywood film ads a lot. As there are 52 weeks in a year, there are almost 50 “No. 1 USA” movie per year.
Becoming No. 1 even for a week is better than never being No. 1, though. In that sense, the iPhone 3GS is doing well in Japan, with a good start.
Fortune refereed this article and corrected things I had pointed out.
I wrote an follow-up article about how the second week ranking goes.
iPhone disappeared from the same top 10 ranking, but no one says iPhone lost in Japan.
[Edited by mitcho (Michael Yoshitaka Erlewine)]