In Japan, just like in many of the world’s leading countries the use of mobile(or cell) phones has reached a level where you cannot be apart from your phone for more than a few seconds at a time for fear of missing some information whether it is important or trivial. But which is the most popular system used in Japan, and why?

The share of iPhone vs Android across the world

In Japan, sales of the iPhone are way ahead of the Android phone (something we shall look at later in this article). Across the rest of the world the market share between the iPhone and Android is much more even as we can see here:
The latest figures available are from 2017 and the top five countries for iPhone use in percentages are
Japan with 68.6% in favor of the iPhone over 30.4% using Android

Next is Australia with 56.86% over 45.17%
Followed by the USA with figures of 53.76% to 45.17%
Canada is fourth with 52.08% to 44.08%
While the UK has the fifth highest iPhone use at a very even 49.23% compared to 46.45% using Android.
Compare these figures to that of the developing world where two countries with the potentially biggest customer bases are China where 30.22% use the iPhone to 68.99% prefer Android. In India the swing towards Android is even greater with just 2.53% using iPhone to 77.63% using Android.
I showed earlier that Japan favors the iPhone over Android by 68.6% to 30.4%. Compare that to the figures throughout the world of 19.59% to 71.95% heavily in favor of Android.

Why is there this big difference throughout the rest of the world?

Firstly, it is a matter of cost, the iPhone is much more expensive than an Android phone and most people will go where they can find the best deal that suits their budget. Another factor is that in the developing world the iPhone is simply not so readily available due to cost and demand in these countries. If the iPhone is beyond the budget of the majority of a country’s population then the market is much smaller in that developing country due simply to cost. Although Apple is going some way to getting into developing countries by using used or second hand phones in these locations.

History and reason behind the iPhones popularity in Japan

In Japan, if you mention a smartphone most people automatically assume you mean the iPhone because this system of cell phone is so popular. Yet, the iPhone is more expensive, so why do Japanese people prefer to pay more when they could easily use the cheaper Android phones?

Here are some of the reasons:

Firstly, Japan is a country of wealthy people.

This is certainly true in the major cities where there is a huge supply of people (generally young) with plenty of money available to buy and update the latest products available. In developing countries there are few people that can afford an iPhone and often if they can afford to buy then the choice or availability is also low. In other developed countries where there is choice available between the two the popularity of the iPhone is much lower.

The second reason, no competition when launched

When the iPhone was first sold in Japan in 2008, there was little or no viable competition. At the launch of the smartphone there was an Android alternative but the levels of performance were very low so that literally left the market wide open for the iPhone to be a success in Japan. Major phone companies offered substantial discounts to iPhone customers getting them hooked onto those products.

The Japanese have a strong sense of loyalty to products they like

In Japan, the people will remain with the same product if they like the brand and what it offers. The Japanese like certain brands in their clothing and accessories. If the brand or product they are wearing is successful they are viewed as being a success. This brand thinking is especially true when it comes to owning the right smartphone. If their friends have a certain product they want the same for themselves. The iPhone has benefitted from this collective thinking among groups of friends or their peer groups. Their heroes or idols on TV etc advertise these products so they then follow suit to be like the person they look up to often as a role model.

The bargaining power of Apple

One of the reasons iPhone became so popular throughout Japan was due to the sales efforts of companies such as Softbank in allowing Apple and its products tremendous bargaining power. This led to Apple being able to offer its customers some great deals on its products as well as being an influential name amongst the major Japanese companies that carried their phones.

Preferential treatment or prioritized sales

Although there is no actual mention of priority given to Apple over Android in Japan there is circumstantial evidence that that might be so. Apple appears to have a significant level of bargaining power when it comes to the major cell phone carriers in Japan. The three major cell phone carriers in Japan handle the iPhone and offer large discounts on each of the latest models whenever they go on sale. It does therefore appear that Apple is receiving some form of preferential treatment over its competitors in this sector of the cell phone market.

Another reason why the iPhone is more popular in Japan

With Android phones you have to have a different terminal for each phone and when you upgrade or change your phone you usually have to get a new charging unit as the connection may not be compatible. With the Apple system of iPhones each connector is compatible with each product, so a simple idea like having compatible charging units could add to the popularity of the iPhone in the Japanese market.

How is the iPhone marketed so successfully in Japan?

There can be no doubt that the image of the iPhone is one of an easy to use cool product, but that alone is not why the iPhone is so successful in Japan. What has been a success is that it is sold by three companies across Japan so if one of those three lowers its price the other two will have to immediately follow suit or risk losing those customers to a competitor.
Consumers want to have the latest products available and with the iPhone they were able to do this by trading in their existing iPhone at the time another better phone is released onto the market. Usually this means paying a higher price for the newer product but with the strong competition in Japan the newer products were able to be exchanged at theprice, meaning a newer product at the existing price. Furthermore, iPhone customers in Japan are able to exchange their existing phone every 12 to 18 months just to get a newer version of an existing model.

Will the iPhone’s success in Japan continue?

To answer this question we have to briefly look at market trends in Japan. Since the iPhones launch in 2008 until 2012 the level of use between the iPhone and Android was fairly even. In 2012 it was 49.95% to 47.18% in favor of the iPhone. This rose steadily through to 2016 when the differential was 69.84% to 29.22%, again in favor of the iPhone. Then in 2017 the trend saw a blip, the figures for that year showed a slight drop down to 68.60% for iPhone customers against 30.40% for Android. Is this just a small blip or is it the start of a period of change in the smartphone market in Japan!

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