Which phone started the Android revolution?

The iPhone is getting Japan's cell phone manufacturers on their toes

The Japanese love the iPhone and especially the apps from the Apple AppStore.
Image: Preisroboter.de Japan has traditionally sealed itself off from all kinds of influences for a long time. The situation was similar with the Japanese mobile communications market. Western cell phone providers couldn't get a foothold there. Conversely, what worked there did not necessarily go down well in other countries - i-mode is a downright classic example of this. While the Japanese were completely enthusiastic about the service, which brought colorful pictures and animations to the mobile phone display even before UMTS and the mobile broadband expansion, the first multimedia service for mobile phones flopped in the rest of the world. In other respects, too, the Japanese mass tastes proved to be incompatible with Western mobile phone customers. Only Apple was able to win over the Japanese with the iPhone - and at the same time get domestic providers like Sharp moving.

The Japanese love the iPhone and especially the apps from the Apple AppStore.
Image: Preisroboter.de Just like all other iPhone customers, the Japanese are crazy about apps. According to a report by the Financial Times Deutschland (FTD [link removed]), the absolute hit is the app "Seiki-Mania" - which means something like "Facelift mania". As the name suggests, it is a digital simulation of surgical eye enlargements and nose reductions. That goes down well: The mini-program for the iPhone stayed in Apple's AppStore for days. However, the author of this specialty is not Japanese, but Enrique Bonansea, the founder of the American software company Emonster, who developed the cosmetic surgery app on behalf of a Japanese beauty clinic.

And Bonansea is by no means exotic: More and more foreign suppliers are pouring into the once sheltered market, which was therefore also called the Galapagos, like the isolated archipelago that lies far off the South American continent in the Pacific. As there, there were hardly any intruders in the Japanese mobile phone scene, which is why the respective ecosystem was able to produce its own species. In Japan at least until the iPhone came along.

The iRevolution in Japan

"The iPhone started a revolution," explains Bonansea. Other experts come to the same conclusion: "Apple's success is a shock for the industry," says Marco Köder from the software house Cybermedia in Tokyo. At first the iPhone was ridiculed, after all, smartphones were standard in Japan even before the word for it existed. Nevertheless, experts estimate that eight of the 74 million iPhones sold worldwide were sold in Japan. Even four months after the market launch of the current iPhone 4 device, long queues form in front of the iPhone sales counters on weekends. "It's just cool with the many apps and much easier to use than my previous cell phone," enthuses a customer in a Tokyo department store. "Many of my friends have already swapped their old cell phones for an iPhone."

This is a new situation for Japanese companies like Sharp. The Japanese have long been able to download music from the Internet with local cell phones, make video calls, write e-mails, watch television or pay electronically by cell phone. These cell phones could hardly be sold abroad, but there was therefore no foreign competition on the home market. Now things are getting tight for local manufacturers. Even the successful video game company Nintendo has to tremble, because casual gamers are switching from the portable DS game console to their smartphone. Satoru Kikuchi, an analyst at Deutsche Bank, predicts a sharp drop in profits at Nintendo for the coming year.

In the slipstream of Apple, other foreign providers are pushing their way onto the Japanese market, such as Samsung from Korea with the Galaxy S or HTC from Taiwan with the Desire HD. These devices make the Android operating system popular. "On the other hand, hardly anything came from the Japanese," says Marco Köder from the software house Cybermedia. Only Sharp has introduced several Android phones in the past few weeks, including the world's first with a large 3D display. Ironically, the device is called the Galapagos. Experts, however, expect a veritable flood of Android-based cell phones from Japanese manufacturers, which, unlike the iPhone, can also serve as televisions or electronic wallets. Because the Japanese have always used their cell phones in a more versatile way than the rest of the world.