The iPhone 4S has been out for two weeks in Japan. And sales are riding high, really high.

BCN Rankings has released its well-known figures and they’re quite impressive.

Now, bear in mind that these numbers are to be considered with a disclaimer: the rankings are based on point of sales surveys covering lots of mobile specialty shops and consumer electronics resellers but excluding a very big player: the Apple Stores.

Also note that there are no official numbers from Apple itself or the two carriers who offer the handset, SoftBank and au/KDDI.

Yet, those numbers allow us to witness some trends.

Week 1: the iPhone steals the show

In the first week, the iPhone 4S took the first 6 spots.

1. iPhone 4S 64GB (SoftBank) — 10.4%
2. iPhone 4S 32GB (au/KDDI) — 10.3%
3. iPhone 4S 64GB (au/KDDI) — 9,4%
4. iPhone 4S 32GB (SoftBank) — 9.1%
5. iPhone 4S 16GB (SoftBank) — 8.2%
6. iPhone 4S 16GB (au/KDDI) — 6.3%
7. Samsung Galaxy S II (NTT DoCoMo) — 3.4%
8. Xperia acro (NTT DoCoMo) — 3.3%
9. iPhone 4 16GB (SoftBank) — 2.3%
10. Xperia acro (au/KDDI) — 2.1%
11. iPhone 4 32GB (SoftBank) — 1.7%

BCN did aggregate sales market share of that week, which percentage you see appended above. If we aggregate the 4S-only numbers (the iPhone 4 is not carried by au/KDDI), we’ve got a slightly higher market share for SoftBank at 51.8% —that’s 19.4% for the 64GB, 17% for the 32GB and 15.4% for the 16GB, while au/KDDI has 19.2% for the 64GB, 17.5% for the 32GB and 11.7% for the 16GB.

Again, these numbers are just what they are, trends. The market share is even less relevant for, I repeat it, the Apple Stores are not surveyed, which completely skews numbers when some other phones do not have separate points of sales (the four phones following place #11 are feature phones on NTT DoCoMo, followed by four other Android-powered smartphones all on DoCoMo as well).

Early 2011 sales better than 2010

BCN went further and computed an indicator of the “level of enthusiasm” for the iPhone, by comparing their numbers with historical data from the iPhone 4 in 2010. But, once again, the comparison needs explaining: in 2010, there was only one carrier, SoftBank, while this time, we’ve got two, a big difference. The “enthusiasm” is also blurred in a haze of first-timers that were loyal to au/KDDI (on surplus, did they switch from an Android smartphone for instance or are they smartphone-first-timers?), iPhone-carrier switchers (from SoftBank to au/KDDI), iPhone-upgraders (with a two-year contract on the iPhone 3GS, some didn’t jump for the 4 last year), etc. But still, there seem to have been 2.4 times more sales on the iPhone 4S release day the similar day last year. And if you go through the weekend, a four-day period, this number rises to 5.4x.

Not too shabby. Let’s see if this sustains in the long run, with the influence of stocks hanging in the balance.

Another trend we spot: the 64GB version was the most popular during week #1. Totally expected if you want my two cents. You see, most early adopters rush at that time and look for the higher-end model —the break-down is 36.8% of sales for the 64GB, 36.1% for the 32GB and 27% for the 16GB.

Am I right? Week #2 seems to prove my point.

Week 2: au/KDDI rises

1. iPhone 4S 32GB (au/KDDI)
2. iPhone 4S 16GB (au/KDDI)
3. iPhone 4S 16GB (SoftBank)
4. iPhone 4S 64GB (au/KDDI)
5. iPhone 4S 32GB (SoftBank)
6. iPhone 4S 64GB (SoftBank)
7. iPhone 4 32GB (SoftBank)
8. Samsung Galaxy S II (NTT DoCoMo)
9. Xperia acro (NTT DoCoMo)
10. iPhone 4 16GB (SoftBank)

BCN didn’t rank the market shares this time around.

Two weeks is really limited to be jumping to any conclusion. The higher-priced model took the aforementioned expected hit, but it could also be slightly influenced by stocks hovering low forcing a choice towards the 32 or 16GB versions (see this thread on our forums about current availabilities and note that Apple Stores traditionally get priority, which could explain that some shops have empty shelves).

More interestingly, au/KDDI seems to dominate the sales a bit more. It could be that early adopters who also had the possibility to upgrade from their SoftBank contract did, while the novelty effect is stronger for au/KDDI’s subscribers.

All this is pure speculation from my part. These numbers only tell a partial truth —sorry to have bored you by repeating this to death.

One thing is for sure though: my estimate of 7.5m iPhones sold in Japan will have to be revised soon.

I had a very nice conversation last week with Anthony Joh, who recently launched a podcast from Tokyo, a city he just moved in after a chapter in Bangkok.

We talked about the hot topic of the month, the release of the iPhone 4S, that I’ve been covering quite extensively in here.

I had a great time with Tony. His experience getting an iPhone for the first time in Japan reminded me of mine in July 2008 —it was actually the reason I started the first version of this blog (see the first post ever here).

tokyo-podcast

Things have changed for the better if you’re a foreigner with limited Japanese skills, though. SoftBank, the first carrier that got the Apple handset here, now does a good job listing all the paperwork needed in advance.

You can listen to the show on iTunes, download the MP3 file or head to Tokyo-Podcast to stream it.

They took their time. It’s only for the first day of pre-ordering that au/KDDI and SoftBank are releasing the price information for their iPhone 4S.

au/KDDI

The newcomer first. au/KDDI is accepting pre-orders at brick and mortar shops from today, even if I’ve gotten a few reports of points of sale being not ready at all for this last-minute release. Take a look at its new iPhone page to learn more.

It offers the iPhone with a two year contract. The basic plan will cost you JPY 780/month.

au/KDDI overview:
Contract: 24 months
16GB: JPY 0 /month*
32GB: JPY 430 /month*
64GB: JPY 860 /month*
Plan: JPY 980/780 /month
Web services: JPY 315 /month
Data: max. JPY 4,980 /month
* after discounts

The accompanying data plan is unlimited and costs up to JPY 4,980 per month (the data packet price is not detailed). An included free wifi plan is announced, but no details are available as of yet.

The iPhone 4S is “free” —as in fully subsidized— for its 16GB version and will respectively cost JPY 10,320 and 20,640 for the 32 and 64GB versions, the cost being accrued during the 24 month period.

A more expensive plan with free calls to other au/KDDI customers from 1am to 9pm and free texts to those same ones without 24/7 will cost you JPY 980/month (outside of the aforementioned period, texts costs JPY 3.15 and a call is priced at JPY 21 per 30 second segment).

au/KDDI is touting the number portability by offering you JPY 10,000 if you become a subscriber until the end of January 2012. That means that the iPhone 4S 32GB would cost only JYP 320 instead of JYP 10,320 overall, and the 64GB would come down to JPY 10,640 only.

This is clearly to lure SoftBank customers, but it also applies if you’re on NTT DoCoMo. We’ll see how that works out.

No word about tethering, I wouldn’t bet anything on it though. Unlocked iPhones 4S from au/KDDI are highly improbable: Apple hints that unlocked 4S will only be the GSM versions —or those activated by a GSM provider. In Japan, Softbank.

It is also uncertain if the pricing will hold or if it’s only part of the launch campaign (the data pricing might rise up to JPY 5,000+/month next February).

Asiajin mentioned earlier that KDDI is planning to expand the iPhone 4S point of sale network from a current 1,200 locations to 5,000 at the end of October.

SoftBank

SoftBank is also accepting pre-orders as of today.

At the time of this writing, the price structure remains the same as before. Two year contract, JPY 980 for its White Plan, to which you have to add the S! Basic Pack at JPY 315 per month (basically the mobile email service). Full run-down on its iPhone page (SoftBank has the pricing in English).

SoftBank overview:
Contract: 24 months
16GB: JPY 0 /month*
32GB: JPY 480 /month*
64GB: JPY 880 /month*
Plan: JPY 980 /month
Web services: JPY 315 /month
Data: max. JPY 4,410 /month
* after discounts

The data plan is still unlimited, with a minimum monthly fee of JPY 1,029 and a max of JPY 4.410 per month —the data packet being priced at JPY 0.084. Remember that tethering is not supported.

SoftBank will still sell the iPhone 4. For “free”. As will the iPhone 4S 16GB. Free with the discount: you pay the device JPY 1,920 per month (1,680 for the 4) but get a similar discount for the 24 months of the contract.

Only if you buy the 4S 32GB will you get a discount of JPY 1,920/month while having to pay for it JPY 2,400 month —or an actual monthly payment of JPY 480. Same discount for the 64GB version, but a monthly JPY 2,800 —a difference of 880.

Complicated enough? Basically, all in all, without the extra services you can get, the iPhone 4 and the 4S 16GB will cost you JPY 5,705/month, the 32GB JPY 6,185 and the 32GB JPY 6,585. None of those are unlocked.

Something eludes me in this strategy: why on Earth would you take the iPhone 4 8GB instead of the iPhone 4S 16GB?

Maybe it’s that SoftBank just had to price the 4S like au/KDDI.

If you’re a 3G or 3GS owner with SoftBank, you’re eligible for free upgrade plans during the launch campaign that runs from October 14 to November 30.

In the same blitz against au/KDDI, SoftBank is promoting a limited offer for all current or new iPhone subscribers: a “free” iPad 3G data plan. It allows you to get data for your Apple tablet at the low price of JPY 315/month, no subscription fee. First 100MB are free and then you get charged JPY 0.0525 per data packet to a maximum of JPY 4,980/month.

The comparison

Gigazine has made the comparison for us (thankfully since it’s a bit tricky). It’s all in the graph below. It doesn’t include the promotions I’ve mentioned here (like that JPY 10,000 cash back from au/KDDI), assumes you’re going to reach the upper threshold of the data plan (remember that we don’t know how much KDDI charges per packet of data) and it only compares the similar plans for convenience: Simple Plan Z from KDDI (at JPY 980/month that includes free calls/texts) and SoftBank’s White Plan (also at JPY 980/month with some free calls/texts too) but gives an interesting overview. According to it, au/KDDI is actually more expensive. I’ll let you be the judge of it.

gigazine-kddi-softbank-price-comparison

The real difference is in the data plan. I can bet SoftBank will react shortly.

 

One thing is for sure, competition is good. Let the price war begin —because, really, it hasn’t started yet.

UPDATE: excellent au/KDDI price chart translation on SBS’s website (thanks to @serkantoto), I also totally agree about the theoretical data speeds comparison —as I had stated earlier.
Steve Nagata has more details on SoftBank’s iPad offer (thanks @hirokotabuchi).
Steve also argues that the SoftBank iPhone 4 could be directed at people who could be ineligible for a 2 year contract. Makes sense.
Note that Apple Stores are not taking pre-orders, they will start to sell the handsets on October 14, 8 am on a first-come first-serve basis.

We know since last night that au/KDDI is officially the second carrier to get the iPhone in Japan.

While no release date has been publicly announced, we learnt that KDDI decided not to wait until 2012 and the upgrade of its mobile email service to start selling the device.

What we know for sure is that SoftBank will start selling the iPhone 4S on October 14.

What we also know is that SoftBank CEO, Masason, has decided to fight back the competition.

MASASON THROWS THE GAUNTLET

Look at that tweet he sent an hour ago:

masason-calling-out-kddi

What is Masason saying yes to? SoftBank has download speeds of 14.4Mbps —the same touted by Apple yesterday, dissing the 4G talks— and 5.7Mbps uplink , while au/KDDI only offers a maximum of 3.1Mbps downlink with a 1.8Mbps uplink.

It’s interesting to note that the original tweet was meant as a question, asking the CEO if the difference was due to SoftBank using W-CDMA, aka HSDPA, while au/KDDI relies on CDMA EV-DO Rev. A standard.

Masason just went for the affirmative on those numbers. If that’s not called opening the hostilities… “KDDI, raise to the challenge!”

KDDI Data Standard

It’s certainly true that specs for this latter standard would need to be upgraded to the Rev. B to reach the 14+Mbps range.

Now, KDDI had actually announced some time ago it would upgrade to a subset of the aforementioned Rev. B standard to allow for some channel bundling, leading to a theoretical downlink of 9Mbps. I must admit that I would need to verify if those plans came to fruition and whether the entire network is —or will be— concerned.

And those numbers would have to be tested for both SoftBank and KDDI to not remain purely theoretical.

 

The fact of the matter remains: SoftBank is feeling the heat from the competition and Masason will not throw the towel. I can’t say that I don’t admire his fighting spirit.

Ready to rumble?

 

UPDATE: I’ve corrected the download and upload speeds, thanks to Andrew Wright.

au/KDDI, Japan’s second biggest cell phone carrier, has just confirmed it will carry the iPhone 4S. I predicted that right.

It will go ahead with the sale of this new handset irrespective if its mobile email service —a key element for Japanese users— is made compatible in time.

KDDI had 2012 in mind

Earlier plans had KDDI releasing the iPhone in January 2012, in order to upgrade its EZweb email conduit first. It seems however that the possibility of reaping nice profits at the launch of the new iPhone 4S in two weeks made the company change its mind.

Yes, you read that right, iPhone 4S could be sold from au/KDDI this month already.

The official release date for the iPhone 4S in Japan is October 14.

Apple makes it official

Apple Japan has updated its “where I can buy” page with the new au/KDDI option (and it seems the website is getting hammered by requests already, showing amazing interest: it’s 4am in Tokyo now)

apple-japan-iphone-kddi-official

The iPhone hasn’t appeared on au/KDDI’s website yet, either because it’s very late in the night or for a specific date hasn’t been set by KDDI yet.

SoftBank is feeling the heat. It’s releasing no less than 11 Android-powered handset for its fall collection. The iPhone 4S will arrive in SoftBank’s store on October 14 for sure.

UPDATE, October 5 2011, 6.45pm JST: au/KDDI’s website was briefly updated with the iPhone 4S before removal, confirming the impending launch. However, the mobile site still features the handset, with a direct link to Apple Japan:

kddi-mobile-site-iphone4S

Credits: iSummit Ustream channel, Nikkei

I kinda felt it. I was wrong. By a week.

The official Apple Ginza Store page on Apple Japan has indadvertedly updated its website. The iPhone 4S will be out in Japan on October 14. In black and white. With the same form factor than the current iPhone 4.

It means that it’s part of the first roll-out and that the US will get it at the same date.

iphone4s-leak-japan

The website mentions a new possibility to chose the carrier. As Akky rightfully says it on Asiajin, it could only be a straight traduction from the US text. I’ll have to wait if I had the other prediction right last March, i.e. that: SoftBank has no competition in Japan from au/KDDI.

It seems a new iPod Nano will make its debut too.

UPDATE: Apple Japan restores pre-updated page (thanks to fellow Mobile in Japan editor Joseph Tame)

UPDATE: it’s official, it’s the iPhone 4S that will be released on October 14, both by SoftBank and au/KDDI.

Credits: Netafull for the original story

Let’s talk iPhone.

In my last two articles, I have made a series of bets. First, as I had written last March, I suspect that the iPhone is coming to au/KDDI. Exclusive deals between Apple and carriers are gone and the rumors are very strong.
Yesterday, I went a bit further and imagined the new iPhone would released on October 21 in Japan. And on KDDI as well. This might turn out wrong. The handset might arrive on SoftBank only and on October 14. KDDI might have to wait.

As official Apple events are often US-centric, there’s not much we might learn there. I’m going to live blog it anyway here with my thoughts on the implications for Japan.

Note that you will also be able to follow these updates on the live account of Mobile in Japan: @MijLive.

All times are JST (Japan Standard Time).

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Apple’s iPhone event might be only tomorrow, but here are three predictions for Japan:

How do I suspect that date?

Well, while SoftBank might be used to work with Apple and keep mum about everything from Cupertino, au/KDDI isn’t.

The marketing staff did a blunder.

the Leak that isn’t a leak

In its last marketing push about the Green Road Project —one where subscribers can donate money for each kilometer they walk or run to buy seeds for a greener Japan—, an iPhone mention is already printed, not only seemingly confirming au/KDDI is getting the handset, but also implying a release date.

kddi-iphone-japan-release-date-440x247

Yes, I know, it could be a typo. But, as usual here, I’m hedging my bets, accepting failure if I turn out wrong.

According to another sourced document (I insist that I was not able to independently validate it though), it seems that the US and selected European markets will get the new handset on October 14 and Japan a week later, on October 21.

One of my other sources tell me that SoftBank resellers have already started training for the new iPhone sale, seemingly confirming that the original iPhone carrier will get a new Apple release during the month October.

A new Uncertain Future for SoftBank

SoftBank is evidently the company that has the most at stake in having iPhone competition in Japan. Not only it remains the third carrier with about a fifth of the market (behind au/KDDI and the giant NTT DoCoMo, more numbers in my previous post), but its network is considered the weakest of them all.

It surely not non-coincidental that SoftBank’s CEO has just announced a massive investment plan to improve the mobile operator infrastructure.

The same could be said about what he wrote on his Twitter account on September 21, a few hours before the first rumors of au/KDDI getting the iPhone:

全ての人に分かれ道はやって来る。 問題は、そこで正道を選ぶか邪道を選ぶかだ。

Literally: Everyone has to change its path. The problem, choose the right or evil path.

More liberally: When you arrive at a crossroad, the question is about electing the right path.

He is talking about the end of SoftBank’s Apple golden era? Is it a sign of the Apple relationship turning a bit sour? One can only wonder.

A New smartphone strategy FOR KDDI

Interestingly, KDDI has shut down its Android au site at the end of last month as it was unveiling its fall collection of handsets. Until then, the company was firing all cylinders on its Android portfolio to the point of confusion: it was as if Android was a sub-brand of au/KDDI (or, some would say, as if au/KDDI was a sub-brand of Android). That Android-centric strategy was obviously bound to change with the recent release of a Windows Phone 7.5 —and, yeah, that impending new iPhone.

Will KDDI call out SoftBank seemingly weaker network out to lure new subscribers? Will SoftBank react by aggressively adapting its pricing model?

Interesting times ahead.

One thing is for sure, the iPhone is changing everything in Japan. Again.

 

 UPDATE: it’s official, KDDI gets the iPhone 4S. Only SoftBank confirms it will start selling on October 14.

Credits: @NewSrider_G for the original image included in this post & my fellow Mobile in Japan writer, Pietro Zuco, for looking at the various sources.