The rumor lingers since 2008. Since times when the iPhone was still not out in Japan and negotiations were under way to introduce it: DoCoMo wants the iPhone.

iPhone on DoCoMo

I’ve been saying it again and again, it’s not just a sea monster type of rumor, one that would only be coming out of pure wishful thinking. Last September, as my au/KDDI iPhone prediction was being confirmed, I wrote:

Let it be written down though, my bet is that DoCoMo will reach an agreement with Apple in 2012.

And the Wall Street Journal is confirming talks are still under way. Apparently, the road blocks are still about the conditions. With the massive power DoCoMo holds in Japan, there’s no wonder its executives want it their way.

In the words of Ryuji Yamada, CEO:

If the introduction of the iPhone results in the mass majority of our products occupied by the iPhone, then that’s a scenario that’s difficult to us to swallow.

How to read this? First, it’s clear that Yamada just knows the iPhone would be massively popular on his network. Surveys have confirmed over and over that a big chunk of its subscribers would switch to the iPhone if given the possibility.

Whose customers?

Read between the lines though and you understand that DoCoMo wants to mold the iPhone to its strategy. DoCoMo would basically like to pre-install some of its services (via applications), while Apple insists on a clean experience, unobstructed by any carrier.

Apple won’t bulge. This is a given.

DoCoMo wants its i-mode and e-wallet on all its smartphones.

Add the number of iPhone NTT would have to commit to and there’s this fear that its relationship with customers wouldn’t be as tight as it currently is.

It’s not Gunfight at the O.K. Corral yet, but we clearly have a standstill.

DoCoMo’s smartphone future

DoCoMo, with its almost 60m subscribers, holds basically 50% of the cell phone market in Japan —au/KDDI and SoftBank being the two others— and has been very strong with its Android strategy, making the likes of the Samsung Galaxy S huge successes in a country when customer loyalty is still extremely strong, number portability notwithstanding.

It has sold north of 3.6m smartphones in the first half of 2011 with an important rise in ARPU, but also in data consumption. The shift towards smartphones is accelerating at DoCoMo and that above number could reach 9m by the end of the year.

Some analysts are even predicting that those would be the only type of phones by 2015 for all networks in Japan.

If you read the numbers throughly though, you’ll realize that DoCoMo has been losing customers at a slightly higher rate (let’s say 20%) than its two competitors since mid-October. Mid-October? Yes, when both au/KDDI and SoftBank released the iPhone 4S.

No wonder DoCoMo is still interested.