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It appears that none of the Japanese carriers are accepting iPhone 5s pre-orders , all slated to start on September 13th.

DOCOMO should open pre-ordering for the iPhone 5c only, at stores and online. That latter option will be restricted to its premium members—and only the 30,000 first of them. No decision has apparently been made on the 5s.

au/KDDI says it probably won’t accept pre-orders for the iPhone 5s.

SoftBank has put up an answer in its website’s FAQ section clearly stating that the iPhone 5s will only be available on September 20th, the date of the release. The 5c can be reserved starting on the 13th, both in stores and online.

It’s unclear why all three carriers chose to do so. Or maybe they didn’t. Will the iPhone 5s early availability be extremely limited?

 

UPDATE: Several readers point out to this being an Apple decision as no iPhone 5s are available to pre-order anywhere worldwide. It still raises the question of low inventory at launch.

Horace Dediu and Dirk Schmidt for Asymco:

It’s one thing to suggest that Nintendo consoles have “failed”, it’s another to show that Nintendo consoles and portables have failed, and yet another to show that two competitors in the games business seem to be failing in unison across all their product lines.  The cyclicality is also over a long period of time: The peak for the combined Sony/Nintendo was in 2008, five years ago.

There’s a strong debate in Japan about whether portable gaming consoles are failing and whether a household name like Nintendo should start releasing games for iOS/Android. Or simply put, is Nintendo doomed by not going mobile?  The Japanese gaming market is clearly different and seen in isolation, the picture is murkier than the analysis above. Globally though, one can feel that the peak of portable console gaming might very well be behind us —Japanese corporations are sometimes slow to adapt to global trends though.

DoCoMo’s executives seem more comfortable with the iPhone than previously believed. The company has told its Japanese handset manufacturers, mainly Sharp, that it expects the iPhone to take up to 40% of all new contracts when it gets introduced, according to Nikkei (in Japanese, paywalled).

If that forecast holds, the iPhone might very well become the absolute dominant handset in Japan .

DoCoMo had hinted at wanting the iPhone not to surpass 30% of its sales, in order to maintain diversity. We’ll see how that goes and if it was not just a message to reassure Sharp, Fujitsu and co.

Interestingly, it would seem that DoCoMo will also carry the iPad . Which, after all, would only be logical.

Takashi Amano reports for Bloomberg:

“The causes of cancellation for DoCoMo’s phones has been the lack of iPhone and this would prevent customers from moving,” said Yusuke Tsunoda, an analyst at Tokai Tokyo Securities Co. in Tokyo. “As all three will have the iPhone, they will compete on price, sales method and network.”

The network competition will be an interesting one. None of the carriers have a similar LTE roll-out strategy and have been using a set of different bands, depending on what they got allocated.

DoCoMo has a strong 2100 MHz LTE roll-out and is perceived as having a very strong network, a plus.

au/KDDI was famously caught in a quagmire after they misrepresented their actual iPhone LTE coverage—the 2100 MHz band1, but the new iPhone model will also use the 800 MHz band, a strength for the carrier. KDDI possibly has the overall advantage for the iPhone LTE coverage now .

SoftBank has a more complex situation. It decided last year to use its 900 MHz band to extend its 3G to battle its bad network reputation2. This decision might now play against it, since it can’t now use it for LTE—although this could happen in 20143. On the other hand, the roll-out on the 2100 MHz band is going well. I don’t want to read too much into this but SoftBank’s CEO was a no-show at Apple’s keynote. Sign of frailty?


  1. Nikkei, in Japanese, paywalled 

  2. the lower frequency allows for a wider per cell coverage, lower signal decay, better building penetration. SoftBank had no access to such a lower band before which clearly contributed to being seen as having a weaker network. 

  3. note that the iPhone won’t be able to access its AXGP (TD-LTE) on band 41 

In August 2006.1

And 7 years later, August 2013.

In 7 years, a lot has changed in the Japanese mobile landscape.

DoCoMo added 9.86 million subscribers.

au/KDDI added 14,64 million subscribers.

SoftBank added 18.51 million subscribers, more than doubling its size.2

 


  1. hover or click on the pie charts for more information 

  2. Numbers are from the Telecommunications Carriers Association, I’ve not included Willcom nor eMobile by design, I’ll write more extensively about those at a later time. 

The news is in. NTT DoCoMo carries the iPhone .

It is the end of an old story and the beginning of a new one. Every time Apple would release a new version of its handset, the rumor mill would start running again: DoCoMo would carry the iPhone. The first we’ve actually heard about this was in June 2007, a full year before the iPhone would be released for the first time in Japan. This time around, the reports were true1

Who needs whom?

Apple needs DoCoMo as much as DoCoMo needs Apple .

It hasn’t been always the case. Back in 2007-2008, DoCoMo was arguably in a stronger position in the Japanese market. That era was a very different one. Japan was still at the peak of its feature phone empire, foreign smartphones were basically absent—Nokia has actually left the market in 2008 and BlackBerry sales were negligible. DoCoMo, as its competitors, was able to control the whole ecosystem, from what handsets would be made by its partners—Sharp and others—to what consumers would see on the dedicated internet portals, thus limiting access to content and developers.

Apple, although historically strong in Japan in terms of marketshare for its line of products, wasn’t in a strong enough position to arm wrestle DoCoMo. And even when it became a force over the years, it seemed that the carrier was somewhat lingering to its past. It only seriously pushed smartphones in 2010, even 2011 depending on how you analyze it.

2013 has changed the narrative

2013 possesses a somewhat different narrative. DoCoMo is still the king2.

Apple has a clear interest in working with the king. 60 million subscribers cannot be dismissed. Even 30% of those, the number of iPhone users that DoCoMo executives would seem to be comfortable carrying, are valuable. Apple wanted to expand. 2013 is a defining moment. Apple has to turn the narrative around. In Japan, it had to be DoCoMo.  A DoCoMo with very valuable users, potent for both the average revenue per user (ARPU) and the image—quality + quality = more quality. Apple couldn’t ignore those factors.

DoCoMo changed its mind

At the end of 2012, it seemed that the question was settled. DoCoMo was affirming its Android-only philosophy. Then something happened.
If we look at the growth these past twelve months, you can see a somewhat different picture from that of a big king towering the competition. Let’s assume all three carriers started acquiring customers on Sept, 1, 2012. This is how it would look:

DoCoMo is an incumbent in the position of the challenger.

But, why the iPhone?

Couldn’t an aggressive marketing and discount campaigns help DoCoMo? It’s not as if it hasn’t tried. The Samsung Galaxy, arguably its flagship phone, has been extremely successful. It could have tried harder. Maybe. But there was pressure from the shareholders, probably anxious to see the margins being trimmed again and again (not that it’s the fault of Android per se) and pressure from customers, some of which had switched and want to come back—DoCoMo still has the reputation of the best overall network in Japan—or those who carry two phones for the sake of the iPhone3.

Is the answer to that (perceived) predicament the iPhone? In a way it is. Japan is an outlier market in Asia. Its iOS’ market share is very big , similar to what one used to see in the US. It’s also a market with a very high ARPU.

The Apple brand value (and its products obviously) has been so strong that the iPhone was able to thrive without being on the main carrier, in a country where customers are considered very loyal—even if many other factors also explain the success of the competition, from aggressive marketing to more innovative solutions.

The iPhone boost

Still, the iPhone has proven to be rocket fuel for Japanese carriers . SoftBank has been leading customer acquisition in 59 months out of the 62 months since it started carrying the iPhone. au/KDDI has been placed second in 22 months of the 23 since it started carrying it—allowing it to maintain its #2 position, something that looked increasingly impossible between mid-2007 and the end of 2011.

If I single out a three months period post-iPhone 5 release, the boost is quite evident.

Arguably, the iPhone boost is what DoCoMo wants and needs  in order to remain the undisputed king.

Why was DoCoMo refraining?

DoCoMo wants control.

some of DoCoMo’s own services that we provide on Android phones won’t work on the iPhone, which doesn’t leave room for much customization, so we have to give up on them.

said DoCoMo Senior Executive Vice President Kazuto Tsubouchi to the Wall Street Journal. Emphasis mine: customization meant control.

This has always been the case, the carrier wants to control the experience. It was, after all, the standard definer in the market. It’s hard to let old habits go.

The question is now open: did DoCoMo get anything in return for carrying the iPhone?

There have been rumors of a DoCoMo logo emboss, a software boot-up logo, both highly unlikely. Even more unlikely, DoCoMo getting a pre-installed app, probably the preferred DoCoMo scenario. In the end, my take is that the pressure on DoCoMo was strong enough. A possibility would be that the carrier’s staff installs an app for the customer upon contract signing. DoCoMo would have an almost pre-installed app.

An illusion of control.

 

The iPhone 5S and the 5C will both be available on DoCoMo on September 20. Pre-orders will start on September 13 in stores, and online for the first 30,000 Premier Club to do so. And, of course, au/KDDI and SoftBank will have them too.

Let’s see who will get the biggest boost. Let the true competition begin.

 


  1. and I lost my bet, as I had forecasted it would happen in 2012 

  2. for simplicity’s sake, I’ve taken out the numbers of Willcom, the wholly-owned SoftBank carrier, and eMobile, of which parent’s company is partially owned by the same SoftBank. In the former case, SoftBank itself doesn’t aggregate the numbers into its own: that’s around 5.26 million subscribers. In the latter case, actual subscribers numbers are no longer reported, I would estimate those at around 5.24m. 

  3. this trend has diminished though, almost to the point of extinction 

Yukari Mitsuhashi on Startup Dating:

When it comes to mobile apps, Mixi is taking a somewhat experimental approach with its Mixi Lab initiative. So we thought that it might be fun to take a look at the list of apps that the company has in line for us.

At first glance, the following list of mobile apps doesn’t seem to indicate any unifying strategy. But having been the dominant social network in Japan for so long before Facebook and Twitter came along, Mixi really has lots of information about online communities. And thus, Mixi is now in a unique position to create many apps around those long established communities

Mixi has been sidelined in the shift to mobile.  Not to mention having a somewhat defiant stance about Facebook in Japan—until it was too late. I’m not certain of the success in going a bit all over the place with different apps with various unrelated names—confusing when a Line solidifies its branding. Time will tell.

I moved to Tokyo in June 2008. I immediately thought I was living in the future. The cultural shock and misunderstandings about what it really meant notwithstanding, the technology that was surrounding me looked so different, a Galapagos —the term that became en vogue a few months later.

The 2008 shift

A massive shift actually started one month into my new life there. Unbeknownst to me, the release of the iPhone 3G—the first Apple handset to be released in Japan and for which I queued and queued and queued—was an inception. It’s just incredible the amount of change that the smartphone revolution—for the lack of a better wording—has brought to the country. The carriers have been shaken and even though DoCoMo remains king, SoftBank, which took the risk to carry the iPhone, gained tons of new subscribers1. The app stores that exist were not able survive the new freedom found by both customers and, almost most importantly, app developers. The carriers lost some control of their neatly organized ecosystem. DoCoMo showed an ability to somewhat maintain the old world order, but at the price of being relatively late into going head first into the smartphone world—the Android philosophy it has now was only truly cemented in 2010-2011. And rumors are at a fever pitch as to the possibility it will finally carry the iPhone.
The most striking change is surely the fate of the Japanese handset manufacturers. Remember Sharp, Panasonic, Toshiba and all the others? Some linger. Some died. Basically only Sony soldiers on. Get on a Tokyo train, you’ll basically only witness iPhones and Galaxys.

The other 2008

2008 was also the year when Nokia pulled out of Japan, having failed at capturing any significant market share (it pulled out its Vertu premium brand in 2011). Another symbol as five years later, the name won’t be seen on smartphones anymore anywhere. It shows how much not only Japan but the world of mobile has changed. How fast it’s still changing.

It’s not a full circle for me.

This blog was borne out of the frustrations I had endured trying to get an iPhone contract. As a foreigner not speaking the language well-enough, not to mention totally unable to read any of it, I thought I could help by providing some information. The world has changed there too, getting a smartphone is much more foreigner-friendly —I can swap a nano-SIM into my iPhone every time I land at Narita and get unlimited data, all that in English.

This is thus not the rebirth of a blog I had forgotten about. My friends, Joseph, Steve, Andrew, Pietro, who all wrote here, ventured to new horizons—new countries even—as I did. I’m still passionate about mobility and about Japan, it’s still a focus of my job, I just can’t be writing detailed articles on how to get a contract in Japan anymore. Thus, the scope of this blog is changing. Not only it is becoming more personal—I will be the only author—but it will be more about curating news, with a few words of analysis. Sometimes (and sometimes only), I’ll take time to write bigger stories.
The archives have been maintained, but the formatting is a work in progress, so just drop me a line if a post that interest you is borked and I’ll prioritize it.
There is also no more commenting either, I don’t have time to moderate, but you’re welcome to react on Google+, Facebook and Twitter.

This is pretty much it. Welcome to (the new) Mobile in Japan.


  1. au/KDDI beat its relative slump when it went iPhone in 2011 too. 

Joseph had covered a few language apps over two posts last year (see part 1 and part 2). Here’s a new one.

Midori is a Japanese/English dictionary useful if you are studying Japanese or if you find yourself lost in translation. This app is especially convenient for students, mainly for the following key features when studying Japanese:

    • Fast searching for translation terms. Whereas a lack of speed exists in many Japanese dictionaries, this app performs very well;

midori1

    • Kanji details are shown with an animation for the correct strokes drawing order;

midori2

midori3

    • A large number of examples using the searched word, which is great for learning purposes;

midori4

    • finally: bookmarks, kanji lists based on JLPT and a translation mode that automatically separates searchable words from particles.

In a nutshell, the strong point of this app is its speed and an easy, clean and minimalistic interface. Added bonus for the translation mode, really helpful to do searches of terms from an article.

Apple Store link

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.

 

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.

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