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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.

The Nikkei calls it a sudden collapse of the monopoly. I simply think the writing was on the wall.

The iPhone is coming to KDDI/au.

The Writing was on the wall

I had predicted that the iPhone would land at KDDI —and not DoCoMo, the market leader— last March already.

No need to rephrase myself, the reason number 1 was simple:

Exclusive deals are gone. As many -and we- had correctly guessed it, SoftBank’s exclusivity ran for two years. July 2008 – July 2010.

Japanese customers willing to put their hands on the iPhone will now have a choice, if rumors are correct —and I strongly believe they are.

SoftBank or KDDI.

And with the iPhone 5 being a “world phone”, a multi-standard phone that can work on different technologies —SoftBank uses GSM, KDDI/au W-CDMA—, it’s …one iPhone to rule them all. No need for Apple to manufacture two different handsets for the dueling carriers.

SoftBank Crown Jewel

SoftBank was the first and exclusive provider of the iPhone in Japan so far. I still remember the 17 hours queue on Omotesando-dori that July 11, 2008 (the 2G network being only but a memory in Japan, the iPhone 3G was the first release here). It was my first iPhone and it was the prime reason behind the existence of this blog (getting a phone when not fluent in Japanese was tough back then, it’s now easier, and my Japanese is far better too).

In the years since, there has been a lot of non-sense about the apparent failure of the handset to succeed here. A year ago, without official sources, I was estimating that the iPhone had sold 5 million units in Japan. Naysayers can shut up.

Inferring from various sources, I’d say that number is in the 7.3 – 7.5m range now and represents 50% of all the smartphones in the country, even reaching the 70% within the 16-24 y.o. market —iOS has a bigger overall share with maybe 4m iPods and around a million iPads. Gartner stated that Japan accounted for 6% of iPhone shipments in a report last fall.

Market Expansion

SoftBank is only the third cell provider in Japan in market share. It boasts around 27m subscribers, having gotten a big boost out of the iPhone sales —it has basically beaten its competitors in new contract sign-ups for 17 months straight.

No doubt Apple was willing to expand its opportunities by adding the 34m of KDDI.

I know, why not go for DoCoMo and its 59m subscribers directly? I estimate that it’s still in the works, but that it was just easier to deal with KDDI. That carrier hasn’t had a real smartphone smash hit and is desperate to catch up.

This position has made the negotiations easier. Especially when you think that such negotiations can be unusual for Apple, as Japan is a country where mobile operators traditionally control or heavily influence handset manufacturers, hardware specs, features sets, installed-software and product life cycles, a model that Apple shattered.

I’m also pretty sure that the deal includes a hefty sum from KDDI. But we might never know.

Another possible factor: chatter is that iPhone sales growth slowed down in Q1 2011, a possible trigger for Apple to look elsewhere. I’m pretty certain negotiations had started before those numbers were known though.

Interestingly, KDDI is the mobile operator which offers the most smartphones in its line-up, but none of them has been a smashing success like the iPhone or the Samsung line at DoCoMo.

About 20m smartphones will be sold next year in Japan. The annihilation of the dumb phone market might be as soon as 2015 at this growing rate. Viva Android and iOS!

Customer Choice

From a customer point of view, the quality of KDDI’s network compared to what many say is the worse of the three, SoftBank, will undoubtedly push some current iPhone owners to switch —well, transfers of users is the rule anyway, it’s not as if Japan has any room to grow, the numbers of subscribers already surpasses the number of inhabitants in the island.

The big question is when. Sources disagree. Some say the iPhone 5 is coming on KDDI by this October/November. Others insist it’s not before January 2012. That last date is plausible: it could be the second roll-out of iPhones after the US. Apple has applied this country roll-out differentiation in the past to cope with demand. We could learn it officially as soon as September 29 anyway.

But customers seems eager to get it sooner than later. Twitter in Japan was all abuzz about the prospect today, with the news trending throughout the day, showing signs of interest to say the least —but also disappointment in no DoCoMo iPhone news.

Another place that knows about trends: the Tokyo stock market. It has hit Softbank’s stock with a 12% fall. Ouch.

Is it a turning point for SoftBank? That’s a debate for another article.

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

Only by then it will ready be One iPhone To Rule Them All.

Update: it’s now official

There’s one constant in life as in business, change.

DoCoMo, Japan number 1 telco, has just announced a partnership with Vodafone, basically taking over SoftBank’s multinational enterprise clients.

You might remember that SoftBank Mobile was actually named Vodafone Japan from 2003 to 2006. The British mobile phone group had a stake in J-PHONE, its predecessor since 1999.

Well, SoftBank has now lost pretty much what remained of this past, the multinational companies. DoCoMo will now be leading the sales and marketing for this portfolio of customers.

It will act as a single point of contact for enterprise solutions, along with its Conexus partners, an strategic alliance of mobile carriers across Asia Pacific.

The switch will happen in December.

Remember that scene in Lost In Translation where Bill Murray randomly orders food from a menu he’s at loss understanding?

DoCoMo is making this a thing of the past.

The Japanese telco giant has released an Android app that translates restaurants menus on the fly: 料理メニュー翻訳. Japanese, English, Korean and Chinese.

You just have to take a photo with the camera and the text gets translated in less than a fifth of a second.

This reminds me a bit of WordLens, the iPhone app that grabbed some headlines at the end of last year. It allows live translations of text through the Google Translate API (video). But maybe because that API is being deprecated, the app never went further than English to Spanish and reverse.

DoCoMo probably uses its own custom set of translation technologies, maybe based on the same roots than the simultaneous interpretation system that it displayed this spring at Wireless Japan 2011 —I mean, just look at this video, that was quite impressive.

The Android app can be downloaded for free, but only on 2.1+ systems. Its use will remain free of charge until mid-January, during which time the company will use consumers’ feedback to iterate it.

DoCoMo is already working on expanding the thesaurus besides restaurant menus.

Well…「そのためのアプリケーションがあります」

 

[nohang foo="bar"]Update: For our foreign friends, DoCoMo notes that a subscriber account is needed —i.e. a DoCoMo SIM card inserted in the compatible phone. It might well just be a case of not offering support if you’re roaming from your national carrier. Starting January 2012 though, you might be locked out by not having the possibility to pay for the service (thanks to my fellow Pietro Zuco for the help understanding the small prints). Don’t hesitate to share your experiences in the comments below.[/nohang]

The 4 year-old company and strong Google competitor in mobile advertising, InMobi, has just received USD 200m from SoftBank.

The funding will take place in two tranches, 100m this month and another guaranteed 100m in April 2012. If you take into account that inMobi is from India, this could very well be one of the largest round of investment ever for this area of the world.

Google had purchased AdMob almost two years ago, cementing its leader position in the market. InMobi just bought Sprout, a US-based startup that facillitates the serving of HTML5 ads. Both have offices in Tokyo.

Asia’s number 1?

Masayoshi Son, SoftBank CEO, has an interesting justification on this funding decision:

We believe this partnership will help softBank become the number one Internet company in Asia

That’s bold. Very Son-like.

SoftBank already invested in Yahoo! Japan, a separate company from the rest of the world more than 15 years ago, around which it will release an Android smartphone —for now called the Yahoo! Phone (I wonder, why not the YPhone?).

It recently partnered with DropBox for its Asian expansion, but also invested in the luxury travel specialist Gilt Group, the social gaming mammoth Zynga or the live streaming service UStream.

By all accounts, SoftBank can already be named as a big player in the online space in Japan.

The goal of becoming number 1 in Asia is still a long shot. It reminds me a bit of the pledge of many other japanese web companies willing to internationalize, using their massive cash reserves.

Now, the recent row with Alibaba about its payment system Alipay proves that money isn’t enough a strategy.

But if one man can do it from Japan, it might very well be Son.

The top carrier in Japan, NTT DoCoMo, is set to announce a big licensing deal with Twitter in the coming hours.

Data, data, data

The telecom mammoth is partnering with Twitter in order to release various types of applications based on Twitter’s massive amount of data.

The first service would be a new type of location-based service in Japan, set to launch in Q4.

The trick? Instead of using the traditional “follow” command on Twitter directly, users equipped with near-field-communication (NFC) devices will just have to touch each other’s phone to establish a mutual follow relationship.

The point? Alerting users about local information (events for instance) through the firehose of information, using the current location.

The uptake? DoCoMo will be able to survey users’ behaviors with ultra-local precision. Data that it will use to enhance its offering but that it also could sell to marketers.

DoCoMo also envisions to add Twitter results in its i-mode portal (the ancestor to today’s app stores and such) this summer already. Other applications will be announced at a later stage.

Twitter in Japan?

In Japan, Twitter has been a huge success, to the point that Katie Jacob Stanton, VP International Strategy, recently admitted that roughly 25% of tweets are now coming from here.

Until now, Twitter had only directly dealt with SoftBank, the #3 mobile operator in Japan having installed a Twitter button on some of its phones (think of it as a shortcut).

SoftBank is also rumored to develop its own Twitter client for both feature- and smart- phones, although not much is known at this stage.

Privacy

The deal obviously raises some privacy concerns. Nikkei affirms that all data will be anonymized. And, let’s be clear, Twitter’s updates are already in the open anyway —unless one has set the account on private. Still, I’m rather certain that there will be some reaction in a country that had so many concerns about Google Street View —again a case of public data, just suddenly gathered in one place.

Future

The actual use of NFC seems a bit limited at this point —maybe a way to lure users to have fun with their groups of known friends around them—, but I wouldn’t exclude some further developments with ultra-local deals down the line.

Now, learning that the biggest mobile telco in the world partnering with Twitter remains very interesting.

Will DoCoMo be able to correctly channel the amount of data in order to offer both added-value for its customers and its ad partners? Will this further establish Twitter’s presence in Japan —the news coming roughly a month after the first ever country manager was announced in the country— ?

On the other side of the ocean, I’m sure Twitter is listening carefully. If this proves successful, don’t be surprised to see the model replicated elsewhere.

 

Our sources were right. The iPad 2 is arriving in Japan tomorrow, April 28.

And, you know what? The elusive white iPhone 4 will be in stores as well.

The official confirmation comes from no other than SoftBank. A few minutes ago, they added this update on their Twitter account:

It confirms both the iPad 2 …and the white version of Apple’s iPhone. Thanks for waiting!

Pricing

The second Twitter update, a few seconds later, confirms the iPad 2 pricing.

  • Wi-Fi 16GB JPY 44,800
  • Wi-Fi 32GB JPY 52,300
  • Wi-Fi 64GB JPY 60,800
  • Wi-Fi + 3G 16GB JPY 56,640
  • Wi-Fi + 3G 32GB JPY 64,800
  • Wi-Fi + 3G 64GB JPY 72,720

The prices are very close to those of the first version of the iPad when it was released.

What about the data plans for the 3G versions ? iPad 2 for everybody it is [Ja, PDF]. It’s again similar to what SoftBank offered to iPad 1 owners.

Since it’s SoftBank that went ahead and confirmed all the info without Apple having updated anything -yet-, we can pretty much be certain that the SIM lock –unseen in the rest of the world– stays in place for the moment.

Enough supplies?

One thing is certain. Apple is very confident it will be able to supply enough tablets to this very important market, all the while expanding into Singapore, Hong Kong, Korea, eight other countries on April 29 and China on May 6 (Wi-Fi model only). The company announced very strong numbers for its last quarter, although some analysts were disappointed. All inventory was sold but the earthquake that hit us left scars in the local supply chain essential for Cupertino. Tim Cook admitted some disruption last week while stressing that employees worked “around the clock” to mitigate the issues.

Will there be enough iPad 2 for Japan? The staggering USD 11bn purchase commitment should help.

PR Chaos?

On the communication front, only SoftBank is communicating. Nothing from Apple yet. The roll-out is unusual for Apple, to say the least. We just know that the Genius Bar are not accepting appointments until Saturday, certainly to cope with the sales.

No pre-order period –a great revenue maker for both Apple and Softbank via the anticipation build-up. Did they want to avoid hurting those iPad 1 sales? Maybe. Word is that if you’re getting a -discounted- iPad 1, you won’t have an exchange offer for the iPad 2. Ouch!

No real free publicity period this time around either –no posters in electronic stores announcing the new date, but then again, they had already printed the original ones with “March 25”.

Unprecedented. Unusual. Some hardcore fans might dislike how this plays out. Let’s wait and see. And let’s see the queues building up in front of stores tomorrow!

 

Oh… as I’m about to hit the publish button, SoftBank official press release [Ja] comes up. 20 minutes later. It’s honestly a bit chaotic. You gotta love the real-time news, right?

 

 

Help Japan

Whether or not you care about the iPad 2 or the white iPhone, you should continue to help Japan.

Mobile in Japan supports our amazing friends at #quakebook who created the beautiful 2:46: Aftershocks: Stories from the Japan Earthquake. Buy it on Amazon (US store: http://amzn.to/quakebook & UK store: http://amzn.to/qbuk). 100% of your money goes to the Japan Red Cross society.

 

Turns out I was wrong.

I had placed my bets for a mid-May release, but the second iteration of the iPad will hit Japan’s shores on April 28. That’s tomorrow, folks. You read that right.

Our various sources confirm it.

April 28 in all stores

As the Nikkei correctly reports, the tablet will debut Thursday in Apple stores, retailers and Softbank Mobile outlets. That last part seems could confirm that the iPad might very well still be SIM locked in Japan, i.e. no way to slip another micro-SIM than the official carrier (but free to put international chips in).

Apple sold all the iPad 2 it had on its inventory last quarter, but some analysts called the numbers a bit disappointing. The recent disaster in Japan and its related components shortage –Japanese suppliers being responsible from flash memory chips to screen overlays– didn’t allow the company to muster production further. Apple’s acting CEO admitted some supply chain disruption last week but stayed silent on a release date in Japan. Since then, the company committed to a staggering USD 11bn purchase commitment, concomitant with the tablet expansion into new countries in Asia.

A release in Japan shows Cupertino is very confident in its ability to widely deliver the product.

The re-opening of the Apple store in Sendai last Thursday showed a relative return to normalcy for Apple Japan. The city and its one million resident were the closest to the massive earthquake and its following tsunami. Some unconfirmed rumors mention a symbolic launch of the iPad 2 in that shop, but I wouldn’t bet on it at this hour.

Geniuses to the rescue

Our own Joseph Tame indicates that there’s a sudden lack of Genius bar availability starting tomorrow until Saturday. Ressources are being redirected for an influx of customers, as the iPad 2 will undoubtedly lead to lots and lots of people queueing in front of the major stores.

White iPhone

Some of our sources are mentioning that the elusive white version of the iPhone might also arrive tomorrow. This is all very muddy to me. It is supposedly arriving in the US today, although the official online store still only displays the black version.

In any case, if you’re looking for the iPad 2, start queuing!

[box] UPDATE: It’s official, both iPad 2 and white iPhone released April 28. Pricing confirmed. Read more.[/box]

Help Japan

Whether or not the iPad 2 is released tomorrow, you should continue to help Japan.

Mobile in Japan supports our amazing friends at #quakebook who created the beautiful 2:46: Aftershocks: Stories from the Japan Earthquake. Buy it on Amazon (US store: http://amzn.to/quakebook & UK store: http://amzn.to/qbuk). 100% of your money goes to the Japan Red Cross society.

More than a month after the earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan, there’s finally official word about the impact on Apple’s global supply chain.

Apple’s Q2 2011 earnings –which, it has to be noted, remain very strong– allowed Tim Cook to address the question directly.

Disruption mitigated

As pointed out yesterday, the disruption to Apple’s sourcing seems to have been mitigated for the past month through some extra effort, leading to minimal sales impact.

The acting CEO acknowledged during the Q&A session that Apple was sourcing “hundreds of items” from Japan. These range from LCD components to coatings and optical drives. “The earthquake and tsunami and nuclear crisis caused disruption for suppliers”. Acknowledging the difficulties, Cook added that “employees have been literally working around the clock” and have come up with a “number of contingency plans”. He stressed the impressive resilience and “outstanding teamwork” of Apple’s partners in Japan.

Uncertain future

The situation remains uncertain, as the company would prefer to maintain its long-lasting relationship. “There’s obviously no guarantees” warned Tim Cook as he anticipated no shortage nor cost impact for the upcoming quarter. Apple will revisit the situation during the next earnings in September.

Cook admitted that there had been an impact on revenue for Q2 but that it shouldn’t amount to more than USD 200m for Q3. As a reminder, Apple’s revenue in Japan were about 1.4bn USD for the last quarter of 2010.

No word on iPad2

Apple didn’t announce any release date for the delayed iPad2 in Japan. It seems to rule out a roll-out in the next few days, that some analysts had predicted. I personally remain bullish on a mid-May release date.

 

Remember that you can help Japan. Strike that, remember that you should help Japan. “It’s an incredible tragedy” says Tim Cook. Head over our friends at #quakebook, and buy their ‘2:46: Aftershocks: Stories from the Japan Earthquake’ (direct Amazon links: http://amzn.to/quakebook (US) & http://amzn.to/qbuk (UK)). 100% of the money goes to the Japan Red Cross society.

 

Image credit: Quasic, under cc by-sa 2.0 license.

The Mobile Marketing Association Forum in Singapore is right around the corner.

I was there last year, along with a few other executives focused on Japan and it was a highlight of my 2010 conference circuit. Hence and even if I had to cancel my speaking engagement this year (sorry Rohit!), I’d like to recommend this event to all of you interested in the mobile business across Asia Pacific.

The event will take place on May 4 & 5, preceded by a full day of workshops on the 3rd, all at the Grand Hyatt Singapore. Representatives of companies ranging from Dentsu to Alcatel-Lucent, from Google to Ogilvy will certainly ensure that the full mobile prism is covered, from brands to telcos.

 


Got what it takes for The Pitch?

A new addition to the program caught my eye. Called The Pitch, it will allow six companies to demonstrate in six minutes how disruptive their service is. No Powerpoint –hallelujah!–, no presentation, just raw convincing. I like that.

Three benefits of taking part in The Pitch
#1. Visibility is important.
Some of the best products never make it to market, because no one sees them, and with ever-rising levels of competition in the current economic climate, becoming invisible is the best way to lose out. Get the edge on the competition, and make your pitch.
#2. The audience is focused.
The very nature of MMAF attracts an audience that is going to be interested in your product or service, particularly if you can emphasize its mobile technology angle. Why try to make yourself heard over the crowd, when you can talk to the right audience right here.
#3. Short, sharp and to the point.
The show and tell format of The Pitch strips away a lot of the unnecessary fluff, and instead puts your innovation front and centre. The fast pace of the event also helps to keep things moving along – and keeps the audience of top executives captivated, and interested.

The committee is still considering candidates, so if you think that you got what it takes, just submit yours.

So what are you waiting for?

Register with the  following code to get a 10% discount: P21317TWMMA

If you do go, let me know in the comments. If not, you’ll be able to get live updates on Twitter via @MMA_APAC and #MMAF.

On a personal note, I’m particularly sad to be missing Tomi Ahonen –the mobile uber-twitter. I mean, besides being a great guy, just check his blog. I promise I’ll try to make it again next year.

[box] UPDATE: the iPad 2 arrives on April 28. Read more. Official pricing here. [/box]

We are delaying the launch of the iPad 2 in Japan while the country and our teams focus on recovering from the recent disaster

That was a month ago. But with with the end of the self-restraint period that many are calling for –including the Prime Minister, will we see the tablet in the hands of Japanese soon?

Coming soon

According to the chatter, it’s probable. The iPad2, originally planned for March 25, could either land in Japan next week –in line with Hong Kong, South Korea and Singapore– or in mid-May.

Two potential dates? It’s still a rumor and neither SoftBank or Apple would confirm anything, as usual. I won’t go into the overused “people in the know” formula, but I think we’re close.

My bet would be mid-May.

Supply chain disruption

With ‘Made in Japan’ all over NAND flash chips, DRAM chips, electronic compasses and, possibly, some touch screens overlays, analyst firm IHS iSuppli has been warning of potential iPad2 shortages more than a month ago.

Whilst the iPad is assembled in China, it’s hard to overlook the impact of the destruction -or temporary suspension of production- of factories and the logistical difficulties inherent to the aftermath of one of the worst natural disasters in recent memory.

Cupertino denies supply issues altogether and the apparent continuity in the the sales -demand just outstripping supply- would make some believe everything remained normal.

My take? With companies like Toshiba, Nikon, Sony, Fujitsu, Panasonic or Hitachi scaling down production and more than a thousand aftershocks which might be keeping some semiconductor factories shut down, Apple’s supply chain couldn’t not have been disrupted. The sourcing couldn’t easily have been redirected towards other countries –think South Korea and Taiwan. Most probably, Chinese factories had a confortable buffer of parts during the launch period and the last month allowed for corrections in the sourcing process. The current aggressive approach –from offering upfront cash paiements to suppliers to agreeing to price hikes to ensure provision–  shows Apple is willing to do whatever it takes.

Add this fact: about 5 per cent of the company’s revenue are coming from Japan according to the Dec. 2010 quarterly report. That’s USD 1.4bn.

Hard to overlook. The iPad2 cannot be too far from the shores of Japan.

[box] UPDATE: Tim Cook confirms trouble with suppliers, stays mum on Japan iPad2 release date. Read more.[/box]

Help Japan

Don’t misread me, the decision of Apple not to sell the iPad2 as scheduled in Japan was obviously not linked with pure logistics, the company was and remains committed to help during this time of mourning. It has actually done a lot for the relief support, either via employees going the extra mile -amazing story- in various stores across the country or via the official iTunes compilation ‘Songs for Japan‘.

You should continue to help too.

Mobile in Japan supports our amazing friends at #quakebook who created the beautiful 2:46: Aftershocks: Stories from the Japan Earthquake. Buy it on Amazon (US store: http://amzn.to/quakebook & UK store: http://amzn.to/qbuk). 100% of your money goes to the Japan Red Cross society.

[box] UPDATE: the iPad 2 arrives on April 28. Read more. Official pricing here. [/box]

For those who have been living under a rock these past 24 hours, Apple has announced the new iPad. It’s thinner and comes in two colors -ok, more than that, just Google it, the specs are all over the web.

While it will land on March 11 in the USA, a few selected countries, including Japan, will get it on March 25.

These are the known facts. Let’s get to the questions.

SoftBank only?

The iPad 2 comes in more flavors than its predecessor. Besides the white & black color options, the 16, 32 & 64GB  versions and the Wi-Fi only model, the iPad 3G will have two variants. This is new and this is where it could become interesting.

Apple will offer the first model with UMTS/HSDPA/HSUPA (850, 900, 1900, 2100 MHz) & GSM/EDGE (850, 900, 1800, 1900 MHz) connectivity, the same technology that existed on the first Wi-Fi + 3G model and the one used by SoftBank. Let’s call it the “AT&T model”. The second, however, is new: the “Verizon model” is made for CDMA EV-DO Rev. A (800, 1900 MHz).

It means that, like the iPhone 4/5, the iPad 2 could work on au/KDDI’s network. The big question is then: is Softbank still in a sort-of exclusive agreement with Apple over the iPad?

When the iPad was released last May, many were caught off-guard by the fact that it was SIM-locked nationwide. No other microSIM card than SoftBank’s could be put in any iPad 3G sold in Japan, the only market to have this limitation. The new models come less than 12 months later and the addition of a variant that SoftBank cannot use shouts for the end of any such deal. With the chatter around KDDI negotiating for the iPhone 5 and DoCoMo’s CEO not having lost all hope on getting it -as he stated a week ago-, could it be that Cupertino’s tablet also becomes carrier-independent?

Chances are not high, it seems likely that iPad buyers will be tied to SoftBank for a bit more, but it creates room for potential competition as the general SIM unlocking debate continues to rage.

Right now Apple Japan only displays the existing arrangement, with 3G models being sold by SoftBank only and the carrier only redirects to Apple in its press release. One thing seems for sure though, tethering with iOS 4.3 won’t work in Japan -surely SoftBank’s specific requirement.

Pricing

Pricing is not known at this point, but with Apple replicating the iPad 1 price ranges in the US, Japan might very well have a similar deal, with prices being the same than last May. Apple won’t let a price war happen on the device, only data plans could see some interesting movements if another mobile operator enter the game. Note that the iPad For Everybody plan by SoftBank did end on February 28, maybe making room for an iPad 2-specific offer.

It will also be interesting to see if KDDI -or any MVDO like b-mobile– will release a dedicated microSIM for imported “Verizon-model” devices. And what SoftBank reaction could then be.

Availability

The surprisingly short pre-order period in the US and the close release date in international markets could mean limited availability. Apple has obviously planned the release well and is known for its great supply chain structure, but I would be surprised if Japan receives massive amounts of iPads, not to mention “Verizon models” -if they make it here at all- at start. Be prepared to queue.

You can be officially notified about the iPad 2 news by submitting your email at Apple. And discuss if you’ll get one in the community forums.

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