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.

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

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.

[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.

It’s been a question that’s been asked by many of our readers here. Apple fanboys, maybe? But still.

How many iPhone have been sold in Japan?

Neither Apple or Softbank are releasing any official numbers on how many iPhones -and lately iPads- sold in Japan. The Cupertino company limits itself in pointing out the impressive growth in its quarterly earnings.

So I went ahead and asked as many analysts as I could think of. The smart ones only, don’t worry. And, no, I didn’t ask Steve Jobs.

The consensus is that 5 million iPhone have been sold in Japan since its debut on July 2008.

That’s 70% or more of the smartphone market in the country, if you believe surveys and expert firms.

Don’t dream, there’s no breakdown between the three models available here -3G, 3GS and the latest 4. But, to those who called the iPhone as a failure here, this is just a slap in the face.

Is the iPhone a success?

What constitutes a success is in the eye of the beholder. Every analyst, journalist, blogger I’ve asked the question to has his/her own definition of success. Some are impressed by the iPhone, some not at all. But, at least, they know what the Japanese market is like, how peculiar it is, and, more strikingly, how different it was before and after the iPhone. Next time you want to know about Japan, ask people who know about Japan, not some random copywriter just because he’s writing for an established paper in the US.

Now, 70% of the smartphone market? Smartphones do not even reach the 10% threshold in Japan. It’s still a rare beast -well, you could say that all Japan phones are smartphones, but let’s not get into this debate now, will you. And, if we believe unscientific but valuable analysis from those in the know, many users are getting an iPhone along with their existing keitai, beefing up the numbers a bit.

The iPhone has had limitations in Japan from the start. A peculiar Japanese-input system -even if that one is not as important now. No access to the web portals users are used to on their keitai and which brings all the insane services many people are drooling over abroad -like a train application that gives you the best routes & schedules, but also where to walk from one station to another if it’s raining along with the extra time it takes. A strange new mobile email address, without emojis at the start and still without all the decoration than every other dumb phone offers -don’t laugh, it is important for some segment of the market here. No digital TV tuner. No e-book store. No waterproof pink color choice.

And SoftBank. Wait, I don’t dislike the carrier, but it’s only the #3 in the race. It’s the used-to-be-foreign carrier (it was called Vodafone, you know). It has a lesser coverage, especially when compared with how good DoCoMo’s is.

But still. Not a single phone -even with three iterations- has ever held such a market share in Japan -hovering at 5%. Never. Ever. A phone from a newcomer -well, ok, Apple has historically been the only foreign electronic brand ranked at the top of consumer surveys. A candy bar smartphone in a world of clamshell keitais.

Just go to any electronic store in Tokyo and look at the sheer number of Japan-made iPhone accessories. It’s insane.

5 million is a success. Accept it.

The iPhone effect

I’m already seeing those who dislike Apple hitting me on Twitter and explaining them their view. Peeps, please. I’m known for having an everything-Apple setup. It doesn’t mean that I’m blind to realities.

Now, admit it. The Japanese mobile phone industry has changed since the iPhone arrival. Every other week, you’ve got one of the big three announcing a new smartphone, while this type of phones were just absent before -no Blackberry in the hands of CEOs, the odd Palm or WinPhone and that’s it. You just had to stroll through the aisles of the recent CEATEC in Tokyo to see that smartphones and tablets were on everybody’s booth -and lips. One could even argue that the whole SIM lock debate is partially to blame on the iPhone.

Come on, even the whole advertising campaign DoCoMo is running for the Samsung Galaxy S makes it look like an iPhone.

DoCoMo is clever: 1 in 4 of its users would get an iPhone. 25% of almost 60m subscribers.

So, yeah, thank God Android exists. After a few false starts with poor models, DoCoMo is getting serious in the smartphone game with that S beauty. KDDI is touting its Sharp IS03 flagship -plus the Skype partnership. And they’re great phones. I’ve tested both. They will be a success.

Estimates are than in less than five years, between 40 and 70% of sales (depending on which analyst you believe) will be coming from the smartphone segment in a cellphone-saturated-Japan -sales estimates range between 10 and 13% for 2010. They also estimate that most mobile revenues will come from these higher-priced devices. Factor in the fact that DoCoMo, KDDI and SoftBank already derive most of their revenue from data. That mobile advertising already brought more than USD 1bn in 2009 and you’ve got the storyline for the market in the next five years.

DoCoMo might have started the application market more than 10 years ago with the i-mode, there has never been the same rush of developers creating for them than its the case with the iTunes App Store -just log on there and witness the incredible number of local apps. DoCoMo had the standard. It had the control. Apple displaced that control. SoftBank has no say over what is coming to the iPhone. The revenue stream is shifting.

While the story will be slightly different with Android, KDDI installing its own Android app market and DoCoMo creating a portal -not a store per se-, the end game is that data will be revenue. Data + ads + mobile commerce will be revenue.

Users are loving it. Developers are loving it. Carriers are loving it. Big party with balloons and hugs. Well, not exactly, we don’t live in a perfect world, but you see the idea -and the opportunities for everyone.

Don’t read the 5m iPhones sold into an ode to Apple. Don’t even believe the 5m number if you wish, I don’t care.

Read this as the sign that the mobile market ecosystem in Japan is evolving.

Darwinism is hitting the Galapagos.