Smartphone Penetration in Japan: WTF

I know I shouldn’t be surprised. I know I shouldn’t. And I get it, I really do. Feature phones (flip phones) back in the what? the 90’s in Japan had mind-blowing technology. I remember being in awe every time I visited Japan from the states. I couldn’t believe what flip phones could do. How beautiful the large screens were. How colorful everything seemed. Even ringtones, were better on Japanese phones.

Japan always felt like I time warped into the future.

Fast forward to 2007 when Apple introduced the iPhone and the world USA* adopted to smart phones. While Sony and NTT Docomo and Sharp and Panasonic and the rest of the Japanese portable electronic giants looked the other way, iPhones now have the largest market share in Japan.

But still. The rate of smart phone market penetration is just insane. I look at the numbers and can’t help but be awestruck by how behind Japan is…


I mean… really????????? (chart via here)


And I look at most recent figures of people who purchased a smartphone from April to September of 2013. 82%. Of those, 68.5% of people switched from a feature phone (flip phone) to a smart phone. (chart via here)

I have no words…

But the good news is, because Japan is slower to adopt to smart phones than other developed nations, there is massive room for disruption. The Japanese are just now getting accustomed to visually appeasing, gesture friendly user experiences, so think of all the possibilities.

You know? I am so so so glad to be here right now.
This is one of the most exciting times to be in Japan.

*edited — Karl, you are correct indeed :)

6 thoughts on “Smartphone Penetration in Japan: WTF

  1. 2007… s/and the world adopted to smart phones./and the USA adopted to smart phones./
    reality distortion field. ;)

    Stats, stats can hide many things. I would love to see the distribution of purchases through the age pyramid. Also the break down of people having a phone bought by the company and those who are buying it individually. Some people have more than one phone. Which trends for smartphones in between these two categories for which brands. Also a smartphone is a lot harder to handle with one (small) hand than a shell or flip phones, which in a heavily used subway system is less than ideal. And people without phones at all since 2002 like me by choice, but that must be an ultra-minority :)

    There are many ways of looking at numbers. :)

    1. Re: your the first part, corrected as you are right. I still have very American habits where I assume USA = world. Working on changing that ;)

      As for your second comment — in Japan, it’s rare for people to have two phones only because our mobiles and mobile addresses are proprietary to a lot of mobile services that requires registration eg: LINE, Gree games, Suica, even sites and services like Tabelog, Cookpad, etc. Mobile services are also very pricey — another reason chat apps are so popular in Asia because they are platform agnostic.

      As for distro between age range, that information is available for a fee — if you’re willing to be a sponsor, I’ll happily disclose haha

      1. so for the two phones thing, I have a different experience (perception) depending on what/who contexts among my Japanese friends and family *working* for big corporations. The simple reason being that the corporate phone is not necessary the one they wanted. For the rest, indeed, other parts of my friends (students, people working in cafe, housewives, etc. etc. which must be the majority at the end of the day) only one phone. I also might have my own distorted reality having a lot of friends in the tech world. If it’s rare in Japan than same other modern countries, that would be interesting yet another interesting data points across countries.

        “Mobile services are also very pricey” I had to chuckle ;) Compared to? USA? Canada (super pricey)? Rich European countries? Poor European countries? Africa? South-East Asia (Singapore != India). :) Or are you talking about the NTTDocomo model with the traffic paid by volume instead of time? Or are you talking about the possibility to really pay for a service?

        Cool area with a lot of (poor) data, contexts and circumstances to explore. I wish the data were less driven by marketers and more by scientists though ;)

      2. In the US, I too, have the same experience as you. Most of my family/friends have two cell phones: one for work and for personal use. In Japan, it’s a little different. Of course there are people who carry two cell phones in Japan but not as many as in the West. Japanese corporations rarely issue company cell phones. Most of those whose mobile expenses are paid for, are high up on the food chain (executive level and above).

        Hence, the total number of mobile subscribers in Japan. We have 127 million people here and the total number of mobile subscriptions are 135,311,300 million people as of Nov. 2013 according to Japan’s Telecommunications Association. [1]. So I definitely agree an analysis of various markets and their countries would provide a way a more even way to compare across mobile dominant countries.

        As for mobile service pricing, compared with to the cost of living in Japan, the mobile expense ratio seems unjust. Japanese telecoms have dictated their pricing model for so long and it is still pay per transaction. We are charged per SMS, per phone call, etc., etc., hence the rise of messaging apps and their unlimited, free options.

        Pardon the poor data. Remember, this is a personal blog with a dump of thoughts. Not some outlet I’m getting paid for ;)

  2. “In the US, I too, have the same experience as you.”

    hehe. I never lived in USA. Just went there for business trips. :)
    Lived in France, Japan, Canada. Back in Japan in a couple of days.

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