Kentaro Tohyama is proud of his new Apple’s iPhone. When the device became available in Japan, he stood overnight in line to get it for the first time. However, the 29-year-old computer engineer is not about to part with his made-in-Japan cell phone either. That kind of cautious response to the July 11 arrival of Apple Inc.'s phone appears common in Japan.
The iPhone was welcomed in Japan with long lines of gadget fans. However, it has also being seen as shockingly alien to this nation's quirky and closed mobile world, somewhat like the 19th Century "black ships" of U.S. Commodore Matthew Perry that forced an isolationist Japan to open to the West.
Many Japanese buyers were curious about the iPhone's sleek design. Some of them acknowledged that the device might show the Japanese market some new tricks. Tohyama's eyes were opened by the iPhone's quick access to the Internet, much like that of a personal computer.
Some Japanese cell phones show web pages. However, access on even the latest models is slower than on the iPhone. Most Japanese phones do not present as colorful a picture as the iPhone does. Instead, they often show black-and-white text outside of sites tailor-made for cell phones. We cannot watch YouTube clips on Japanese phones. However, iPhone has made it possible.
Japan's cloistered mobile system has its own icons for e-mail and other unique tools. Many people, even iPhone fans like Tohyama, are likely to stick to their old-style phones lest they be left out of familiar communication circles.
Young people in Japan take for granted the ability to share e-mail addresses, phone numbers and other contact information by beaming it from one phone to another over infrared connections. Being without those instantaneous exchanges would be the death knell on the Japanese dating circuit. However, the iPhone only has Bluetooth wireless links, without infrared connection.
The iPhone lacks other technology long available on Japanese cell phones, such as a built-in camcorder, voice recognition, digital TV broadcasts and an "electronic wallet" function. Moreover, Japanese cell phone users also might struggle with the fact that using the iPhone requires both hands.
Analysts said it was unclear whether the iPhone will catch on with the masses in Japan or end up a fad with the computer-savvy niche. Sales so far in Japan are hard to discern. Apple said it sold 1 million iPhones in the first three days its newest model was on the market. However, the company offered no regional breakdown.
The Japanese carrier of the iPhone, Softbank Corp., said it sold out of the gadgets on the first day. However, it did not reveal how many had been available. One clue comes from GfK Marketing Services Japan Ltd. that said Softbank sold half of all mobile phones in Japan that day, up from a typical 19 percent.
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