iPhone success changing Japanese mobile landscape

by PYB James | Dec 01, 2010

The huge popularity of the iPhone in Japan has created in-roads into a market previously thought impenetrable by foreign companies.

The arcane nature of the Japanese mobile phone market has, up to now, made it almost totally inaccessible to non-Japanese companies looking to sell and develop games and other applications.

The typical Japanese mobile phone was made to work on networks hardly used anywhere else and was overcrowded with quirky apps and games catering exclusively for micro-popular local tastes.

The cell phone market in Japan was so insular, it became known to industry insiders as the ‘Galapagos’, named after the South American island where lots of unique and exotic animals have evolved because of its isolation.

Mobiles in Japanese slang are known as “galakei” derived from a combination of Galapagos and the word for cell phone, which is “keitai”.

Until recently, foreign apps developers viewed Japan insular mobile world as unconquerable but the tens of thousands of apps available to iPhone users seems to have changed all that.

Mobile services in the country have always involved lots of services charging small fees, so Japanese consumers are well used to paying for apps and unsurprisingly, UK, US and other foreign development companies are beginning to focus on the huge potential of the galakei market.

Brian Lee, a senior manager at Taiwanese developers Penpower Inc., which produces an app for organising business cards, says “The Japanese are well-educated. They will pay for applications. A lot of developers are coming into this market.”

Rovio Mobile, the Finnish company that gave the world Angry Birds, launched a Japanese version last month. The app has been the number one iPhone game in the UK, the US and 70 other countries and has clocked over 27 million downloads in one year and is currently the number six game in Japan.

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