Yup, pretty stupid, but it’s true that, at first, the iPhone didn’t catch on in Japan, and that was a problem for Apple, because Japan is the country where gadgets rule.
So what changed Apple’s fortunes in Japan? Women!
Fortune has an excellent article about how the iPhone killed off the well-established Japanese cell phone market, and the part women played in that:
First, he says, you have to understand what a colossal and unexpected hit the iPhone was with Japanese women. “The iPhone has been very strong among women from very early on. The original round plastic iPhone 3G series soon become a fashion item for Japanese women who also enjoyed the huge variation of cases and ease of decoration. Then there is the brand loyalty of Japanese women.”
Japan had phones just as good-looking as the iPhone. The once popular Infobar candy bar phone even won international design prizes. But the craze for the iPhone, despite lacking all the bells and whistles Japanese telecoms executives thought were indispensable (e-wallet, TV, etc) proved overwhelming.
There were other factors too. The competition in Japan is still operating under a carriers-first strategy: while device makers like Nokia and Samsung sell phones in Japan, they modify their devices for the Japanese carriers. Apple has always refused to placate carriers by bloating their devices with a bunch of carrier-dictated crapware, which makes them a more attractive option for consumers.
Finally? In Japan, all of the device makers are still thinking in terms of hardware, but as Steve Jobs has been saying for years, no one really cares about hardware: it’s the software that counts.
“As Steve Jobs once said, Japanese manufacturers’ biggest mistake is they didn’t realize how important software technology has become. Most of the executives at Japanese consumer electronics manufacturers were hardware engineers, and they don’t get the importance of software or how software business works.” he says.
It’s easy to see this corporate disconnect and executive befuddlement happening, even from these shores. Look at how hard Sony’s been struggling for years to turn the company away from an engineer-driven mindset. They’ve had a lot of success, particularly with the PlayStation brand, but that’s the point: on the PlayStation, software rules all. Sony’s been getting better — look at their Xperia line of Android devices — but up until recently, the rest of their product lines have been a total mess.