The Apple iPhone: Successes and Challenges for the Mobile Industry

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This is the title of a recent report produced by Rubicon Consulting, which I picked up via Michael Mace’s blog. I love statistics and stories on the iPhone, and although this is a study of the USA market, I will project from the US findings to look at if similar trends can be observed in Japan, and will Apple’s device be a success or not over here based on the reported results. You may have heard the recent news that the production of a 3G iPhone has started, so the Japan release is surely getting near. Let us look at the key statistics in the full report and see what they mean. All statements about the Japanese market are based on surveys previously translated on this blog.

Demographics

460 randomly-selected iPhone users from all over the US completed an internet-based questionnaire. The sex breakdown is not listed, but by age 0% were under 18, 5% were between 18 to 21, 15% between 22 to 25, 30% between 26 to 30, 26% between 31 to 40, 13% between 41 to 50, 6% between 51 to 60, 4% between 61 and 70, and 1% over 70 years old.

User satisfaction

Overall over 40% were strongly satisfied with most of the features, and almost 80% satisfied to some degree. However, under 30% were strongly satisfied with data speed; in Japan with ubiquitous 3G, the need for speed will surely be even stronger.

Data function usage

As with Japan, reading email was right up the top, but writing full emails was a bit lower, indicating issues with the touch keyboard, perhaps, although shorter SMSes were popular. Playing games was rather low, and reading e-books the lowest, which if you believe the foreign media (which I don’t) is the killer mobile app in Japan. On the other hand, connecting to the internet with WiFi is one of the top activities in the USA, but since public WiFi is as rare as hens’ teeth in Japan, this will be a difficult-to-use feature whenever the iPhone is released in Japan.

Mobile browsing

Over three-quarters of the users found their browsing increased with the iPhone. However, in Japan people are already heavy users of the limited browsers in most phones, and many popular sites are also optimised for mobile browsing, so this American trend may not carry over to Japan.

24% increase in mobile phone bills

This is a very difficult figure to relate to Japan, especially as no-one knows how the iPhone service plans will be priced. In addition, Japanese users are very familiar with paying for subscription services and being billed through their phone bill, so one could argue that with the iPhone people could escape the walled garden and easily access PC-targetted sites that provide similar services for free, thus reducing their overall bill.

Changing carriers

Almost half of iPhone users changed carriers; with almost everyone owning mobile phones, this makes offering Apple’s iPhone an attractive proposition for Japanese carriers.

Previous devices

Almost 40% replaced their previous smartphone with Apple’s smartphone. However, in Japan the smartphone market is pretty much negligible, this 40% in the USA will be only 4% in the Japan.

Two devices

People didn’t just upgrade, a sizable number carry two phones. Here, just over a third have two phones, and over two-thirds of this third carry smartphones, although one explanation might be that the smartphone is a company-issued device, and the iPhone is for personal use. Putting this and the previous chart together, perhaps over three in five iPhone users were already smartphone users! It is unimaginable that this trend will be seen in Japan.

Notebooks replaced by iPhones

Over half agreed to some extend that they are carrying their iPhone instead of a notebook computer. However, the USA’s notebook market favours larger devices, so replacing an A3-sized device by a pocket one looks attractive. However, A4 and smaller sizes are popular in Japan, so the trade-off does not look as attractive. In addition, despite many people having long journeys on public transport, usage of computers in trains is relatively rare, perhaps partially due to the frequent lack of elbow room, let alone seats, in crowded trains!

Desired features

Only 20% really wanted a 12-key number pad, and another 22% wanted it a little, but in Japan I am convinced that without this keypad, or a touchpad equivalent, the iPhone is doomed to failure.

Browser compatability

The key incompatability issue identified is the lack of Flash support in Apple’s iPhone. This is a big showstopper in Japan too, with almost all newer mobile phones supporting flash playback. In addition, as noted above, because Japanese already use the mobile web heavily a lot of the popular web sites have mobile-compatable versions available, so the average user already expects a high degree of compatability and will compare their iPhone experience with their existing device-tailored experience, and will surely be disappointed.

Hand pain

Just 12% reported a lot of finger pain from the touch interface, which I think would compare favourably with thumb pain from Japanese keyboards (I’ve not seen a survey on that topic!), so this looks like a strength of the iPhone in Jaqpan.

Previous Apple customers

Almost three-quarters of the purchasers were already Apple customers, with about half iPod only purchasers and a quarter Mac purchasers. With Apple dominating the Japanese market in portable audio players, there should be no concerns for Apple here.

iPhone owners have tech smarts

When asked to describe their technology expertise on a scale of 1 to 8, nearly three-quarters rated themselves in one of the top three ranks, a not unexpected result given the sort of people who tend to be early adopters of technology. However, I don’t know what can be inferred about Japan from this results.

Conclusion

This survey teaches a lot about the American consumer’s relationship with their iPhone, but it also serves to highlight the differences between them and the Japanese consumer. With the tiny Japanese smartphone market, and given the usage patterns reported in this survey, the iPhone as is will be a hard sell in the Japanese market and Apple can expect to sell it in the thousands or tens of thousands, not their hoped-for millions, if it is launched as-is without the essential additional functionality.

However, the killer problem as identified in a follow-up posting by Michael is that in the thankfully mostly piercing-free Japan, 27% of US users attach their iPhone to their body augmentations. This more than anything else will kill Apple’s iPhone in Japan.

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1 Comment »

  1. road signs said,
    February 24, 2010 @ 03:53

    That’s interesting. I wonder how America compares to the survey. I really want to know how Japan’s 3g speeds compare to ours though, because ours are lacking at some times.

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