Unveiling The Japanese Mobile Market

3 min read

Welcome to the world of the Japanese mobile market, where mobile Internet usage is more popular than on the PC.

Watching TV, playing music, listening to FM radio, browsing rich web content on your mobile for a few hours every day, playing high quality games, emailing instead of SMS text messaging, enjoying online shopping, making payments at convenient stores, doubling as train tickets, etc.  Yes, it’s all on mobile, and it’s not a new story; Japanese people have been used to it for years. We can find many interesting uses of mobile phones and corresponding unique products and services in Japan. I would like to introduce them to you one by one, but I think it would be great to understand some background of the Japanese mobile market first before getting into specific topics.

Market Scale

Japan, which has a population of 130 million, has a uniquely immense mobile market. Its mobile content market has reached a 3.8 billion dollar scale, while the mobile commerce market hit 6.6 billion according to research by Japan Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communication. In addition, research by Dentsu-Souken indicates the mobile advertisement market scale jumps to a billion dollars in 2008, which was only 0.4 billion dollars in 2006.

(Source: Japan Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communication)

3G Infrastructure

The Japanese mobile industry has grown up rapidly, and one of the main factors in this tremendous growth has been its high-speed Internet connection infrastructure. The current highest speed offered by carriers is 7.2Mbps. Docomo, the biggest mobile operator in Japan, has also been experimenting with the 1Gbps (4G) speed, which is expected to be in commercial use in four years. The world’s first 3G connection was launched by Docomo in Japan in 2001. A study by TCA indicates that almost 90% of Japanese mobile users have 3G or 3.5G handsets today, and 2G and 2.5G handsets are no longer available in stores according to JEITA’s analysis on July. Many of them sign up to unlimited data usage plans since all mobile operators offer them at reasonable prices. Research by Info-Sharing Business Institute, Ltd also says that 50% of the mobile subscribers in Japan will have 3.5G within 2008. In such a country with high 3G and 3.5G penetration, it is perfectly normal for them to search on Google, read news, log into SNS’s and write blogs on their mobile. Teenagers spend an average of two hours on mobile Internet daily, according to a study of domestic Internet usage in 2007 by The Cabinet Office, government of Japan.

(Source: Plus Eight Star and comScore)

Phone Specs

In addition to 3G, the usage of cameras on handsets has increased the amount of time users spend on their mobiles. Today, it is very hard to find a handset without a camera in Japan. Users can record video with it, and the quality of cameras is high enough for daily usage (better than 2M pixel in all models). Handsets also normally have an external memory slot so that users can save pictures and videos to a micro SD card. It’s commonplace to see people taking pictures or videos in many scenarios including at a restaurant or tourist spot. They send their photos to their PC, share them with friends via email, and/or upload them to SNS or photo sharing services. It is easy to visualize Japanese people as very used to a life full of camera snapshots if we imagine the high quality camera that is in everyone’s pocket at all times and in all places.

Flash Lite

Flash Lite is the mobile version of Adobe’s Flash technology. It is available on more than 80% of the handsets in Japan according to research in 2006 by Groove Promotion. The combination of high Flash Lite and 3G penetrations in Japan enables rich content use on the mobile web, and Flash Lite technology is accepted by users and is used in many ways. For example, we can see Flash Lite use in the main display wallpapers of devices, menu interfaces for OS’s, web interfaces, online games, and so forth (there are so many unique Flash Lite uses in Japan. I am going to introduce them in upcoming articles). Flash Lite 3 is also available on some handsets, which enables playing of YouTube or any other .flv videos.

Conclusion

The various developments detailed above have brought to bloom many mobile web services in Japan. Yes, there are cultural differences between Japan and other countries, especially Western countries, but I believe that understanding the mobile culture in Japan could help us bring new ideas to the rest of the world and engender new mobile cultures which have never been seen before. It would bring me great pleasure if my upcoming articles could contribute to this at least a little bit.