Japan, second-largest economy in the world, the land of QR-codes, mobile
payments and (soon) 4G networks. Here in the West, we hear many rumors
about the state of mobile in the Land of the Rising Sun - often about
superiority of its mobile ecosystem and hardware. Recently Mobify got a
chance to visit, attending [Mobile Monday Tokyo][http://www.mobilemonday.jp/] and MCPC. What we saw
was surprising - it seems that the Japanese smartphone market is about
to undergo a major transformation, embracing Android. Here's why:
1. The "i-mode" mobile web experience looks and feels outdated. It
is terrifying how similar most i-mode pages are to sites rendered on a
Motorola RAZR, perhaps because the browsers are supplied by the same
vendors. Yes, there is lots of content in i-mode and its competitors
that millions of people use, but it's far from a well-designed mobile
view or a mobile app in terms of the overall experience. Flash Lite,
which is Japan's way to develop rich mobile interfaces is mostly used
for creating landing pages only, handing off links to the browser. In
the end, to get a modern browser on a device, a good OS is necessary -
LiMo and Symbian, current market leaders in Japan, are already behind in
their arms race with Android.
2. Japanese carriers want to control everything, including the OS of
their devices. Historically carriers like NTT DoCoMo would order
devices directly from manufacturers, specifying everything down to the
color. This kind of influence is not possible with Apple - in fact,
we've heard horror stories about the effort that SoftBank (the Japanese
carrier for the iPhone) had to go through to get [emoji][http://blogs.zdnet.com/Apple/?p=4235], a core
mobile feature in Japan, included in the 2.2 firmware. Android is the
opposite - the carriers can customize it any way they like. That's why
DoCoMo brass proudly carry around the recent white HTC Android device
(though often have a feature phone as well).
3. The developer community is increasingly looking at the global
market, instead of focusing on Japan alone. We met several iPhone &
Android app developers who dream big - their applications are not quite
as smooth as the best ones coming out of SV, but quickly getting there.
Many in the japanese mobile community are frustrated with the slowing
pace of local innovation, especially when it comes to mobile software.
Just like developers in the West, they want openness, power and a big
international audience - all of which are promised by Android.
The degree to which Android will take off in Japan will also depend on
the smartphone/feature phone balance. Not everybody needs the advanced
features of a WebKit-equipped mobile, but the economies of scale should
eventually make it economical to use Android for all types of devices. A
world-class, free mobile OS, combined with outstanding hardware could
propel the japanese mobile ecosystem to even greater heights. [Google's
renewed focus on the market][http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/30/technology/internet/30google.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1] is no coincidence.
It was great to visit Japan, huge thanks to everyone who helped make the
trip happen and supported us on the ground.