iPhone Faces Likely Tepid Reaction in Japan

This BusinessWeek article speculates about the prospects for the iPhone in Japan, which it characterizes as the world's most advanced mobile market. It details the ways in which the iPhone won't impress Japanese mobile users and how it's already inferior to existing Japanese phones in many respects:

In its current form, the iPhone doesn't work on Japan's advanced third-generation, or 3G, network. Rumors abound that Steve Jobs & Co. will release a new, faster 3G iPhone next year. But analysts are skeptical that will be enough to please consumers in Japan. In its current form, the iPhone's 3.5-inch touchscreen and its access to online applications such as YouTube and Google Maps are about all that set it apart from other handsets in Japan.

In other ways, the device is inferior, and some of its functions won't be all that useful. The iPhone's Wi-Fi networking, for instance, won't get much of a workout since few Japanese retailers are wired for such short-range broadband wireless Internet service. "I don't think it's going to do that well," says Makio Inui, a managing director at UBS in Tokyo. He predicts the iPhone's high price and limited features will be a turnoff for many in Japan.

Yet in the US and many European markets the iPhone does represent a dramatic advance over what has existed in the way of mobile user experiences. In addition to the persistent question about whether the future of mobile will be about the "carrier deck" or "off deck," there's the related question of whether HTML rendering for mobile (Safari, Opera Mini and the forthcoming Mozilla browser) will become increasingly mainstream or whether WAP will predominate.

It's also the case that while some mobile trends in Japan and Asia may come to pass in Europe and the US, one cannot look to these markets as direct "roadmaps" for what will happen in the West. Cultural, economic and competitive variables prevent that from being the case.