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iPhone’s global expansion July 5, 2007

Posted by fukumimi in Communications, Economy & Business, Internet, Japan.

The BBC reports that O2 is close to signing an exclusive deal for the iPhone rights in the UK. No news on whether it will be crappy GSM or 3G.

This is a change from earlier reports which suggested Vodafone was the front runner.

We shall see.

But if it does turn out that O2 does get the iPhone, that is sure to spark speculation as to the impact that has on the likely Japanese partner. All 3 major Japanese carriers have expressed interest. O2 is owned by Telefonica, which has strong ties to NTT DoCoMo. (O2 and Telefonica are part of the i-mode alliance)

But DoCoMo and Apple don’t feel like natural partners.

DoCoMo also has Napster under its wings, and I suspect that Apple will almost certainly insist that that has to go.

au(KDDI) also has its LISMO music service, which would also conflict with iTunes. I think KDDI has spent a lot more money promoting LISMO than DoCoMo has Napster.

In any case,will either be willing to cut loose the user base of its existing music services (for what they are worth)?

Softbank is leveraged to the hilt and whilst Son-san would no doubt like to partner with Apple, can they afford it if it became a bidding war against the big two? I’m sure the creditors won’t be too keen on taking that particular gamble. That said, Yahoo! Japan, which is part of the Softbank group, has a commercial tie-up with iTunes….

Here’s a totally crazy idea. What about emobile, the data only 3G carrier? Voice services using software VoIP. Apple would certainly have the upper hand in that relationship, and could have a go at running a mobile carrier through its partner. For one thing, it would have the only voice capable device on the network!

But then, the iPhone would probably look anorexic and grainy next to a 4.1″ 800×400 WVGA screen (Sharp EM ONE) which has a touchscreen (albeit not a multitouch one) AND a proper keyboard. Admittedly the Sharp is pretty heavy.

Even so, if I were Apple, I’d give the upstart some serious consideration. (I could also point them to a bargain solution to handle the voice infrastructure part, too. Although I do hear emobile are working on something themselves…)

From a purely technical perspective, it would seem from Apple’s tie-up with at&t that a 3G device if and when released would go down the UMTS route, pointing to DoCoMo/Softbank/emobile as more likely candidates than au(KDDI).

Of course, I’m one of the sceptics with regards to iPhone’s potential fortunes in Japan. Can (non-smartphone) users embrace the fact that the iPhone will need both hands to operate? I’m not so sure. Width apparently is a more important dimension than thickness for most Japanese. Length is apparently not an issue. Most collapse into a compact size when not in use. No sniggering at the back. We are talking phones.

The fact that the generic 10key is highly compatible with the Japanese alphabet means that semi-blind touch typing in Japanese is easy on a phone (many older people who have difficulty with a PC seem fine with using the phone interface, based on casual research observing people on the trains and elsewhere – using text messaging on the phone is certainly not limited to young people and businessmen here in Japan).

Without tactile feedback, that is going to be more difficult. (And I certainly don’t want to be on the same road as some idiot trying to type on an iPhone whilst driving. It is bad enough with a one-hand typist driver. Both are equally illegal, of course, but two hands on the iPhone means no hands on the wheel, which I suggest is a little more dangerous than just one hand on the wheel)

Also, the auto-correction and auto-completion techniques which are apparently well received in the US are not sufficient as is for the Japanese language. Predictive suggestions fill half the screen on my 3″ screen phone when I type a message, I can’t see how that will be compatible with typing on the same screen if I actually want to see some of the message I am composing. Well, actually, I can. It will work in the same way as pressing the space bar on a real keyboard with a Japanese IME installed, which calls up the list of choices. The virtual qwerty disappears and the list appears in its place. Once a choice is made, or the user hits a back key, the virtual keyboard will reappear. Anyway, I digress. The point is that I suspect there will be some additional challenges involved.

Of course, if Apple aren’t in a hurry to release an iPhone with a 3G chipset, the whole question is a non-starter.

[I guess there is another player on the scene, Willcom, the PHS network, if Apple really didn’t want any 3G phones which might be un-locked and exported…..]


1. Roy - July 6, 2007

The iPhone is overrated. The interface is cool and all but when the next generation iPods come out the fancy interface will become normal. I doubt most Japanese will be compelled to run out and buy an iPhone which will probably not be able to have the same text input capabilities as the current keitai offering.

2. Roy - July 6, 2007

And google maps is not GPS.

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