With Apple’s iPhone due to launch soon in Japan, and much hot air on the blogs and in the press on why the iPhone will or will not be a hit in Japan, it is timely to take a look at which mobile phone carrier may carry Apple’s iPhone in Japan. The four main players in the Japanese market in order of size are NTT DoCoMo, au by KDDI, SoftBank, and EMobile. Which will win the bidding war?

1. Will NTT DoCoMo carry Apple’s iPhone in Japan? NTT DoCoMo have been reported to have been in talks with Apple recently, but let us look at their portfolio to see what sort of company they are and whether the iPhone would fit into their range of offerings. As part of the formally state-owned communications network, they are seen as the most trustworthy carrier, but also the most staid. They already offer smartphones from Motorola and BlackBerry but they bury them in the back of their catalogues. DoCoMo have the money to offer Apple a good deal, but given their past record, would they bury Apple’s iPhone in Japan? They are currently weak in the music support field, so beefing things up with a Japanese iTunes would help, but I cannot see them having the skills or the desire to help make the iPhone a success in Japan.

2. Will au by KDDI carry Apple’s iPhone in Japan? They have the image of being the most leading edge of all the mobile phone service providers in Japan, and they were the first company to embrace msic-playing cell phones with their LISMO product. They are the company that are most able to support the iPhone and most likely to promote it properly, but unfortunately the strength of their LISMO brand is the spanner in the works that will prevent them supporting iTunes too, so KDDI will not carry Apple’s iPhone in Japan. This will be a disappointment to many people, but trying to promote two competing and incompatible offerings makes no financial sense.

3. Will SoftBank carry Apple’s iPhone in Japan? SoftBank are the reborn and hungry VodaFone, resurgent now with innovative billing schemes, recovering from their bad reputation for coverage. Masayoshi Son, SoftBank’s CEO, will no doubt be ready to provide Steve Jobs with as many wheelbarrows full of cash as it takes to get Apple’s iPhone for SoftBank. Their current line-up is technologically far behind the other two big carriers and they have no real music product to speak of, so a Yahoo! co-branded iTunes supported by a SoftBank iPhone makes a lot of sense in Japan. Although sales in Europe have been disappointing, and even if Japan sales fail to live up to predictions, SoftBank’s boost in image from being the iPhone carrier in Japan will help them in the marketplace when it comes to competing for the more traditional customer base.

4. Will EMobile carry Apple’s iPhone in Japan? Sadly, EMobile is such a small, nice provider that they cannot afford to enter the bidding war, so their will definitely not be an EMobile-branded iPhone in Japan.

These are of course just predictions based on observations of the cell phone market in Japan. There is yet to be an official announcement on Apple’s iPhone in Japan, but all opinion polls and other surveys of consumer interests show the Japanese chomping at the bit desparate to get their hands on this new device.

By diana

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