Japan - The Next Galápagos?

A friend just linked me to this New York Times Article describing why Japan's smartphones haven't gone global, and I was particularly amused by the Galápagos reference - seems appropriate, no?


  1. With Apple's iPhone leading the way for less hardware and more software in the cell phone industry, Google's quest for cloud computing to do the same for PCs, and the latest trend in netbooks, I get the feeling that Japan may have gone down the wrong road here. I see our future filled with less hardware and more software. Why? Software is leaner and more dynamic, and generally costs less for the consumer.

    Memo to Japan - don't isolate yourselves for too long, or you may indeed end up the second coming of the Galápagos. Come back and jump on board while the distance to shore isn't too great.

  2. This passage stood out to me:

    "Japan has 100 million users of advanced third-generation smartphones, twice the number used in the United States, a much larger market. Many Japanese rely on their phones, not a PC, for Internet access."

    Using phones exclusively for internet, and not PCs, is a fundamental difference from the US. I know Japan is culturally very different in many ways - I assume these differences are in part because of a Galapagos effect throughout their history. Is the hardware preference, and phone predilection, one effect of how the hyper-cramped urban society has developed there?

    Or is it simply that Apple blew everyone out of the water by developing genius software? The iPhone's user experience is unlike anything anyone had done before... I'd argue that our Blackberries are probably closer to the Japanese smartphones than the iPhone is. Had we not had an iPhone, maybe we'd be closer than we are today?

    So maybe it's simply a case of Apple creating an innovation that changed the game?

  3. "The conflict between Japan’s advanced hardware and its primitive software has contributed to some confusion over whether the Japanese find the iPhone cutting edge or boring."

    I think this difference between Japan's emphasis on cutting edge hardware (waterproof phone) and the US's advancement in software (iPhone Apps) is a big indicator of the cultural gap. However, as long as their software improves, and these companies market appropriately, there is no reason why they won't be able to help further the advancement of personal communications technology.

    The software has been around longer than the iPhone. With my previous phone, I was able to play Scrabble. The software was already present, just not as intuitive, visible, or cool as the iPhone.

  4. Well you can tell from my previous post that I disagree. I don't think the software that let us play Scrabble on our phone is anywhere equivalent to the iPhone's user interface, app store, and iTunes integration. In my opinion the iPhone has become a cultural phenomenon because it is a revolution in a lot of those ways.

    This is like the difference between saying "there were great shooting guards in the NBA before Jordan" and realizing that "nobody has changed the history of basketball more than Michael Jordan." Sure, guards came along before him with similar skillsets, but he changed everything.

  5. I agree that the iPhone is a giant leap forward from the app that lets me play Scrabble. My point is that the majority of apps available on the App store through iTunes are about the same level of complexity. It's not the apps themselves that are the huge technological advancement, it's the iPhones interface and aggregation of so many applications.

    Second, from that article, I gathered that Japan either doesn't have anything like those simple applications, or the consumer market doesn't want those applications. Their emphasis has been on hardware. It's not like they have Reggie Miller and we have Michael Jordan. It's like we have Michael Jordan, and they are playing handball. You still need very similar skills, speed/quickness, agility, passing, but they are shooting at larger goal that sits on the ground and we are shooting at a basket 10 feet in the air.

    To market globally, they need to take advantage of the fact they have the best handball players in the world (hardware engineers) and market to societies playing basketball (software and applications).