Everywhere one turns, on commuter trains and urban cafes, people are tapping away at their iPhone screens in a relatively rare Japanese embrace of technology that isn't homegrown. Azusa Furushima, a 22-year-old college student, who has an iPhone in a glittery Hello Kitty case, says she already has about 35 apps, including those for dieting and practicing typing.
"Japanese are well-educated. They will pay for applications," said Brian Lee, a manager at Taiwan-based Penpower Inc., which sells an app for digitally organizing business cards. "A lot of developers are coming into this market."
Japanese developers, previously trapped into targeting galakei, in turn have a chance for a piece of the global iPhone pie, which topped 3 billion application downloads globally in less than 18 months, according to Apple.
Apple takes 30 percent of the application sales, but the rest goes to developers. Apple doesn't give iPhone sales breakdowns by country. But Japan makes up a significant chunk of the 70 million iPhones sold worldwide so far, including a record 14.1 million last quarter. Smartphones, mostly iPhone models which top sales rankings, make up 16 percent of Japanese cell phone sales of 35 million a year, according to Gfk Marketing Services Japan, which track such data.
Finnish developer Rovio Mobile, behind the "Angry Birds" game, which has racked up 27 million global downloads in a year, introduced a Japanese-language version a month ago. The game, which features bubbly headed peevish birds that fight pig-like creatures, has been No. 1 in iPhone games in the U.S. and 70 other nations. Hopes are high to move up from No. 6 to No. 1 someday in Japan as well.
"We will be focusing on internationalization in the next couple of quarters, and we feel that Japan is an important market for us," she said. The growing sales of smartphones running the Android operating system from Google Inc. are expected to expand the application business even further, from not just Softbank Corp., the only carrier to offer the iPhone, to giant rivals NTT DoCoMo and KDDI Corp.
Japanese electronic maker Sharp Corp. is even bringing out Android mobile devices called Galapagos — in a tongue-in-cheek self-deprecation that underlines the Japanese electronics maker's ambitions for global appeal. Cashing in on the iPhone fad comes in all sizes.
Hawken King, a 32-year-old Briton, who founded a tiny venture in Tokyo called Dadako, which means "brat" in Japanese, is doing all right, selling his product to just 20,000 iPhone users around the world. About half of them are American, but a third are Japanese. His 350 yen "Facemakr" allows people to easily and smoothly create avatars, or facial likenesses, on iPhone's touch panel, choosing images of noses, eyes and hairstyles. It costs $2.99 in the U.S.