chapter  20
17 Pages

Going Mobile: The Mobile Internet, Ringtones, and the Music Market in Japan


It is January 2007. Steve Jobs has just announced the iPhone, and the CNN headline screams, “The iPhone is so Yesterday,” for a segment showing the Japanese buying soda from vending machines and storing architectural plans with their cellular phones.1 Indeed, Japan has been in the forefront of mobile phone applications. When NTT Docomo, Japan’s largest carrier, introduced i-mode in February 1999, it was among the fi rst in the world to offer Internet access through mobile phones. A boom in wallpapers (backgrounds to cellular-phone screens), ringtones, and avatars for mobile phones quickly followed-several years before they would become popular in the United States or Europe. Camera phones, which were fi rst marketed by the Japanese manufacturer Kyocera in 1999, and were commonplace in Japan by 2001, only began to be marketed widely in the United States around 2003.2

Similarly, consumer acceptance of 3G, or broadband services over cellular phones, has been faster in Japan than in many countries in Europe or the Americas. Initially rolled out in 2001, 3G was used by two-thirds of Japan’s mobile phone subscribers as of December 2006, compared with 8 percent of subscribers in the United States and 14 percent in the United Kingdom.3 Maximum downlink speed in Japan as of 2006 was over 3MBps. Given that the mobile Internet has been readily available, at affordable rates and high speeds, for longer in Japan than in most other countries, it is not surprising that the mobile Internet is a more integral part of everyday life for the Japanese than for Europeans or Americans: 85 percent of all Japanese mobile users browsed the web over their phones on a daily basis, while only 12 percent of young Americans and 14 percent of young Brits had ever done so.4