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Softbank gives Japan free iPhones

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Softbank Mobile, the iPhone's Japanese carrier, will begin a program tomorrow that will provide a free 8GB iPhone to customers who sign up for a two-year contract. The "iPhone for Everybody Campaign" will last until May 31.

Softbank will also reduce the price of the 16GB iPhone from ¥34,560 ($350, £245) to ¥11,520 ($117, £82).

When Apple lowered the price of the original iPhone from $599 to $399 in September of 2007, AT&T made up the difference by raising the monthly subscription rate.

Not so in Japan. Softbank is also dropping the price of its internet service plan from ¥5,985 ($62, £43) to ¥4,410 ($46, £31).

Although Apple doesn't release figures for Japanese iPhone sales - and forbids Softbank from doing so as well - there have been rumblings that the iPhone isn't taking the gadget-crazy Japanese market by storm.

According to The Wall Street Journal, sales of the popular-most-other-places-in-the-world smartphone are unlikely to reach even half of the one million units originally projected for it's first Japanese year.

One analyst cited by The Japan Corporate News Network is even more pessimistic, suggesting that sales would be more in the 100,000-unit range.

In Japan, it seems, the iPhone is no big deal. Its 3G capabilities are old-hat in a country that's now moving to 4G and where many handsets have such niceties as RFID technology that lets them act as credit cards and train tickets, fingerprint scanners for improved security, and broadcast-TV tuners.

And so Softbank is essentially giving iPhones away.

Whether this move presages similar price-deflation in Europe and the US, only time will tell. Remember, though, that when the Motorola RAZR was introduced in 2004, it cost $500 - and eventually service providers started giving it away with a two-year contract as well. ®

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