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Smartphones finally outsell featurephones ... in Japan

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Forget China – Japan proved that its domestic mobile market is one of the most mature on the planet with new stats showing smartphone sales passed feature phone sales for the first time ever in February.

Market-watcher comScore surveyed over 4,000 Japanese mobile subscribers to compile its latest MobiLens report for the three months to February 2012.

Nearly one in five Japanese mobile phone users now own a smartphone, up 28 per cent since November, with Apple driving the trend thanks to market share growth of 1.6 per cent – the biggest of any mobile OEM during the period.

“Smartphones surpassed feature phones as the most acquired device type in February 2012, signalling an important shift in Japan’s mobile market,” said Daizo Nishitani, vice president of comScore Japan.

“Japanese mobile phone users were already highly engaged with their devices, but with the added functionality and higher levels of mobile media consumption we should expect to see significant changes in behavior among the Japanese mobile population in 2012.”

Although Apple was the strongest performing device maker, it still ranks a lowly eighth place in the overall Japanese mobile market with a share of 6.5 per cent, according to comScore.

Sharp remains top with 23.5 per cent of the market, followed by Panasonic (13.8 per cent), Fujitsu (11.8 per cent), NEC (9.7 per cent) and Sony (7.5 per cent).

It’s also losing out to arch-rival Android in the smartphone platform stakes too, with a share of 34.2 per cent to Google’s overwhelming 61.4 per cent.

Things get a little bit better for the fruity slab-maker when we look at pure smartphone sales, however. The iPhone 4S propelled Apple to the top of the charts in the final quarter of 2011 with 27 per cent of the market to Fujitsu’s 18 per cent and Sharp’s 16 per cent, according to IDC stats.

Given that it’s also one of the few Asian countries steaming ahead with 4G services, Japan is clearly still streets ahead of its regional, and most of its global, competitors when it comes to all things mobile.

Its domestic handset makers continue to find it difficult to break into foreign markets, however, and have struggled to repel the charge of foreign smartphone companies in Japan led by Apple.

Earlier this month, for example, Fujitsu bought out Toshiba’s share of the pair’s joint venture in a bid to focus its sights more keenly on the prize.

On the global stage too it has also become something of an inevitability that eventually it will be overshadowed by rapidly growing China, although despite local makers like ZTE and Xiaomi building budget handsets, the People’s Republic is some years away from the point at which smartphone sales exceed feature phone sales. ®

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