iPhone 3G Launch in Japan

Unlike most countries, Japan isn’t going iPhone crazy at precisely midnight on the morning of 11 July. Instead, the sole carrier there is planning on keeping most customers waiting by holding off until lunchtime that day. Softbank Mobile announced this morning that it would put the new iPhone on sale nationwide at noon on Friday.

Hiroyuki Sano, a graduate student who turns 25 this week, couldn’t think of a better way Wednesday to celebrate his birthday than being the first person in Japan to own an iPhone.

So he ditched class in Nagoya and headed 160 miles north to Tokyo’s trendy Omotesando district, home to mobile carrier Softbank Corp.’s flagship store. Sano arrived at 6 a.m. Tuesday, grabbed the first spot in line and prepared to wait three days and one hour until Apple’s much-hyped handset goes on sale Friday at 7 a.m.

“I’m not sure how popular it’ll be among general users,” Sano said. “But for us die-hard Apple fans, we’re happy to buy the iPhone.”Softbank will subsidize its subscribers’ mobile phone bills for two years, making the cost of the 8-gigabyte iPhone 23,040 yen (US$215). The 16-gigabyte version will cost about US$320. The iPhone will be sold though Softbank and will not be available at the seven Apple Stores in Japan.

Japan has about 107 million cell phones, or about one for every person. Many of the phones already work on 3G, or third-generation, wireless networks, offering the speedy Internet access that the new iPhone will also deliver. The old iPhone used a relatively slow cellular network combined with the ability to use fast Wi-Fi hotspots.

The iPhone’s capabilities are less revolutionary here, where people have for years used the tech-heavy local phones for restaurant searches, e-mail, music downloads, reading digital novels and electronic shopping. They tend to shrug off foreign models, such as those of Nokia Corp.

The latest Japanese cell phones have two key features absent on the iPhone — digital TV broadcast reception and the “electronic wallet” for making payments at stores and vending machines equipped with special electronic readers.

But they don’t have the iPhone’s nifty touch screen or glamour image.

Another key difference is that the iPhone is designed to browse the Web in the much the same way computers do. The networks promoted by Japanese carriers, such as “i-mode” from NTT DoCoMo, are more closed than the Web. Such systems have allowed carriers to control services and charge fees.

Masayoshi Son, the maverick head of Softbank, will make a special appearance at a third-party electronics retailer at – we’re told – exactly 11:10am on Friday to kick off the ‘official’ launch party.

Quite why Son wants three separate launch times is anyone’s guess – perhaps he wants to confound the sceptics who are sure the iPhone will flop in Japan. After all, three launches are better than one, right?

Sources articles here and here. Check out the Akihabara News for more on the 3G iPhone launch.

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