Smartphone market in Japan to reach US$ 72.18B by 2022

The market share of mobile phones is occupied by the Mobile phone giants such as Apple, Samsung, Huawei, Asus, Sony, Xiaomi etc. And it is maintained by the brand value as well as their marketing strategies. This however is changing with the introduction of new brands and their novel strategies

  • Definition / Scope
  • Market Overview
  • Market Risks
  • Top Market Opportunities
  • Market Drivers
  • Market Restraints
  • Industry Challenges
  • Technology Trends
  • Pricing Trends
  • Regulatory Trends
  • Other Key Market Trends
  • Market Size and Forecast
  • Market Outlook
  • Technology Roadmap
  • Distribution Chain Analysis
  • Competitive Landscape
  • Competitive Factors
  • Key Market Players
  • Strategic Conclusion
  • References
  • Appendix

Definition / Scope

Mobile devices are broadly categorized under the following two types:

Feature (Flip Phones)

Feature phones lie in the space between mobile phones and smartphones. They are rich in features, very clearly more advanced than a mobile phone, but not quite so advanced as a smartphone. They have built-in cameras sometimes with a fairly high megapixel count and support apps, game download and feature a Web browser.

In addition to its affordable price, other key reasons this model is so popular in Japan after seven years is its simpler design that older people prefer since Japan has the lowest birth rate and a majority of its population is aged above 50 years.


Smartphones, tablets, and laptops have moved from the fringe of computing to the mainstream in just five years. Sales of these smart devices exponentially grew as consumers saw the benefits of seamless connectivity, and were drawn to the simplicity of new user interfaces.

In many cases, the environment benefited too, as energy efficient devices displaced older computers, and new mobile-enabled cloud systems became platforms for efficiency across the economy.

Today mobile phones have moved beyond their primary role of voice communications and have stepped up to become an essential entertaining device for mobile users. Today‘s youth use it to express their thoughts, for social networking, to show their interests, play games, read the news, surf on the internet, listen to music, chat instantly with friends & families and even transact banking services. There are various phone manufacturers providing handsets. Within the product mix of smartphones, the various other product types make the smartphone ecosystem. Such product types include:

  • Phone Cases
  • Headphones & Earphones § Power Banks
  • Portable Speakers
  • Others

In the past, Japan came ahead of other countries in adopting cell phones. Sony Ericsson was the global leader in the early phase of cell phone technology.

In fact, the country is ahead of any innovation that happened in the world but in terms of commercialization and market share, it hasn’t been able to make out of it. These days, international brands such as Apple have taken a larger share in the smartphone segment.

Domestic brands such as Sony and Fujitsu are not being able to enter an international market. 50% of smartphone owners use their phones for search engine while 18% of the total phone users play the game on a mobile device regularly.

65% of mobile phone users own smartphones comparing 35% of people who use feature phones.

The Japanese smartphone industry is one of the most advanced countries in phone manufacturing and use . Besides calling, messaging and mail, Japanese mobile phones were the first to be used for browsing, games, cameras, the train passes, GPS navigation, electronic wallets and music players etc

Market Overview

Globally, smartphone vendors shipped a total of 1,388 million units in 2018, resulting in a year-over-year decline of 4.6%. In total, 1,455 million smartphones were shipped in 2017.

  • Samsung, the largest smartphone vendor in terms of market share, accounted for 21.2% of shipments in 2018, while it had gained a market share of 21.8% during the previous year.
  • Meanwhile, Apple witnessed a marginal positive growth in 2018 comparing the share in the previous year. The total shipment of apple phones were 212.1 million in 2018 constituting 15.3% market share, the growth of 0.5% from 2017.
  • Huawei positioned third with 14.8% global share shipping 206 million phones in 2018. It captured a 14.8% market share in the same year. The company maintained an annual growth of 34.5% in volume shipments from 2017.
  • There was a marginal change in Oppo’s global smartphone share grabbing 8.6% and volume shipment of 119.6 million in 2018.

In Japan, 31.17 million units of phones were shipped in 2018. The figure is down 2.6% from the year before.

According to the status of Internet use by the device, the usage rate of computers was the highest (58.6 percent), followed by smartphones (57.9 percent). Mobile phone subscribers including both feature phone and the smartphone have grown significantly since 2015 in Japan.

There has been a rise of 8.2% in the number of mobile phone users from 2015 till 2018. In total, 171 million subscribers of mobile phones were recorded in Japan in 2018.

Japan’s smartphone penetration has taken off rising from just 15% of the population in 2011 to more than 75% today, according to the Communications and Information Network Association of Japan.

The rising demand for disposable income increases the probability of consumer spending on mobile communication leading to higher potential sales of consumer electronics is influencing the market growth.

Amongst Operating System, iOS segment held considerable market share during the forecast period from 2018 to 2026. It is the operating system that currently powers many of the company’s mobile devices, together with the iPod Touch, iPhone and iPad .

The smartphone penetration rate of households exceeded 70 percent since 2015 in Japan. There is also a rising trend of m-commerce particularly among the working population, and this has increased the demand for smartphones with top-notch features supporting m-commerce.

Growing internet penetration, increasing marketing activities by vendors, and rising subscription in social media are some of the other key factors driving the growth of the global smartphone market .

This statistic shows the number of smartphone users in Japan from 2015 to 2022. For 2019, the number of smartphone users in Japan is estimated to reach 65.39 million.

Market Risks

The penetration of smartphones has exceeded 100% per household and is increasing further, and almost one in three households have only one person.

Security concerns: The media coverage on cybersecurity has made consumers suspicious adding to the conservative nature of Japanese consumers and are conscious about the risk in online activities as entering their credit card information, reluctant to store payment information, etc. In South Koreas, 85% of mobile remote orders were paid online whereas it was only 51% in Japan

Top Market Opportunities

Smartphone brands are resorting to aggressive marketing and sales strategies to woo the new generation of smartphone-wielding young professionals with attractive pricing, enhanced features, and multiple user options to gain over customer acquisition and retention.

5G devices

4G penetration in Japan stands at 95% after South Korea. The high-speed mobile technology saw a paradigm shift in Japan. In Japan, 5G networks are planned to roll out in 2020. In the early years of deployment, network operators in other countries in Asia- Pacific are expected to adopt 5G technology.

By 2025, 5G connections are anticipated to reach 670 million across the region. This will give smartphone manufacturers immense opportunity in Japan to target the domestic market and the regional market with the launch of 5G enabled devices. By 2025, 5G enabled smartphone adoption in Japan will reach 83%.

Market Drivers

The mobile phone market in Japan is extending and expanding and the drivers for this include:

  • Affinity for feature phone: Since, the attraction for the phone is on rise, Japan’s smartphone penetration rate is likely to grow following its neighbours in Asia-Pacific .
  • Growing customers: Many Japanese owe smart phones as before and thus the demand for mobile applications is likely to remain robust for an extended period.
  • Opportunities for various related industries: The use of internet has increased rapidly increased since 2015 and thus bears opportunities for other industries as gaming, application development, e-commerce etc.
  • Popularity of gaming: The development of the new gaming applications has increasingly captured the mobile market. Japan’s smartphone games sector is considered the world’s largest in terms of cash revenue
  • Country profile: Japan is ranked third largest in GDP representing 10% of world’s economy and about 25% world’s high tech products are made in Japan and is rated among top 10 makers in the electronic field.

Market Restraints

Although Japan is seen as a technological boss in various industries, however, greater inconsistency can be expected in this mobile market.

Low penetration of smartphone among seniors: Among population aged over 60 (34%), the penetration of smartphone is less. Only 28% of them use a phone as per the Euro monitor International’s 2016 Global Consumer Trends Survey. Thus, a certain portion of the Japanese population is not using this digital innovation.

Challenge for outside participants: Regardless of the remarkable growth, however, gaining way into Japan’s fertile mobile marketplace can be challenging for outside participants. Among the much popular gaming app, only a few are produced by foreign developers.

Industry Challenges

Invasion of Chinese and Taiwanese manufacturers: Even though the small market shares of Chinese and Taiwanese manufacturer is seen in Japan, it is estimated that such players will surge in coming days. Smartphone manufacturers from China and Taiwan, such as ZTE, Huawei and Asus also keep eye on the market movement as a chance to penetrate the Japanese market .

Various shopping options: The reason that Japanese mobile purchase is seen to struggle is due to the fact of availability of numerous other shopping options as contactless payments using a physical card .

Aged population: In Japan, the population aged above 60 years accounts for 34% of the total population. Also, the birth rate is declining significantly. This characterizes low smartphone penetration.

Concerned consumers: Japanese consumers are highly concerned about the potential risk of cyber attack and invasion of privacy. In fact, according to a survey conducted by Euromonitor, only 6% of Japanese online respondents answered that they were willing to share personal information online. This hesitation toward data sharing makes them risk-aversive and not willing to make digital payment hence reducing the activities performed on smartphones and eventually the less use of smartphones.

Technology Trends

The waterproof phones in Japan as introduced by Sakura mobile have created a huge market. The publicity by the maker with the models using their phone in bath highlighted their effectiveness underwater as well .

The introduction of i-mode (high-speed cellular data service) was highly acclaimed around the world .

Robotics Process Automation

The global robotics process automation for smartphone production is growing rapidly over the last few years. The global robotics proves automation for the smartphone market is expected to reach USD 3.9 billion by 2023.

By robot type, the market is further segmented into Cartesian, selective compliance articulated robot arm (SCARA), articulated, Delta, 6-axis robots, redundant, dual-arm, and parallel. These are best suited for speed-assembly, packaging and hence cutting operation cost and time.

Seiko Epson Corporation, Yaskawa Electric Corporation, Denso Wave Inc. Fanuc Corporation is the leading players operating in robotics process automation.

Pricing Trends

The flip phones transported only 115,000 units, all of which were models with limited functionality aimed at children. In 2017, shipments surged by 4.6% from the previous year to 34.09 million units. Of the 34.09 million units, 98.1% (33.43 million) were smartphones .

Bundled Price

Japanese wireless service providers such as Docomo, KDDI, and SoftBank sell smartphones without upfront charges as part of fixed-term contracts that costs around USD 90 per month. Customers who take service from wireless providers pay for handsets in monthly instalments.

Regulatory Trends

Japan’s three largest mobile network started the discount plans, created complex fee structures that has begun to simplify.

Also, the introduction of the law to reduce the illegal practice of taking voyeuristic pictures of women commenced automatically producing the shutter sound whenever a picture was taken but this later enabled the feature of shutter noise off feature.

The issue of cybercrime is also regularly warned by Consumers Affairs Agencies due to the growing prevalence of e-commerce and hence, Japanese consumers are highly bothered by the potential risk in online activities.

Unbundling of service

Generally, smartphones are sold by wireless carriers where they bundle the wireless service with the device and charge a higher price. It gives consumers lower bargaining power since switching cost is high for a consumer.

But recently, authorities in Japan want carriers to unbundle the service and charge for phones separately. This will end force to charge higher monthly fees and fixed-term contracts.

Other Key Market Trends

Apple is a trend-setter in Japan, and in 2017 the company launched iPhone X, which attracted followers such as Huawei and Asus in terms of the notch design. Even though the iPhone is premium, because major telco operators offer lucrative discounts, the actual cost of the phone for consumers is much less than the retail price.

Market Size and Forecast

In Japan, the number of smartphone users will represent 59% of the population in 2020.

In 2017, mobile phones shipment totalled 34.09 million, which was an increase of 4.6% from the previous year. Of the total shipments, 98.1% were smartphones. The figure declined in 2018 totalling 31.16 units of shipment. The total of 39.1 million smartphones was manufactured in Japan.

The rate of change in the number of feature phone users is just below 0.5% with marginal fluctuations over the five years period since 2016. The figure will reach 107.1 million in 2020.

Imported cellphones in Japan totalled USD 16.9 billion in 2017. China is the leading exporter of cell phones to Japan. China exported USD 14.5 billion phones in 2017.

Import value from Thailand reached USD 1.2 billion in 2017. Similarly, the dollar value of import from Vietnam and South Korea were USD 968.2 million and 68.1 million respectively.

Japanese mobile phone shipments experienced nearly flat growth of 0.9% to 7.17 million units in the second quarter of 2018. The smartphone display market was valued at US$ 50.29 Bn in 2017 and expected to grow at a compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) of 7.5% during the forecast period from 2018 to 2026.

As one of the world’s largest smartphone markets by value, Japan offers great business opportunities for device makers, with one prominent player sticking out.

Despite criticism regarding a lack of innovation as well as intensified competition by South Korea’s Samsung, Apple remained the top smartphone seller in 2017. iPhones accounted for almost half of domestic smartphone sales, with the 5, 7, 8 and SE models dominating the scene .

Apple maintained its top position in terms of market share by the manufacturer with 34.0%, however, its share dropped significantly from 48.8% in the first quarter. Sharp was in second place with 14.8%, which, in addition to its main models, included cheaper SIM-free models like the AQUOS Sense Plus.

Sony was at 12.0%, Kyocera 8.7%, and Fujitsu 8.6%. Sharp’s market share dropped to 6.6% in the second quarter of 2017, when it lagged in fifth place, but then swiftly recovered in the first and second quarters of 2018 to surpass Sony in second place.

The statistic presents the percentage of iOS and Android smartphone purchases among smartphone users in Japan from 2013 to 2018. In 2013, most devices sold on the Japanese smartphone market were using Android operating systems whereas this trend shifted towards iOS from 2016 .

Market Outlook

In Japan, mobile phones will face difficulty achieving volume growth during the forecast period from 2018 to 2026. The penetration of smartphones has exceeded 100% per household and is increasing further, and almost one in three households have only one person.

The smartphone market is segmented on the basis of Operating System (Android, iOS). The Android operating system is estimated to account for the largest market share of 23.56% in the smartphone market by the end of 2018.

The iOS segment is estimated to account for 76.44% value share in 2018. In terms of value, the iOS segment is likely to register a high CAGR in the forecasted period.

For Japanese customers, the iPhone 7 was significant in two aspects: not only was it the first waterproof iPhone, but Apple also broke its policy of not customizing its products to a specific country by featuring FeliCa, Japan’s NFC technology found in train ticket gates, vending machines and store registers.

This statistic shows the growth of the smartphone market in Japan from 2017 to 2022. For 2019, the smartphone market in Japan is estimated to reach US$ 72.18 billion by 2022.

Technology Roadmap

The time people spent on average on the mobile internet has also increased in recent years and bears business opportunities for various related industries, such as e- commerce, application developing and the gaming sector.

The smartphone market is expected to witness growth over the forecast period owing to advancements in the electronic, telecommunication, and m-Commerce industry as well as the increasing penetration of the Chinese smartphone industry .

Artificial Intelligence (AI) chips

Every smartphone that has AI enabled applications on its device is largely made by a British Chip design firm ARM. These applications run by the servers in the firm’s cloud. Recently, other companies are making the process much efficient by developing built-in AI chip on smartphones that run even offline.

A few examples of AI enabled smartphones to include Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 835 found in phones like Lenovo, Samsung, and Huawei through system-lock-in. In the future, AI will become mainstream in every smartphone.

Scene detection to take flawless photos and face detection for better security are enabled by deep learning. By 2023, AI chips are likely to mainstream in smartphones at all price points, as happened with a fingerprint reader that used to be included only in flagship models but now available in most of the phones priced around USD 100. The mobile AI market is expected to reach USD 17.83 billion by 2023.

Innovation in the built-in camera

The bokeh function was first introduced only in a few flagship devices in 2016. Till 2018, this function has been standardized and most of the smartphone brands support it. Optical image stabilization which involves the integration of lens, gyroscope, and processors to mitigate the impact of device shaking when a photo or a video is being taken is found on only a high-end device such as iPhone X and Samsung Galaxy S9. This feature will be ubiquitous in the majority of smartphones over the next five years.

Distribution Chain Analysis

The mobile industry ecosystem comprises of telecom operators, handset manufacturers, content and service providers, and repair-maintenance service providers on the front-end as shown in the figure . Telecom operators are responsible for the overall quality and reliability of the network which operates as the backbone of a mobile service.

Other agents in the ecosystem are:

  • Handset OEMs
  • Technology providers
  • Telecom operators
  • Content and service providers

While on the back-end as shown in the second figure, Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) do meticulous Research and Development for the equipment innovation.

In the second phase, Original Design Manufacturers (ODMs) take ownership of their innovative designs. After that, various suppliers supply component parts to manufacturers. This stage is followed by system assembly, configuration & Testing, and distribution respectively.

These activities are performed by Electronic Manufacturing Services. And then there is an unorganized market of repair service providers which comes after the post-purchase of the devices.

Competitive Landscape

The competitive landscape of mobile phones industry in Japan can be understood by analyzing the following key points, namely, maintenance of stability in sales despite losing share by Apple, lucrative discount offers by telco operators and more brands being presented to consumers.

Apple Loses Share But Maintains Stable Sales: The emergence of so-called Galapagos smartphones, which use a feature phone frame with Android OS installed, has changed the arena of smartphones in terms of the competitive landscape. It has decreased the market share of Apple. These Galapagos smartphones are very popular especially for older consumers who wish to retain what they are used to.

Telco Operators Offer Lucrative Discounts: Apple is quite popular in Japan, and in 2017 the company launched iPhone X attracting followers such as Huawei and Asus with its notch design. Even though the iPhone is premium, the actual cost of the phone for consumers is much less than the retail price as major telco operators offer lucrative discounts.

Consumers Are Presented with More Brands: As stated above, with the rise of MVNOs in Japan there are more smartphone brands from which consumers can choose. Consumers who use MVNOs are opting for value for money and are said to be price-sensitive. Their preferences in smartphones reflect this mentality.

Competitive Factors

Competition in the smartphone market is rapidly growing, with Japanese and foreign companies all vying for future market share but the Japanese companies are gradually losing market share each year. The big foreign brands include the Apple iPhone and Samsung’s GALAXY while Japanese manufacturers include Sony Ericsson Xperia, Sharp, Toshiba, Fujitsu, NEC CASIO Mobile Communications and Panasonic.

Although Apple maintained its top position in terms of market share by manufacturer with 34.0%, its share dropped significantly from 48.8% in the first quarter. Sharp was in second place with 14.8%, which, in addition to its main models, included cheaper SIM free models like the AQUOS Sense Plus. Sony was at 12.0%, Kyocera 8.7%, and Fujitsu 8.6%.

There are three major mobile carriers in Japan: NTT Docomo, au (KDDI) and Softbank, with 77.1 million, 53.5 million and 40.4 million mobile subscribers, respectively. Docomo is the leader in cell phone carrier capturing 45.1% market share. It is followed by au, which holds a 31.3% market share while Softbank comes third constituting 23.6% share.

The global network equipment manufacturers such as Ericsson, Huawei, and Nokia Networks are almost 20 times those of their Japanese counterparts for radio access network equipment. Domestic players, such as NEC and Fujitsu are likely to face challenges to compete with global players given the difference in scale.

The sheer size of global companies allows them to fund massive development efforts for network equipment many times more than a local player could afford. In 2016, the Radio Access Network (RAN) sales of global vendors totalled USD 5.8 billion while the domestic vendors made just USD, 0.3 billion, which is 20 times less than that of global players combined.

In terms of operating system (OS) interface, iOS captures the majority of the market with 51% share. On the other hand, Android owns 48% of the OS market.

Key Market Players

Apple Inc. : Apple Inc. is a multinational technology company which designs, develops, and sells consumer electronics, computer software, and online services. The iPhone smartphone, the iPad tablet computer, the Mac personal computer, the iPod portable media player, the Apple Watch smartwatch, the Apple TV digital media player, and the HomePod smart speaker are the hardware products.

The Apple’s software includes the macOS and iOS operating systems, the iTunes media player, the Safari web browser, and the iLife and iWork creativity and productivity suites, as well as professional applications like Final Cut Pro, Logic Pro, and Xcode. Its online services include the iTunes Store, the iOS App Store, and the Mac App Store, Apple Music, and iCloud .

Sony Mobile Communications Inc.: It is a multinational telecommunications company founded on October 1, 2001, as a joint venture between Sony and Ericsson. The company is headquartered in Tokyo, Japan and wholly owned by Sony. It was originally incorporated as Sony Ericsson Mobile Communications.

Since the current ownership structure, Sony Mobile exclusively create Android-powered smartphones under the Xperia sub-brand name. It also currently or previously developed tablet computers (Sony Tablet), smart watches (Sony SmartWatch) and fitness trackers (Sony SmartBand), along with accessories and software for the devices

Samsung: Samsung entered the electronics industry in the late 1960s and the construction and shipbuilding industries in the mid-1970s; these areas would drive its subsequent growth. Samsung has increasingly globalized its activities and electronics since 1990. In particular, its mobile phones and semiconductors have become its most important source of income .

Huawei: Huawei overtook Apple in 2018 as the second-largest manufacturer of smartphones in the world, behind Samsung Electronics. Huawei specializes in telecommunications equipment, consumer electronics, artificial intelligence, and technology-based services and products, headquartered in Shenzhen, Guangdong. It has deployed its products and services in more than 170 countries and It ranks 72nd on the Fortune Global 500 list .

Asus Tek Computer Inc.: Asus Tek Computer Inc. is a multinational computer and phone hardware and electronics company. Its products consist of desktops, laptops, netbooks, mobile phones, networking equipment, monitors, WIFI routers, projectors, motherboards, graphics cards, optical storage, multimedia products, peripherals, wearables, servers, workstations, and tablet PCs. The company is also an original equipment manufacturer (OEM) .

Xiaomi Corporation: Xiaomi Corporation is an electronics company. Xiaomi makes and invests in smartphones, mobile apps, laptops, and related consumer electronics. Xiaomi produces many products. Notably, it produces smartphones which run on their own version of Android MIUI firmware. Xiaomi’s rapid success is attributed by observers to its ability to differentiate itself within the Android universe .

Kyocera: Kyocera specializes in making waterproof, shockproof handsets. It exports 70% of its production in North America. It has a 5.3% share of the North American handset market. Torque smartphone launched by Kyocera is popular for use at industrial sites as it is anti-breakable.

Strategic Conclusion

The market share of mobile phones in Japan is changing. The premium brand such as Apple is challenged by the new brands as well as the contemporary ones but it is still able to maintain its market share. This has been maintained by the lucrative discount offers by telco operators promoting the stability of its dominance.

However, this dominance is challenged by several brands and have been able to mark their presence. Buyers preference, Design, Innovation, Price are some of the key factors that determine the sales of a brand. Strategies developed targeting such factors can help in expanding the market for any company.

Japan had been a leader in innovation since the early decades of technological advancement. In fact, Japan invented the first handsets with cameras. However, in the global market, Japanese brands are not only unable to reach the rest of the world but also threatened by international brands in their home market.

Though the smartphone penetration in Japan stands third after South Korea and Australia at 95%, more than 60% of the market is captured by imported brands such as Apple and Samsung. Nevertheless, Japanese smartphone manufacturers gain the advantage of its older aged generation who are adopting smrtphones more than the people of other age group and the crazy younger generation who is a geek for gaming.

Overall, with the advent of 5G adoption in 2020, the industry will face competition and in the meantime will provide a significant opportunity for Japan in the domestic market as well as in other regions.


  • feature-phones-aren-t-going-away
  • The Mobile Economy Asia Pacific, GSMA, 2017
  • Statistical Handbook of Japan, Statistics Bureau, 2018
  • Technology, Media, and Telecommunications Predictions, Deloitte, 2018
  • Japan at a crossroads- The 4G to 5G (r)volution, McKinsey & Company.


  • CAGR: Compound Annual Growth Rate
  • US$: United States Dollar

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