By Philip Elmer-DeWitt
May 19, 2010

Defying skeptics, iPhone sales tripled in the most recent quarter

Apple AAPL has cracked Japan’s tough smartphone market wide open, according to a report in Wednesday’s Wall Street Journal. The evidence:

  • Apple sold 1.7 million iPhones in Japan, or 72% of all smartphones sold, in the fiscal year that ended March 31, according to Tokyo-based MM Research.
  • iPhone sales in Japan tripled in the latest quarter, while the rest of the country’s handset market stagnated.
  • Softbank SFT.F , the iPhone’s exclusive carrier in Japan, has added new subscribers at nearly three times the pace of market leader NTT DoCoMo DCM and KDDI Corp. DIP.F since it began selling the device 2008.
  • Samsung SAMS.L and Research in Motion RIMM have failed to gain a foothold in the Japanese market, and Nokia NOK has all but pulled out.

The iPhone’s success surprised local analysts, according to the Journal, because Japanese handsets are so sophisticated. Most come with push e-mail, advanced cameras, GPS, and digital television receivers. They also double as credit cards, train tickets and airline boarding passes.

“The iPhone is not as advanced in terms of hardware,” Takeshi Natsuno, a former top executive at NTT DoCoMo., told the Journal, “but the user interface is something to behold.”

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