Recently I visited Japan. The last time I visited was in 2010. Japan has always been known for it’s electronics and technology so I was looking forward to seeing how it’s changed in four years and how it differs from the U.S. These are just my personal observations so they may not be indicative of actual trends or market share figures.
Akihabara has always been known as the place in Japan to go if you want to see a lot of gadgets and electronics. That hasn’t changed, but I noticed that places like Shibuya, Shinjuku and other larger districts are also good places to see lots of electronics. Akihabara is still the place to go if you are looking for specialty toys or hobby products not sold in normal department stores. Like 4 years ago the thing that stands out to me the most is that the large stores take up space vertically instead of horizontally like in the U.S. Each floor in a building might contain a few departments from household good, sporting goods, computers, cell phones, toys and games.
The biggest change I noticed since 4 years ago is that while Windows PCs still take up the majority of store space there are more areas that sell Apple products. In particular iPads and Macbooks. Companies like NEC and Panasonic which are nearly non-existent in the U.S. have a lot of floor space. There were also a surprising number of small full-featured notebooks that include DVD drives. That surprised me since the trend in the U.S. has been toward smaller, thinner ultrabooks with no optical drive.
The biggest difference I noticed from 4 years ago is that smartphones have taken over. 4 years ago I was surprised that Japan did not have many smartphones and that most people still used flip phones. The flip phones at that time were very advanced compared to the ones in the U.S. They were probably closer to smartphones with large color screens than the dumbphones we imagine when we think of our old flip style cell phones and that might be one reason why they held on so long. While there were still people using flip phones I think the majority of people I saw on subways and trains were using an Android or iPhone. Apparently smartphones have not only taken over the phone market, but I noticed that not many people used handheld gaming devices like gameboys on the train anymore. Most people were glued to their smartphone. There were quite a lot of advertisements for mobile games on TV and on posters. In Clash of Clans and Puzzles and Dragons are heavily marketed at the moment. Android seems to have exploded in market share in Japan just like it has in the U.S. Also like in the U.S. Windows Phones basically do not exist. In Japan they aren’t even sold in stores.
The second most used device I saw on subways and trains were tablets. Although most were iPads and Android tablets I saw quite a few with Windows tablets as well. Almost all were 7”-8” tablets as opposed to 10” tablets. It was mostly adults using the tablets, where in the U.S. I usually notice that kids carry around tablets just as much as adults. In stores I would say that Android tablets take up the most floor space, but iPads and Windows tablets are also well represented.
In the U.S. arcades are fading away, but in Japan they are still everywhere. After reading Tokyo Observations: Coin-op Card Games I was looking forward to checking out a few arcades. 4 years ago I did not remember seeing many of these games, but now there are a lot. There are card based arcade games for Pokemon, Kamen Rider and other franchises I did not recognize, but by far the most popular arcade card game for kids at the moment is for a series called Yokai Watch. Some arcades had lines for people waiting to play that game. Japan also has a lot of sit down and shooting games where you have an actual steering wheel or gun to operate the game with. The rest of the games were mainly crane based prize games. There were not many traditional arcade games and perhaps that is one reason arcades still do well in Japan as they offer games that people can’t play at home. I think that card based arcade games could do well in the U.S. given how popular card games like Magic and Pokemon have been.
I mentioned earlier that I didn’t see as many people playing with portable gaming devices as I did 4 years ago, however that doesn’t mean they don’t carry them around. While in Japan I carried around my Nintendo 3DS and it has a feature to tag people as you pass them in the street. In Japan within an hour would have 10 tags. 10 is the maximum you can get until you clear them out so I think that if I continually checked my tags during the day I would have been able to get a hundred tags. In Hawaii I rarely get any tags. Obviously people still carry around their gaming devices, but perhaps don’t bring them out in public as much as they used to.
WiFi access has changed a lot in 4 years. 4 years ago I could not catch many wifi signals in Japan, but during my recent trip every single place had some type of wifi access point. Most of the time they were paid hotspots, but sometimes they were public. In particular in addition to the airports, hotels, restaurants and shopping centers had open hotspots or secure hotspots for customers. Still, if you need reliable mobile data you’ll probably want to look at rending a mobile hotspot just like in the U.S.
I wonder if what I observed in Japan is similar to what other people have observed? Certainly my observations were skewed by the mainly touristy places I visited. It was interesting to see how things have changed in just a few years and how mobile tech continues to grow and dominate our lives. Looking forward it will be interesting to see if wearable tech changes our lives as much as cell phones and tablets.