Japan's wireless networks have a longstanding, legendary reputation for existing in some parallel plane that's technologically light years ahead of the rest of the world, but that reputation's unquestionably in greater danger today than in any point in the past fifteen years. Why? Though the featurephones offered by NTT DoCoMo, SoftBank, and KDDI are ultra high-spec beasts, they're still featurephones at the end of the day -- and this comes at a time when smartphones are finally becoming true cultural phenomena across the remainder of the developed world (and, in some cases, the developing world
There's no greater evidence of this than the word this week that Sony Ericsson's Xperia X10
-- a phone that's been met with lukewarm reviews, including from Engadget Japanese's
own Ittousai -- has allegedly become NTT DoCoMo's best-selling smartphone in history, a fact that would seem completely inexplicable in any other market globally. What makes it possible in Japan, of course, is DoCoMo's historically lame selection of true smartphones, a lineup that currently includes localized versions of the HTC Magic
, and the original HTC Touch Diamond
and BlackBerry Bold
. What's more, many of these devices integrate poorly with popular carrier services on account of their super-tight control of the operating systems running across the featurephone lineup, something they've got less control over with a device running Android or Windows Mobile.
In other words, when it's reported that DoCoMo had sold 100,000 X10s in its first 20 days -- and a third-party retailer claims that the Magic-esque HT-03A is the next best seller at 80,000 units in 10 months -- it seems plausible, if not likely (and Ittousai agrees). Yeah, even though the localized device has been plagued with performance problems and bugs, incompatibilities with DoCoMo's i-mode push email, and so on. It's hard to say what it's going to take for these guys to make an honest-to-goodness transition to the brave new world of open platforms and freewheeling third-party development, but they're clearly not there yet.