The mobile internet was born 16 years ago in Japan

Galapagos-Syndrome: NTT Docomo failed to capture global value

The global mobile internet revolution started with NTT Docomo's i-Mode on February 22, 1999, in Tokyo, but Docomo did not capture global value
The global mobile internet revolution started with NTT Docomo’s i-Mode on February 22, 1999, in Tokyo, but Docomo did not capture global value

On February 22, 1999, the mobile internet was born when Mari Matsunaga, Takeshi Natsuno and Keiichi Enoki launched Docomo’s i-Mode to a handful of people who had made the effort to the Press Conference introducing Docomo’s new i-Mode service. KDDI soon followed with EZweb, and J-Phone with Jsky (J-Phone was acquired by Vodafone, which was unable to manage J-Phone, Vodafone then sold the company to SoftBank).

i-Mode’s popularity soon exceeded any expectation: Docomo for some periods had to limit new subscriptions.

With Steve Jobs’ love for Japan, and Apple’s intense supplier relationships with Japan, its not farfetched to see connections between i-Mode and iPhone, in particular the i-Mode ecosystem and Java-based i-Appli’s are forerunners of today’s apps and apps-ecosystems.

At that time there was no Wikipedia, and Docomo had no English-language website at all, so our company Eurotechnology Japan KK’s information was more or less the only English language information openly available about i-Mode. We were bombarded by requests from many major semiconductor firms, telecom operators, investment banks, students and world-famous business schools for our i-Mode report and related business development and strategic work.

Learn about Japan’s telecom markets: read the 65th edition of our report.

Today 5 of the global top-10 top-grossing Apps are Japanese

While Docomo never managed to capture global value from inventing and first introducing the mobile internet, the No. 1 top-grossing company globally, and five of the top-10 globally top-grossing Apps for iOS and Google-Play combined are Japanese (source: App-Annie).

Japan’s app market is the world’s largest in terms of cash revenues

Its also no coincidence that in terms of cash value, Japan’s is the world’s largest app-market for iOS and Google-Play combined, bigger than the US market and the Chinese market in terms of cash value. (source: App-Annie).

App-Annie’s data to our knowledge only cover the iOS and Google-Play app-stores, not the i-Mode and other mobile internet businesses, so Japan’s actual mobile app economy is even larger than App-Annie data show.

Which are the top-grossing apps in Japan?

i-Mode is still alive and kicking – and a big business for Docomo

i-Mode is still today the mobile internet system for Docomo’s traditional flip-phones which are still an important part of the market, and recently made headlines since sales for traditional flip-phones were rising, while smartphone sales were (temporarly?) dropping.

i-Mode (and EZweb for KDDI, and Yahoo-mobile for SoftBank) will still be important business for some time to come in Japan.

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