Apple Japan's top phone maker in 2012, says research firm

Research firm Counterpoint says Apple edged past domestic makers Sharp and Fujitsu last year, leading a foreign influx

Apple sold more phones in Japan than any other manufacturer last year, rising above local manufacturers for the first time, according to a research firm.

The report from Counterpoint Research, based in Hong Kong, said Apple had a 15 percent market share in the country for the full year, just above the 14 percent market share held by both Sharp and Fujitsu. The report also said that foreign manufacturers accounted for half of the market during the fourth quarter.

Japan's mobile market has long taken an independent path from the rest of the world, employing its own network technologies and quickly embracing technologies like mobile cameras, NFC touch-card payments, and mobile TV broadcasts. The country's cellular market has been called a "Galapagos" environment because it evolved separately from the rest of the world, and companies like Sharp have embraced the concept and used it in their branding.

"Japan was once considered to be like a Galapagos Island, an isolated terrain, in terms of mobile technology," Counterpoint said. "The wave of smartphones has changed the situation now and it looks like the Japanese market is a market that can be transformed after all for better or worse."

The analysis jives with other recent data that show foreign manufacturers, led by Apple, are making inroads in Japan as smartphones proliferate. IDC said in December that Apple accounted for a quarter of all smartphone shipments during the third quarter of 2012, beating out Fujitsu.

Samsung has had less success in Japan than Apple. This is in part because Apple was an established brand before the smartphone boom, and also due to heavy marketing and low pricing on iPhone contracts from local carriers.

Domestic carrier Softbank has pushed the iPhone aggressively since it launched the original in 2008, and rival carrier KDDI began selling it in 2011. NTT DoCoMo, the country's largest carrier, has hinted it may negotiate to sell the phone at some point, as it has lost subscribers despite offering Samsung's flagship Galaxy and Note models in its lineup.

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