Apple rolls out new iPhone models in Japan

Updated: 2013-09-20 18:41


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TOKYO -- Apple Inc. rolled out two new iPhones in Japan on Friday as the US tech-giant commences its global launch of its revamped popular smartphone.

With lines at Apple's flagship store in the Ginza shopping district in Tokyo extending for more than 1 kilometer before the doors were opened this morning, it would appear that Japanese consumers' appetite for the handset is as healthy as ever.

One enthusiast, 44-year-old Japanese businessman Tetsuya Tamura, who has become a social media sensation here, camped outside the store for 10 days, wanting to be the first customer to get his hands on the new device, despite having to endure a weekend typhoon that pummeled the country.

Looking to tap into the lucrative iPhone market is Japan's biggest mobile carrier NTT Docomo who will be carrying both versions of the new phone, alongside rivals Softbank Mobile Corp. who have been carrying the iPhone since 2008 and KDDI Corp. who picked up the second generation iPhone.

NTT Docomo commands more than 40 percent of Japan's mobile market and offers the widest network coverage and is hoping that many of its existing customers will switch to the iPhone and those subscribed to other carriers will switch allegiances, a spokesperson for the firm said Friday. The mobile giant is looking to the iPhone to up its subscriptions, which dropped by 3.5 million following Softbank first introducing the phone five years ago.

"Despite being behind other carriers in offering the iPhone we expect to attract new customers by offering the best network and superior service, NTT Docomo President Kaoru Kato told a news conference earlier Friday.

As media helicopters were seen flying over Ginza to catch the iPhone aficionado-frenzy, Japan and Hollywood star Ken Watanabe, of "The Last Samurai" and "Sayuri" fame, made an in-store appearance to help kick-start NTT Docomo's sales of the ubiquitous smartphone.

Apple's two new models are the high-end iPhone 5s, which boasts a fingerprint security sensor and a lower-priced iPhone 5c. The polycarbonate-bodied 5c, according to tech analysts, is thought to be Apple's answer to rival cheaper Android-powered models being produced by companies like Samsung Electronics.

All three iPhone carriers in Japan are offering both handsets for free for new customers signing 2-year contracts -- during which the price for the hardware is essentially paid off in monthly installments. The new iPhones are also making their debut Friday in China, the United States and eight other markets and Apple plans to have 270 carriers in 100 countries carrying the new phones by the end of the year, the tech giant said in a statement.

The first installment of rollouts includes Japan, Australia, Britain, Canada, Chinese mainland, Chinese Hong Kong, France, Germany, Puerto Rico, Singapore and the United States.