My iPhone 3G Experience in Japan


So I’ve had an iPhone 3G for a week now. Is it the Jesus phone that we’ve all been praying for? Here’s my take on the Good, Bad, and Ugly of the iPhone as a user in Japan, in reverse order (don’t worry, there’s a lot of good).


  • Remember that post I put up about foreigners having trouble getting one without paying the full price of 80,000 yen? Well, count me in that bunch. Despite the fact that I provided the Japanese credit card and national health insurance card they requested, I was refused the deal. I have no reason why, because it’s Softbank‘s policy not to give out details. So, what am I doing with an iPhone? I must thank my wife for signing up and getting me one. One problem though: you are only allowed to sign up for one iPhone, and now my wife wants one too.
  • Email, in terms of how it’s used on Japanese mobile phones, is utterly broken. Except for one far-from-perfect solution which I’ll get to later, there’s no way to get a sound or a vibration when an email comes in when your phone is in sleep mode (i.e. in your pocket). Sure, if you use your address you’ll get a message that pops up immediately on the screen, but it makes no sound and doesn’t vibrate the phone. This is ridiculous. Sure, there’s SMS, which works beautifully, except that it only works between Softbank users. So pretty much useless, except for the very few friends I have who also have an iPhone (for readers who don’t live in Japan: Softbank is the third-place mobile carrier here, with that vast majority using DoCoMo or AU). That solution I mentioned? The only emails you will get a sound/vibration for is for Apple’s MobileMe service. So I signed up for that, which gives me two free months, but after that I’ll have to pay 10,000 yen a year. Oh, and it only gives one quick blip and vibration, which you can’t adjust. Ridiculous.


  • Apple doesn’t really want you to sync videos that aren’t purchased from their iTunes Store. Sure, you can still sync videos, but now you have to go in the iPhone/iPod settings every single time you add a new video and add a check (to select it). Previously, you could just tell it to sync all videos, all the time.
  • The first time I plugged it in to sync it, I got a carrier update message, followed by an error message. This error message has been appearing constantly every time I sync. The only good news regarding this is that as of today it doesn’t ask me if I want to install the update anymore, but I never did install it (because of the error message).


  • The iPhone is a better iPod than the iPod touch. Really, the only problems I had with the iPod touch are all non-existent on the iPhone. Volume on the exterior? Check. Speaker that lets you listen to stuff without headphones? Check. Pause/skip controls on a remote? Check.
  • The headphones with the built-in mic are simply amazing. Get a call while you’re listening to music? Just click on the mic, and you’re talking. I know hands-free mobile use is nothing new, but it’s new to me, and I’m loving it. And I love the simplicity of that mic/remote. One click to answer a call, double-click for call-waiting, click once to hang up. As a music remote, click once to pause, double-click to skip track. So simple, yet so useful.
  • Texting (meaning typing emails) with the iPhone keyboard is so much better than on a regular mobile phone. I’ve always hated typing on a regular handset, but have quickly gotten used to the iPhone keyboard. I really like the Japanese input too.
  • Unlimited data use, access everywhere. Now this is what having an iPhone in Japan is all about. In terms of web use, the iPod touch was pretty much useless in Tokyo because there is next to no free wi-fi access here. Now, I actually have a use for all those web apps, as well as just checking things in Safari.
  • All-in-one. This is what I’ve been thriving for: only having to carry one device. I’m using it for the phone, to listen to music, to watch videos, to email, access the web, play games — you wouldn’t believe how many hours I’ve spent playing Texas Hold’em — and the built-in camera is not bad either.
  • Now I could talk about how great all the apps are, and other features that are also found on the iPod touch, but I just wanted to comment on iPhone specific features. But overall, big love for everything that you can do on this phone: you really feel like you’re using a device from the future.

So, overall, yeah, it’s a pretty great device. It sure sucks that I was refused a contract at the store — basically, was turned down for the loan that gives you the phone at a discount — and I still have hope that a future update fixes the mail issues.

Update: Forgot to add that I’m disappointed that the Notes program doesn’t sync through MobileMe. I’ve started taking notes on my iPhone instead of writing them down — I’m actually pretty quick with the on-screen keyboard now — but was hoping that I could then access them on my laptop, just like I can with Address Book and iCal data (which are synced both ways). Apple, fix this!