Japan has been the leading country in producing some of the most unique technologies over the course of recent history. For example, Japan was playing with phones featuring TVs and cameras before mainstream smartphones starting circling the globe. Japan is a country that thrives and succeeds with technology, so with iOS and Android devices reshaping the Japanese mobile market, smartphones have taken the entire country by storm.
With smartphones come apps, and revenue from these apps grew considerably over the years. In 2012, Japan surpassed the U.S. in terms of smartphone app revenue generation. Gaming is the largest category of demand with social media on the rise.
Although the Japanese mobile app markets are well developed, the differences in culture and the nature of the app ecosystem in Japan pose significant challenges to foreign developers in finding success here. Almost all apps need to be localized and this localization goes beyond simple translation. There are many cultural nuances that may necessitate customization of app characters and promotional strategies.
Japan had always been an insulated market, but now with the dominance of smartphones, foreign developers have a direct line of approach to develop apps for the market. The familiarity of these platforms and tools encourage quick development and leaves developers to focus mainly on localization and cultural challenges without worrying about different hardware and various feature phone operating systems.
InMobi fielded a survey in Q3 2013 through its global mobile ad network, conducted on-device across both Android & iOS smartphones to understand the consumer behavior around app usage and discovery in Japan. The research findings provide market specific insights that can help developers craft a successful app distribution and monetization strategy for the Japanese market.
The key research findings are summarized as below:
App Usage – Japanese smartphone users are more likely to download a higher volume of apps, with 87% of smartphone users expected to download apps in the next 30 days.
The appetite for exploring new apps among the Japanese is high. A whopping 97% of smartphone users in Japan revealed they proactively search for new apps to download, with 15% searching on a daily basis.
App Discovery – Our research shows that browsing the app store, recommendations from friends & family and mobile websites are the top three methods for app discovery in Japan. Interestingly, 34% of survey respondents discover via mobile ads.
Factors that influence the app download decision – Our research shows that price is less of a determinant in influencing the download decision in Japan. App store reviews were also considered an important factor in influencing download decision.
Types of Mobile ads that influence app download – In Japan, users prefer ads that are context-aware and those that recommended specific apps based on their current content consumption and preferences. Also, rich media ads were preferred to simple banner ads, suggesting that users like to engage with ads that have richer content.
In-App Purchases – 37% of smartphone users in Japan have made in-app purchases.
The fragmented nature of the market, with its multiple phone brands, localization, diverse cultural demands and a local app distribution portal or platform, makes it a daunting task for foreign developers to enter the Japanese mobile app market.
Fragmented App Distribution
iOS and Android phones are gaining market share and app developers for these smartphones can skip the need for a local mobile app portal, this might not be the best strategy. Many carriers, although they have adopted iOS and Android platforms, encourage through consumers to download apps and content on carrier operated stores. The other top mobile gaming firms and app portals, such as GREE and DeNA, promote and run their stores in the same manner as the Apple store or Google Play. It is important for foreign app developers to be aware of these local app portals to optimize distribution and monetization of their apps.
Need for Localization
Localization is an important consideration for anybody to operate in the Japanese market and the mobile app market is no different. Developers need to take a step beyond language translation to localize and reorganize nuances to best fit local consumer culture. App developers can also consider partnering with local developers who have experience in what is actually successful with Japanese mobile users.
Japan is a state of incredible customer service, and there is always an expectation of great customer service. So, for the modern age of top developers it is not just about distributing an app across stores, but is also about support. The support is more prominent in games and as they become more and more responsive, it is important for the developers to keep improving it.
Reality-based applications or games, both virtual and augmented, have always been popular in every market, and Japan is no exception. Mobile apps need to be intuitive and visually appealing to the consumer. Consumers should be able to easily navigate throughout the environment.
Japan’s purchasing habits make them the second largest country when it comes to app purchases. There are many different models for monetization such as the freemium model with in-app purchase, ad supported models, premium or paid app models, and combinations of each. Knowing your users is key to bank on the best monetization strategy without sacrificing user experience, loyalty or quality.
Japan can be a tough market for foreign developers with its competitive market and a culture known for being persistent and patient. Gaming is currently the largest app market in Japan, with social apps in second place. Not many foreign mobile or social gaming companies have been successful in Japan and it’s market that won’t accept anything less than well prepared. Marketers need to execute an effective and creative strategy with a clear focus on the product and involving necessary factors like translation, localization, customized promotions and customer support.