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Apple's Japan Strategy: A Japanese Perspective, Part II

Apple's Japan Strategy: A Japanese Perspective, Part II

by , 9:00 AM EST, March 2nd, 2001

In Part I of this editorial, I talked about Apple's advertising and what I consider to be some of the cultural faux pas committed by Steve Jobs during his MACWORLD Tokyo keynote. In Part II, I will talk about Apple's software bundles, the state of Mac software in Japan, and the Mac retail dilemma.

I've helped Apple sell many Macs since coming to Japan by providing demonstrations at User Clubs and through the hand-holding of my computer illiterate friends. I am now paying the price in 'free' technical support, so that will teach me. Through all of my efforts to proselytize the Mac, there is one issue that seems to never go away. In fact, no matter how good the Mac model that I suggest is, this issue always seems to come up;

Japanese friend: "I'm not sure if I should get a Mac."
Me: (Thinking: I will regret this) "If you do, you will have fewer problems."
Japanese friend: "But the Macintosh has no software."
Me: (Thinking: Boot standard 'NO SOFTWARE' response) "Sure it does. But most of the software you need for the Mac you can buy through catalogs or the Internet. Anyway, how many word processors do you need?"
Japanese friend: "Well, I need one, I suppose, but my work place uses Ichitaro and Word."
Me: (Thinking: I've got 'em now.) "You can get Ichitaro for the Mac and Word for the Mac is better than the Windows version! And if you need a word processor that isn't bloated, there are many other fine programs available for the Mac."
Japanese friend: "No, I must have Word. All the PCs I've looked at include Microsoft Office."
Me: (Thinking: I have a very bad feeling about this) "Umm.. Apple includes AppleWorks with each iMac."
Japanese friend: "But what if I buy a Cube or G4? IT DOESN'T COME with AppleWorks!"
Me: (Thinking: I need a reality distortion field) "You can buy AppleWorks for $99 dollars"
Japanese friend: "But I need Microsoft Office, not AppleWorks..."
Me: (Thinking: Why can't this person just think differently?) "OK, then buy Office. The new version is great."
Japanese friend: "Because it cost me another $500 dollars on top of the computer's price."
Me: "Right, I recommend the Sotec PC or Fujitsu. Make sure you get a good Virus program."
Japanese friend: "OK, thanks for your advice. When I need help with my new PC, can you teach me Windows?"
Me: (Thinking: Dam, I forgot to mention Virtual PC) "Sorry, I don't do Windows, you are on your own."

The above conversation has happened about two dozen times. All localized software is expensive in Japan, so I can somewhat understand why Office-J costs so much. AppleWorks is a great application, and is perfect for most iMac/iBook users. Why it doesn't come with ALL Macs is beyond me. I found this out when I bought a Japanese G4 five months ago. I looked on every CD-ROM, and all through the hard drive, but couldn't find AppleWorks. I was about to call the store, when I realized that Apple only considers iMac users worthy of free software. I should mention that the software bundle included with each iMac in Japan is very nice. POST-PET (e-mail software) is great, and it's the reason my wife uses her iMac eight times a day. I would like to see Apple Japan include Cro-Mag Rally, and something like Microsoft Word: Mac Edition LE with all Macs, but there is no such version of Word yet.

Let me talk about distribution now. This part will make you feel like the "world is truly the same all over." In Japan, there are a few "Mecca's" of computer paradise. For example, Akihabara (Tokyo) and Den-Den Town (Osaka) have dozens of stores that carry Macs and stock Macintosh software. Outside the larger cities, however, Apple's distribution drops off a bit. As you move further from the cities, it is harder to find stores that carry Mac hardware AND Mac software.

In my small town of 350,000 people, we have six computer stores:

  • Store "K" (for notes on how Japanese culture handles comparisons, see Part 1 of this article) has one G4 and one PowerBook. Neither of those can be used because the System Folder on each is completely trashed. I give their software corner a "B-."
  • Store "D" has a GREAT Apple display section with all Macs working. Their software corner gets a "B+."
  • Store "O" has one PowerBook, which is never turned on. Their software corner gets an "F" because they mix the Mac software with the PC software.
  • Store "Y" ad flyers list several Macs, however, ONLY their flagship stores in the megalopolis has Macs. They do have a Mac software section that I will rate "C-." (No hardware but some software? What's the point?) An interesting side-point: This same store sold a "TATUNG" (Taiwan) Mac-clone during the "Clone Wars." Perhaps it was the only one made!
  • Store "P" is new. Their flyer lists the latest Macs and software. When you find the Mac section in the back, you can see a Cube, and a G4. Both are turned off and there is not a Mac salesperson in sight. Their software corner gets an "A-."
  • Finally we come to store "Shimamura Music." Wait! I just broke the taboo point I spoke about earlier! I'll make an exception here because I have a bone to pick with them. Actually, it's not even their fault, its Apple's!

Shimamura sells music instruments. Someone at Apple Japan thought they would be the perfect chain store to carry the iMac. I don't argue that the Mac is the standard for audio production, and on the surface having the iMac at this location might make sense, but the store is staffed by clerks who know absolutely nothing about computers. You would at least expect to see Cubass, Performer, Logic, and countless other Macintosh audio and MIDI software on the store shelves, all I ever see is "ACID," a PC-based program, and some five year old Mac titles priced at 3x the regular price. Perhaps the Shimamura locations in Tokyo/Osaka carry more Mac music software, but it seems to me that someone has really dropped the ball with this opportunity. My guess is that this store has sold maybe three computers since they began to carry the iMac, and this is only because other retail stores were out during the big iMac craze. If Apple wants to address the music market in Japan, they should take another look at their relationship with company "S" and perhaps get some G4s running ProTools into these stores. Even then I could never imagine the clerks being able to explain ProTools to anyone.

For more information on the state of the Mac market in Japan, read Part I of this editorial.

Carlos Camacho is Editor-in-Chief of the web site iDevGames ( which is devoted to the design and development of Macintosh games.

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