|Flickr / Nemo's great uncle|
Blackberries, then the iPhone basically changed the game. The iPhone was the great game changer as it was not only functional - being a general purpose computer and phone with a great touch user interface, it was stylish. This was followed by the Android smartphones which will eventually end the domination of the regular cell phone.
As of the 2nd quarter of 2011, smartphones accounted for 45.5% of all cell phones shipped in Japan, with the phones being split between Android and iOS. No wonder the Japanese phone makers are scrambling to build smartphones (Samsung and Apple are the big winners). This just demonstrates how innovation can start just about anywhere, although the disruptive innovation here was not a low end product, but a high-end smartphone product that became ever cheaper and more capable. More about Android / iOS. In terms of anime character goods, there are tons of anime themed cases / decals for iPhones, but not for the other phones which still have a great variety of charms and such.
|Flickr / theunquietlibrary|
The Japanese also developed e-book readers, see the Sony models for example, but these basically fell flat on their face as the e-readers and books were too expensive, the bookstores for them were hard to use, there was limited content available that was also locked up on one platform. The Amazon Kindle then comes along. The Kindle is a great little e-reader, crazy battery life, with cheap books, and a massive library (based on Amazon's amazing shopping / search experience) with cheap prices until the Publisher's agency model was put into place. Well, the cheap books are still there - look at all of the indie authors, and this is a model that would probably adapt well to Japan with doujinshi (just not derivative works based on copyrighted material). It will be interesting to see how independent software and creative graphical storytelling develop in Japan with the Kindle (both reader and tablet), and the iPad/iPhone influences.
|Flickr / Tsubaki Kaworu|
The main winning feature for all iOS devices is the application library available in the application store (damn their stupid trademark tricks). The massive number of apps makes the device so useful and fun. I'm also amazed at the time of writing how many free apps there are on a given day. If you had no money, you could still build a free software library over a year with some of your favourite apps on it. By free, I mean really free, with no ads and other annoying in-app purchases that cripple the software. Check out the Appchronicles and Apppicker websites which I have found very useful. This is something that really doesn't happen on Android as most things are already free, you just have to live with the annoying ads. For older children it is almost the same price to buy the cheapest 8GB iPod Touch then load up on the free software available instead of buying a DS or PSP (with 3 or 4 games). You will get hundreds of free games on the iPod instead of having just a few on the DS or PSP and the kids get a multipurpose entertainment device.
At this time, the iPad is insanely popular, and it is a very useful device as it is a nicely packaged general purpose computer. The Cult of Mac had an interesting article about why this tablet is hated by so many industries and they are sooo right! Even in the traditional computer game industries where the Japanese have been the leaders for so long (other than first person shooters) is changing. Casual gaming via iOS and smartphone devices is eating up the market for most video games as the games are either free or so much cheaper for the same thing on a Sony PSP or Nintendo DS. This is a major disruption that is bad for Nintendo and Sony who depend on hardware, but good for consumers as there should be greater creativity and availability of software for cheap (due to the way the stores operate). The iPad / smartphones are better hardware with superior software and interface for a cheaper price. Again, there really isn't a Japanese competitor right now either.
It looks like Jobs out-innovated everyone here with his ideas with Android adopting Job's model to succeed differently. Time ticks on though and it'll be different in ten more years.
AFTER NOTE (Update Feb 1, 2012): NEC in Japan just announce there will be 7000 layoffs in Japan. Apparently their cell phone sales are not doing so well in the economic downturn and Apple iPhone competition. The game has certainly changed.