Earlier this month, Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) was crowned the No. 1 smartphone vendor in the U.S. in the fourth quarter for the first time ever. That title came from market researcher Strategy Analytics, which estimated that Apple grabbed a 34% market share during the holiday quarter. That was enough to slide past archrival Samsung, who earned 32.3% of the market with its popular Galaxy devices.

Well, the iPhone maker has now scored another smartphone crown in a different country: Japan. Counterpoint Research has just released data that pegs Apple as the No. 1 smartphone vendor in Japan for the full year thanks in part to strong marketing efforts by carrier partners Softbank and KDDI. Those carriers were pushing the iPhone 5 heavily in order to chip away at market leader NTT DoCoMo (NYSE: DCM).

Apple garnered 16% of the Japanese handset market in the fourth quarter, and 15% for all of 2012. That was the first time that Apple was top dog on an annual basis, while Counterpoint says Apple has been the top seller since last November. Rivals Samsung and LG also grew their market shares, and when combined with Apple, the three companies gobbled up over half of the market while local vendors Sharp and Fujitsu suffered.

Apple's rise displaced Sharp as the top vendor. This is a notable feat because Japanese consumers have a strong preference for local brands, making it more difficult for foreign companies to gain traction.

Only recently has NTT DoCoMo expressed interest in becoming an iPhone carrier, which would give Apple a crack at its subscriber base of 61 million customers.


iPhone Carrier?

Mobile Subscribers



61 million (December 2012)



41 million (January 2013)*



31.6 million (January 2013)

Sources: NTT DoCoMo, KDDI, and Softbank. *Includes UQ Communications, an affiliated company of KDDI.

NTT DoCoMo reported its biggest monthly subscriber loss ever in November while KDDI and Softbank grew their respective subscriber bases.

Japan is a developed country where carriers subsidize smartphone purchases -- two conditions that are typically very conducive for Apple's success. These types of markets are where the iPhone fares the best, while unsubsidized emerging markets are tougher to crack. Do investors still need more evidence that an affordable iPhone is coming?

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