iPhone 4S in Japan

I almost let all the excitement go by without writing about this. Never fear, this blog does not hesitate to go off on tangents if I find them interesting.

The iPhone 4S was announced a couple of weeks ago, and came out last Friday in Japan. Personally I was disappointed. I’m a big iPhone fan and was expecting more. In this case, I think Apple’s marketing/hype machine actually worked against them.

I decided not to upgrade my 3GS, particularly after installing the new operating system (iOS 5) and having it work fine.

My wife, on the other hand, has a really old AU phone that is about to be discontinued (ie it won’t work on their network any more). She needs to upgrade, and this seemed like a good chance. I was also very curious to see how iPhone works on AU, as opposed to Softbank, my carrier.

My impressions of the iPhone 4S on AU (KDDI) in Japan:

1. AU has not carried the iPhone before, and as of last week their shop staff were undertrained and underprepared. Specifically, AU’s system for migrating address books from their cellphones to the iPhone leaves a lot to be desired, and the staff we were interacting with did not know how to use the software. We’ll probably end up typing all the numbers into gmail then syncing.

2. Voice mail on the AU iPhone is not visual!!! This is a huge negative, in my opinion. One of the iPhone’s greatest features was visual voicemail, where you could interact with each message individually and see details about them on your screen. AU seems to have kept the ‘call the voice mail centre and deal with it via keypad commands’. A horrible idea.

3. The battery life seems short. We burned through 50% in a couple of hours of trying it out (making calls, downloading apps, etc.).

4. It’s basically an iPhone 4 with better parts.

5. No tethering.

6. iPhone on AU is much more expensive than Softbank. Seems like at least an extra thousand yen a month, maybe more.

7. The camera is very nice.

I haven’t really spent enough time with it to comment on the network (Softbank certainly has issues, we’ll see how AU holds up as the wave of new iPhones get registered on their network).

My conclusion:

Having an iPhone is better than not having one, but for me at least, there is no need to upgrade to the 4S. The new iOS is worth getting though.

If you are considering switching to AU from Softbank, make sure you understand their pricing structure, etc. or you may get an unpleasant surprise.

What do you think? Have I made the right decision, or should I take advantage of Softbank’s free upgrade promotion? Comments very much appreciated.

17 Oct 2011, 10:51am
by WIlliam McDuff


The iPhone 4S’s big feature seems to be Siri, as far as I can tell. I like Andy Ihnatko’s work, so I direct you to his reviews. I don’t even have an iPhone at all. Or any Apple product except my laptop, actually.



Heh, you need to get an iPhone already 🙂

Those reviews are kind of gushy, aren’t they. Maybe I am missing something!

19 Oct 2011, 2:45am
by William McDuff


Sorry man, this paycheck was shelves. On the plus side, I got my living room coffee table back from the pile o’ games. 🙂

Andy is definitely an Apple fan, though he doesn’t like everything they put out. But Siri seems to be what impresses him.

I had an AU crap phone for a while and was really holding out for the new iphone, thinking it would be only on Softbank. I was going to keep my AU phone and use it only for emergency calls. During the post-earthquake and tsunami times AU was the only carrier that worked in my area. When I found out that AU was going to be carrying the iPhone I was thrilled.

While I have shared some of the same sentiments that you have, I would say i’m pleased with it overall. Of course the FaceTime, iMessage, visual voicemail are nice, they are not make or break items for me.

iMessage is convenient, but in the end it’s nothing but a more glorified version of a mail account.

FaceTime is really cool, but given the fact it only works through WiFi, which I only really have in my apartment, i’d rather just use my computer for that.

Visual voicemail is really convenient, but in today’s society, especially in Japan, (a texting culture) I rarely receive any calls, if any. Let alone have one of the few even go to a voicemail. So it’s really not that big of a deal to me.

I will say that it does seem the battery life drains pretty quickly. I’ve only had it since Saturday and I’m still experimenting with settings for the location services, notifications brightness etc. till I get that perfect balance of usage freedom and battery life.

I would say the one thing that I am not forgiving is the absence of tethering. This was a huge reason I went with this phone. Especially since the tsunami knocked out so many towers in y area. There are still offices that I work in that don’t have internet {today’s not being one of those 😉 } I hope this is something that gets introduced later on. They (AU) are supposedly going to have FaceTime and proper iMessage through an update later (hopefully).

All in all I would say i’m %15 dissatisfied with the service and the device leaving the other %75 completely elated to have this wonderful piece of machinery.

Like you said, the camera is awesome, the A5 makes a huge difference in the speed, I still love the design of the iphone4 body and it really does keep me more connected with my friends and family living in America. Also the reception is so much better than Softbanks. I was driving through Iwate’s and MIyagi’s desolate mountains and still getting reception.

I worked for apple for 3.5 years before I came to Japan and, with no ego, I had been prepared to have all my contacts synced with my computer to be able to put them in my iPhone.

All i’m saying is that they better get me my tethering (*shakes fist*)

Hi Andrew

Great to have such a comprehensive report from someone who is actually using the phone (like I said, my review is based on playing with my wife’s phone during the short times I have been able to pry it away from her!). Glad you’re enjoying it and hope to see them restore some of the functionality with updates.

The only thing I would add is that I tried out SIRI yesterday (the AI voice recognition function) and wasn’t particularly impressed. It’s very cool and fairly accurate but makes too many mistakes and has a lot of trouble with Japanese names. I’m sure it will be very useful in a year or two, but right now it’s not a compelling reason to upgrade 😉

19 Oct 2011, 2:47am
by William McDuff


I’ve been hearing that, actually. It seems to have a lot of trouble with Japanese and Scots at the moment. I wonder how it is for Japanese speakers in Japanese mode?

No Japanese at the moment. I think it’s available in a couple of dialects of English, French, and German?

Also (as I found out) The iphone 4s on AU actually has worse service than Softbank’s iphone (and it is just the iphone – not their other smartphones or keitai) I have no idea why this is, but it’s really annoying!

Hi Anna

I noted above that the visual voicemail has been removed from AU’s iPhone and that it is more expensive than Softbank, but are there any other issues? It would be good to have a list of problems for people considering the phone…

Actually, I had a look at a Softbank 4S today and it too had the visual voicemail removed… I wonder if this is also the case in other countries?

The plot thickens: I just saw a Softbank 4S that did have visual voicemail…?

Is there a setting somewhere I am missing?

Overall Im enjoying my AU iPhone 4s, but am disappointed with the lack of info I (didn’t) receive from the AU staff when I contracted one week ago.

I switched from 10 years with Docomo, and probably would have gone with Softbank if I had been aware of the following not being included with the AU iPhone4s;

> No iMessage
> In addition, the normal Message app can’t even at attach photos (unlike the old iPhone 4) Message app
> No FaceTime
> No Visual Voicemail

One of the biggest gripes I have, is that AU doesn’t give me the capability to send SMS messages to overseas carriers. I have never come across this in my life, in any country. Docomo and Softbank both allow this… so why not AU? It’s a big problem for me. Is this only an issue with the iPhone 4s?

Feeling like I should’ve stayed with Docomo. And yes, it’s not cheap.

Hi Chico

Completely agree with the lack of information from AU. I get the feeling it’s more that the frontline staff don’t know the information, rather than an attempt to actively hide it.

I hear that AU is going to ‘upgrade’ (ie restore) some of the lost functionality in time.

I was most disappointed by the lack of tethering, although the visual voicemail was definitely a blow.

fingers crossed a FULL upgrade comes soon.

any idea on int’l SMS with AU?

Afraid I have never tried international SMS…

Skype does that now, if you really need it until AU gets their act together 🙂

Okay, I figured out the visual voicemail thing (why some people have it and some don’t). It’s a subscription service that costs extra 🙂

I thought so too. Was that visual voicemail subscription with Softbank, or AU?

If AU, do you have a link, or know what it’s called in Japanese?

I talked to a Softbank rep, so not sure what it is called on AU. I presume it’ll be some kind of ‘utility’ package that costs a couple of hundred yen a month…

3 Nov 2011, 9:58pm
by Martin Linder


So, am I right that you can not do wifi tethering with the iPhone 4s on AU!

How does that work out? Has AU actually changed the hardware (or iOS SW) to prevent this.

Sunda mysterious to me. Could someone explain this since I am thinking of getting one at AU

Yep, as of right now, neither AU nor Softbank allow tethering on their iPhones.

I may have heard from a friend of mine that you can jailbreak them and then tether, but don’t have any personal experience…


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