SoftBank plans for new iPad

SoftBank has just published their new deals for iPhone owners wanting to buy one of the newer iPads.

The mechanics of the plan are the same as for the iPad 2 campaign last year, you get a full rebate on the 16GB model’s price, but that applies only on the data plan charge. So if you use less than the 100MB free allotment of 3G/4G data, you will still have to pay at least the iPad’s price (split over 24 months).

Now the big differences with the iPad 2 campaign we had last year:

  • The iPad 2 3G model used to be offered by SoftBank for the same price of the WiFi only model at Apple. This is not the case anymore. You will pay a ¥10,960 to ¥10,800 premium for the 4G model over the simple WiFi model.
  • The access to SoftBank WiFi hotspots which was included for free before is now charged at ¥490 a month.

This makes this campaign plan much much less interesting than its predecessor.

3G or 4G speeds?

Additionally, the page adds an enigmatic note next to all mentions of 4G

日本国内ではSoftBank 3Gエリアのみで、ご利用いただけます。

Inside Japan, can only be used in SoftBank’s 3G area.

I suspect this is a shrouded way of saying that the iPad sold currently will only work with SoftBank’s 3G network, corroborating other sources around the web that it is incompatible with 4G LTE network bands used outside the US.

Is Softbank’s new iPad 2 campaign worth it?

Updated 2011/11/09 — see bottom of the post

For the iPhone 4S launch, Masayoshi Son, Softbank’s CEO, decided to go all out to keep his customers from going to aU by KDDI.

Fun Fact: during his keynote on October 7th, one day after Steve Jobs passing away, Son-san declared tearfully that these campaigns were his gifts to spread the Steve’s “art work” (he used the word 作品 as opposed to 製品) to as many people as possible.

One of these campaigns is for the iPad and it’s description is very confusing. See the figure below:

Many people take this to mean that you can get a 16GB iPad for free, ¥0 per month, if you are already a Softbank iPhone subscriber. That’s not true because ¥1,860 monthly discount on the second to last line only applies to the communications charge and not to the iPad hardware monthly cost. Going to the cost simulation page shows this well: your minimum monthly bill is still ¥1,860 (the cost of the 16GB iPad 2) and the data plan is free up to 100MB.

So in the end we get a free data plan if we don’t use 3G internet (almost don’t use it, 100MB a month wouldn’t get you much farther than regular email checking). That sounds like a classic mobile operator swindle: giving you something for almost free and then hammering you with extra high fees whenever you go over the pathetically low usage limits. Let’s look at the data plan details:

So yes, free for 100MB, capped at ¥4,980 over 111.5MB or you could choose to just pay a flat plan ¥4,410 every month whatever your usage. You end up paying a ¥470 premium for the flexibility of paying nothing the months when you almost don’t use 3G… Is that actually a good deal? I put the numbers into Numbers to see:

  • iPad 2 16GB + ZERO data plan under 100MB usage per month: ¥22,320 per year
  • iPad 2 16GB + ZERO data plan over 111.5MB user every month: ¥63,540 per year
  • iPad 2 16GB + FLAT data plan: ¥56,700 per year

So over the course of a year you would be saving money only if you stay under the 100MB cap for more than 3 months.

Is that a good deal? If you only use the 3G for emailing in the train and turn off the modem when not in use (letting it check your mail every 15min in the background would significantly bump your usage) then it could be. But having already an iPhone, do you really need to check your email on your iPad?

Myself, I will probably pass on that campaign. What would really be interesting would be a tethering option for my iPhone at a reasonable price… Well reasonable would really be ¥0 as I consider I’m already paying for the bandwidth and how I use it is none of Softbank’s business. An “acceptable” price would be maybe ¥1,000.

Please tell me in the comments what you think about this campaign.

Update: Very good point added in the comments by Maddy. If you get an iPad from Softbank for that campaign and remove the SIM card, never to use it again, you still get to download the Softbank WiFi roaming profile that lets you connect to all Softbank / FON / YahooBB / Tokyo Metro access points for free (that’s a pretty extensive network in Tokyo) and a GPS to boot. That’s a clear advantage over buying a WiFi only version from Apple for the exact same price.

iPad 3G and Pocket WiFi alternatives in Japan

So the pricing for the iPad in Japan are out. It seems even devices sold at the Apple Stores will be SIM-locked to Softbank, breaking many hopes of seeing DoCoMo come into the picture and shaking things up a little.

This has definitely not changed my thoughts on the device, it would very much piss me off to pay twice for 2 iPhone and iPad data plans.

This morning, my buddy @kuriburi who is more enthusiastic than I am, called me from the line at the Softbank shop to discuss the situation. Interestingly enough, people were fleeing in droves after receiving the pamphlet describing the full pricing… We entertained the thought that it might be more interesting to buy a WiFi version and get a Pocket WiFi device from data plan specialist eMobile.

@kuriburi left the Softbank line and we started gathering data from the web:

And after crunching numbers here are the results, first for the iPad 64GB version:

And for the iPad 32GB version:

It still seems the Softbank’s default option with integrated 3G is very aggressively priced compared to the competition. But if you can limit yourself to less than 300MB of 3G data per month, you can save up to ¥9.000 on the 32GB iPad over the 2 years contract period. Not much for sure, but some people might be interested…

Note: we have not taken into account the eMobile Super Light data plan because a 3MB/month data plan will not let you do anything but access email (and then without pictures) which does not count as a full usage of the device.

Note 2: here’s a link to the spreadsheet, if you see anything wrong with the data please notify me in the comments.

My thoughts on the iPad…

…because everyone has their own. They could be resumed to: I want! I want! I want! I want!

It’s shiny, it’s thin, it looks good… Like all my favorite Apple stuff. I don’t even care if it has lousy WiFi — I live in a 50m² apartment with only 2 rooms separated by wooden walls, I am never more than 5m away from my Time Capsule.

But will I get one? I’m not so sure. In the current set of things, probably not. This is why:

  1. As I said earlier, my home is small — albeit nice and cosy — as most people in Tokyo who are not on expatriate expense accounts. My main computer is a MacBook Pro which sits at all time on the arm rest of my sofa: there is no table/desk to put it.
    So buying an iPad would mean relegating the MacBook Pro to a closet until I need it for higher level tasks — such as dumping photos into Aperture or writing code for home projects… Putting a ¥200.000 laptop in a closet feels wrong, but maybe I could live with it.

This is a coffee table, not a desk…

  1. I spend 3h of every weekday commuting to and back from work. I could really see myself enjoying movies, TV shows, my feed reader and internet/email on an iPad much more than on my iPhone as I do now. However, there is no way in hell I would ever pay another ¥4000 or so to Softbank for an unlimited 3G connection in addition to the one tied to my iPhone. You can only bleed your customers so much…

So unless the coming weeks see an announcement (I’m thinking iPhone 4.0 tonight) by Apple or Softbank of either tethering your iPhone to your iPad or an extra iPad 3G SIM at ¥500 for iPhone owners, I don’t think I will buy the iPad.

Activate tethering on Softbank iPhone

A friend of mine, @kuriburi, just sent me this to publish for him, so here you go:

So it was the news of the day: Someone managed to activate tethering on an AT&T iPhone 3G by means of a “carrier support file”, a.k.a. “ipcc”. Here in Japan, the story was a bit more tricky : Softbank declared that they would not support tethering on their network and had no plans to do so in the future either.


Nice! So, with those brand new Macbook Pro without any pc express card slot, how are we supposed to use Softbank’s data cards? This bothered me to no end thus I went on a search for a Softbank carrier support file that I could modify somehow. I stumbled onto this very interesting post on a Japanese blog that talked about the same thing, but with a beta version of the iPhone OS 3.0.

OK, well, doesn’t hurt to try with the official release, right?

Now I need to get my hands on that damn file. Turns out, it was right on my hard drive at work since August 2008. So I went to work and modified the file (which incidentally is just a bundle in a zip archive with a special extension) and tried to update my iPhone with it. The steps are simple :

  1. in the Terminal, execute defaults write carrier-testing -bool TRUE
    on windows, execute C:\Program Files\iTunes\iTunes.exe /setPrefInt carrier-testing 1 in a DOS window
  2. plug your iPhone to your computer via the USB cable
  3. in iTunes, display the summary page of your iPhone
  4. while pressing the “alt” (option) key, click on the “check for update” button
  5. you will be presented with a finder window. Locate the Softbank_jp.ipcc file, select it
  6. iTunes will now update your iPhone with the modified carrier settings
  7. Once finished, unplug the iPhone, go see into Settings>General>Network, and voilà! screenshot

Oh, before I forget, if Apple or Softbank issues an update through iTunes, wait a bit before updating… you never know…

Update: I updated the link with the latest file from @kuriburi that activates both tethering and MMS. よろしく!

Update: This IPCC file does not work with 3.1 update. If you value your tethering, do not upgrade yet.

WWDC Keynote on with App Engine

No bandwidth, no servers, no infrastructure, no money required. Just a bit of python and a tad of javascript and you can live stream an event to 10.000 people concurrently (theoretic figure, Analytics said the live-blog site had 30.000 visits in all) within Google App Engine‘s free quotas.

keynote requests per second

This is the graph taken from my App Engine dashboard the morning after the WWDC’09 Keynote after live-blogged the event in French through my application. We always had scaling problems while Google’s infrastructure was in beta and we were bound by smallish quotas, but since they opened fully the service a couple months ago, the sky is the limit.

iPhone battery upgrade

For iPhone owners who are non-plussed by the iPhone 3GS and are not ready to fork out an arm and an eye for the upgrade (and who would blame you?), there is still a solution to get your old phone almost up to par with the new version:

iphone battery upgrade has on shelf a battery upgrade kit which will enable you – if you are ok with thrusting an exacto knife into your iPhone’s entrails in cold blood – to change your battery with a new 1600mAh one (compared with 1150mAh for the original).

Meanwhile, I am still iPhone-free and will happily stroll to the Softbank shop on June 26th – or maybe a week later since I will probably be too busy packing my apartment move to wait in line for a phone – and get myself a 16GB 3GS for ¥11.520 (^o^)v

Half-assed features on Softbank iPhone

I’m getting reports from my friends with iPhones here in Japan, since I still haven’t gone crazy and taken one as a second phone. Some features have been completely borked by Softbank:

  • There’s no + for international calls. Apparently, Softbank’s network does not support the + (country code) (your number) that is industry standard on all modern phones. Instead, they customize their keitais, which are manufactured to Softbank’s specs by the nicely compliant Japanese manufacturers, to replace the plus sign with a special prefix: 010.
  • The mail address is not “push-compatible”. This means you have to initiate a mail check to see if there is mail waiting, unlike mail which pushes the mails straight to your phone through the network without actual polling on your part.
    Softbank has implemented a sort of fake notification which must be a background process continually polling the server for new mails, showing the butt-ugly greyed-out fullscreen popup whenever you receive a message. Of course, there is no chime nor vibration hinting to a new event while the phone is in your pocket, making that mail address basically useless…

I hope Softbank gets its act together before I need to change phones. Sadly, even after knowing all these caveats, I still want one…

Special rules for Gaijin buying an iPhone

If you’re planning on buying an iPhone (it’s a little too late now since they’re already out of stock everywhere in Kanto) and you’re a foreigner, there’s a couple of things you need to be aware of before you head out to the Softbank shop:

  1. Bring your Gaikokujin Torokusho (Alien Card) + Passport. It seems they now require the passport too.
  2. Check your visa expiration date, the following rules apply:

From Softbank’s website

  1. 在留期限が90日未満の場合は回線契約ができません。
  2. 在留期限が申込日より15ヵ月以内の場合、割賦購入(あっせん)契約による受付はできません。(店頭一括払いのみの受付となります)
  3. 在留期限が申込日より15ヵ月超、27ヵ月以内の場合、割賦購入(あっせん)契約による支払回数は12回払いもしくは一括払いのみの受付となります。
  4. 在留期限が申込日より27ヵ月を超える場合、支払い回数に関係なく割賦購入(あっせん)が可能です。

Which translates to:

  1. If you’re on a 90 days tourist visa, no soup (or iPhone) for you!
  2. If you have less than 15 months left on your visa, you wont be able to make a contract, but they’ll sell the phone to you without a plan for ¥80.000
  3. Between 15 and 27 months left on your visa, you can either pay it cash for ¥80.000 or negociate take a 12 months contract (instead of the normal 24) possibly at the discounted ¥20.000 price-tag, but whether the discount applies or not is not clear in the document
  4. Over 27 months and you’re clear, you can buy the phone like any native

With my 3 years visa expiring in 27 months and 24 days, I might hurry my purchase plans…

Note: the maximum length visa you can have (apart from being a permanent resident) is 3 years, so you’d better work on your timing or you might have to wait a very long time to get a phone

Update: as John points out in the comments, if you have a Japanese health insurance card or driver’s licence accompanied by a utility bill to your name, then this should suffice and Softbank’s people should not ask you for anything else. That’ll help quite a bit.

iPhone in Japan: it’s the new Wii

So people have been lined up in front of the flagship Softbank shop in Omotesando since Monday, all reservations that were taken in the first days after announcement have been canceled and now my friend Jon tells me that he called the main Softbank shop in Kumagaya, Saitama-ken and they are having a raffle for what will probably be 5 measly units on Friday.

japanese crowd can be crazy

If you want to get an iPhone here in Japan, you’d better start tossing a lot of 5円 coins at the local shinto shrine to buff up on luck and scour the raffles every weekend arount the countryside as we all did 2 years ago during the darkest times of Wii hunting.

Note: the photo is one of mine at Meiji shrine for New Year, that’s the image that comes to mind when I think about a crowd in Japan…

Update: Jon won the lottery and got his iPhone, only problem is Softbank’s servers are on their knees and they couldn’t activate his phone. It’s that crazy…

iPhone pricing details announced officially

A press release just appeared on Softbank’s website and suddenly Twitter went ablaze: the official pricing details for the iPhone have been published.

iphone on softbank

Here’s the lowdown:

  • 7,280円 per month for basic white plan and unlimited data
  • 960円 per month for the 8GB version, 1,440円 per month for the 16GB version (for 24 months)
  • specific email address for [email protected] (normal plans are [email protected])

Of course, these prices are without any calling minutes. I wonder if I’m going to be able to get the iPhone without any plan, activate it and use my corporate Softbank SIM card in it.

WWDC Keynote

Tonight (at least in Japanese time) is Steve Job’s WWDC Keynote. It is widely accepted that he will be announcing the new 3G enabled iPhone and I am secretly hoping he will give us a release date for Japan live from the Moscone West.

These past weeks, I’ve been developing a live-blogging system for my other website to cover the event minute by minute. It’s a challenge to devise a system, both software and hardware-wise, capable of handling the huge loads involved in such a big event. We are expecting more than 50.000 persons to follow the Keynote via MacBidouille.

Until now, all our attempts have failed. But this time, I’m trying something new with an Ajax based interface running on the new Google App Engine platform. It’s been really fun using a new technology, Python, on Google’s own architecture.

I have no idea if this new system will withstand the load this year, especially with the tight quotas in place for the beta phase of App Engine. But I sure hope Steve announces the iPhone launch in Japan starting tomorrow and I’ll take the day-off to rush to the Apple Store in Ginza as soon as it opens…

iPhone on Softbank


2008年6月4日 – ソフトバンクモバイル株式会社


SOFTBANK MOBILE Corp. today announced it has signed an agreement with Apple® to bring the iPhone™ to Japan later this year.

Why am I so happy? Because my corporate phone is a Softbank, so I should legally be able to change my crappy Sharp phone whose battery cannot hold more than 10min of conversation anymore for a snazzy 3G iPhone and still have my company pay for it. :)

Sharing user not for share

sharing only user can\'t shareMac OS X 10.5 is driving me crazy! I’m trying to open an FTP access to my machine for sharing some files with a friend. Obviously I turn to the newly renovated file sharing tab, activate it and open FTP sharing. A new feature of Leopard is a new “Sharing Only” user profile that lets you create users for file sharing that will not be able to login to your machine. So I create one of those and give him access to my share folder.

Now that should be the end of it, 15 seconds to share a folder cleanly and securely with someone else. But no…

Thanks to some crazy security freak somewhere in Cupertino, if you try to FTP to my machine with this Sharing Only user, it won’t share, just give you a stupid error that “this user may not use FTP”. It makes absolutely no sense.