More Choices Means… Ever More Choices

When iPhone 8 and iPhone X were announced there was lots of disbelief on discussion forums that the new iPhones really supported global FeliCa because there are Japan specific models. Then iPhone 8 shipped and Asian users outside of Japan quickly added Suica to Apple Pay.

Long story short: Japanese iPhone 8 and iPhone X models have 3 more LTE bands to support NTT Docomo, KDDI au and SoftBank.

That Shutter Sound
But read any discussion forum thread about global FeliCa iPhone and one thing is clear: foreigners living in Japan, and a few Japanese too, REALLY hate the Japanese iPhone camera shutter sound, a self policed industry regulation followed by smartphone and keitai vendors in Japan. According to a reader sent link, the reasons go back to the turn of the century Japanese keitai go-go days and are a little murky: partly due to a celebrity photo stalking incident, partly due to vendor fears of a backlash if they didn’t do something.

Now that iPhones have global FeliCa lots of people who live in Japan are considering an overseas iPhone 8/X over the Japanese models just to be rid of the iPhone camera shutter sound. But buying a non-Japanese iPhone 8/X means leaving those 3 Japanese LTE bands behind and there are some considerations.

LTE Bands and Speeds
LTE bands are always a moving target as Japanese carriers constantly shuffle technologies and frequencies: first LTE, now LTE Advanced, soon to be 5G, to open up the “platinum band” frequencies once reserved for 3G. And there are different LTE regions. Docomo for example deploys certain LTE bands in central Japan, Okinawa and other places.

Last but not least is CA (carrier aggregation) and MIMO. Docomo combines 3 bands in their Premium 4G service and iPhone 8/X can achieve up to 500Mpbs download speeds on Premium 4G with 3CC CA (but only in central Japan for now). It’s the same for story for KDDI and SoftBank.

An interesting side note is that the Apple Japan specs page originally published the iPhone 8/X top download speed as 800Mpbs then changed it. CA top speeds are a moving target for the Japanese models and will be all over the map for overseas models. There are super mobile otaku in Japan, and on the Whirlpool forum, who know every LTE carrier band and region configuration by heart but I am not one of them and don’t plan to become one.

The Japanese Wikipedia LTE band chart is exhaustive.

There is also the MVNO consideration since many people plan to buy an unlocked overseas iPhone and use inexpensive SIMs from IIJmio and others. I use IIJmio on a Docomo unlocked iPad Pro and despite all the promises the IIJmio SIM would always use 4G service on the Docomo network, it does not. In rural areas it always falls back to 3G while my Docomo SIM iPhone 7 Plus shows 4 bars of 4G. Some people report no problems but my MVNO experience in rural areas has not been a good one.


MIC Certification
Let’s not forget the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications certification mark. iOS 11 moved the NFC-F related MIC certification mark to the screen but only for the Japanese models. Overseas models have global FeliCa of course but do not display the MIC Certification screen mark. Technically you are breaking Japanese law if you use an overseas global FeliCa iPhone in Japan for more than 90 days. Not that Japanese authorities really care, but some forum discussions have fretted about it.

If somebody wants to buy a ‘hot’ but slower iPhone 8/X just for taking silent pictures, be my guest. It’s just one choice of many. I understand why people don’t like the Japanese iPhone shutter sound, there are many reasons and opinions out there both for and against, (and it seems to matter more to Westerners than Asians) but I grew up in the age of mechanical cameras and like the shutter sound. When I don’t hear it, part of me always thinks the camera is broken. And if it does really bother you do what Japanese users do, download a camera app that doesn’t make a shutter sound from the App Store.

For my money I choose the shutter sound and better network performance every time.

Update 10/18/2017: incorporated feedback sent by readers that clarified the history of the  Japanese smartphone shutter sound.