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Wednesday, March 04, 2009, 10:15 pm PT (01:15 am ET)

Young Japanese women rank iPod, iPhone, Macs top in design

A survey of 1,102 young women in Japan asked them to rank products by superior design. Surprisingly, the top answer wasn't a Japanese company, but rather Apple.

The second place product capturing the attention of trend setting young Japanese women was the iPhone, which ranked after Apple's iPod series and ahead of Mac desktops and notebooks, giving Apple four of the top five spots.

What Japan Thinks

Commissioned by Japan Industrial Design Promotion Organization, the survey was conducted by group goo Research. Participants were nearly equally distributed between Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya, Japan, and were all aged between 20 and 26. Results of the December edition of the quarterly survey were published online by the site What Japan Thinks.

The survey first asked "Amongst stuff you do own or have owned, what do you feel has superior design?" The top answer was Apple's iPod series. Sharp mobile phones came second, NEC mobile phones came third, and Apple notebook computers showed up in fourth place, tied with Sony Ericsson mobile phones and the Nintendo DS handheld gaming device.

The group then asked "Amongst stuff you have never owned, what do you feel has superior design?" The first reply was again Apple's iPods. Second place was the Apple iPhone. Third place was Plus-Minus Zero humidifiers. Fourth place was Apple's desktop computers. Fifth place was Apple's notebooks.

Sharp LCD TVs placed sixth, the Nintendo Wii came in seventh, Sony's VAIO PCs showed up in eighth place, the Nissan March showed up ninth, and the Nintendo DS tied with Le Creuset pots and pans and Sharp mobile phones for tenth place. Sony's PSP showed up in 13th place, and the PlayStation 3 came in 17th.

SoftBank's Son also rises iPhone in the land of the rising sun

The What Japan Thinks blogger credited the iPhone's rapid rise in rank among devices over the past few quarters to a decision by Apple's SoftBank mobile partner to push Apple to localize the iPhone for the Japanese market by adding support for emoji over the next year. In a press release last October, SoftBank CEO Masayoshi Son stated, “Email without emoticons can’t be email in Japan. We persuaded Apple Computer (to localize iPhones for the Japanese market).”

A report on the announcement said Apple would "add an emoticon function to iPhones within the year through an update program." Apple added emoji support for Japanese users in the iPhone 2.2 firmware update.

SoftBank also introduced its 1-Seg mobile TV receiver for the iPhone at that event last fall. The device enables users to stream 1-Seg UHF broadcasts aimed at Japanese mobile phones to the iPhone by rebroadcasting the video signal via WiFi.

Admired for design

The JIDPO survey also had respondents rank companies in general, asking "Amongst stuff you do own or have owned, what do you feel has superior design?" Again, Apple came in first place, followed by Sharp, Sony, NEC, Muji Ryohin [a Japanese retail design company, literally named "no brand quality goods"], Panasonic, Franc Franc [a Japanese Ikea], and Nintendo.

Asked "Amongst stuff you have never owned, what do you feel has superior design?," replies again ranked Apple first, followed by Toyota, Plus-Minus Zero, Nissan and Franc Franc rounding out the top five. Sharp and Sony tied for sixth place, followed by Nintendo, Louis Vuitton, and Le Creuset in the top ten. Muji Ryohin tied with Sony Computer Entertainment [PlayStation devices] for eleventh place.

Asked to rank "What product do you think is representative of Japanese design?," The Sharp AQUOS came first, followed by Toyota Cars in general second, the Toyota Prius third, the Nintendo DS fourth, and Sony VAIO PCs and the Nintendo Wii tied for fifth place.

When asked about overall brand image rather than just the sum of the company's products, replies to the question "What brand do you feel has superior design?" ranked Sony ahead of second place Apple, third place Muji Ryohin, Franc Franc fourth and Louis Vuitton in fifth place.