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Thursday, June 27, 2013, 08:29 am PT (11:29 am ET)

Japan's largest carrier sees no urgency to get Apple's iPhone

Asked when his company might try to win back some customers by carrying Apple's iPhone, a representative of Japan's largest wireless service stayed noncommittal on the issue, saying that Apple's phone is no longer "the god of all smartphones."

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"The question we need to ask is how many customers will continue to leave DoCoMo from now on because we don't have the iPhone," said Kazuto Tsubouhi, NTT DoCoMo's Senior Executive Vice President in an interview with The Wall Street Journal. "There will always be some customers who switch to the iPhone, but things have changed from the time in the past when the iPhone looked like the god of all smartphones."

Tsubouchi went on to explain that the carrier is not opposed to the idea of selling Apple's handset, which has drawn customers away to other carriers. Doing so, he said, would likely prove a boost to DoCoMo's marketing efforts.

DoCoMo, though, says that other Japanese carriers are selling the iPhone at a very low cost, meaning that their sales expenses must be quite high. The DoCoMo exec cast the issue as one involving a number of tradeoffs. Chief among the carrier's concerns would be Apple's strong stance against letting carriers preinstall software on its phones.

"Also, some of DoCoMo's own services that we provide on Android phones won't work on the iPhone," Tsubouchi continued, "which doesn't leave room for much customization, so we have to give up on them."

Asked whether it was absolutely necessary for the carrier to have an iPhone among its supported devices, Tsubouchi noted that some customers were asking when DoCoMo would carry the iPhone. The company is taking those concerns into consideration, but Tsubouchi said that the improvement in other handsets is mitigating the need for Apple devices.

"[I]t's not that DoCoMo won't be able to survive without the iPhone. I don't think it is indispensable for us to sell the iPhone," he said. "What has changed since last year is that Android phones have become more competitive."

DoCoMo last year noted that the lack of an iPhone option cost the carrier 40,800 subscribers in the month of November. While it doesn't carry Apple's handset, the carrier — with its more than 60 million customers — does have a range of high-end Android devices on offer.

In the past several weeks, DoCoMo has been strongly promoting two handsets from Samsung and Sony. The carrier's sway in the Japanese market is such that the promotion lifted Sony to the number one overall position in units shipped from May through mid-June. Apple saw its share of Japanese smartphone shipments drop over the same period.