Why Do You Still See Flip Phones In Anime?

by Justin Sevakis,

Osiris asks:

I've seen a lot of animes in which people only have old cell phones (durarara for example) but rarely they have smartphones, which i find weird since japan has great technology advances. Does people in japan actually use those old cell phones these times or is that only an anime thing?

Smart phones are the dominant type of cell phone in Japan, with the iPhone being the clear market leader over the various Android handsets. However, 20% of the new phones sold in Japan in 2015 were not smart phones at all, but feature phones. Yep, good ol' flip phones. They're still a thing in Japan. In fact, it's estimated that over 50% of the phones in active use were feature phones until just this year.

Feature phones tend to be favored by the typical people you'd assume would be a little behind in the technology department: young children, the impoverished, the middle aged and uncool, and the elderly. There's also a huge market for accessories that don't work well with smartphones, like cell phone danglies.

Being on a feature phone is certainly not the best, but it's also not quite as limiting there as it is in the rest of the world. The Japanese web basically grew up around cell phone usage, so most sites that a normal person would want to visit are mostly functional via a crappy flip phone web browser. And most people really just use them for calling and texting.

Japanese feature phones had web browsing features years before they appeared in other phones, and still boast features that no other flip phones in the world have, like broadcast TV receiving, incredible battery life, and insane durability. The unique nature of Japanese cell phones made them pretty much impossible to export to other countries. The press referred to the difference as "Galapagos syndrome" -- what happens when a single market is cut off from the rest of the world and evolution goes in a completely different direction. The uniqueness of Japanese feature phones has recently given them a kind of hipster chic. They're now referred to as Garakei (for Galapagos Keitai), and have their fans.

Additionally, the Japanese language is far better suited to keypad entry than English is. Each row of kana - A/I/U/E/O, Ka/Ki/Ku/Ke/Ko, etc., gets its own number key, and to type a letter you simply hit the button to cycle through those five letters. It's very easy to pick up and fairly fast to type, simply because the language makes text entry much more intuitive. When the iPhone first came out, many people thought a virtual QWERTY keyboard was much harder to type on.

Japan tends to hold on to old technology paradigms longer than most other countries, so I don't expect garakei to go away anytime soon. I mean, this is a country where a good number of households still own a fax machine. But they're definitely on the decline.

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Anime News Network founder Justin Sevakis wrote Answerman between July 2013 and August 2019, and had over 20 years of experience in the anime business at the time. These days, he's the owner of the video production company MediaOCD, where he produces many anime Blu-rays. You can follow him on Twitter at @worldofcrap.

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