"Japan's antitrust watchdog considers action against Apple, carriers"

Reuters: “Exclusive: Japan’s antitrust watchdog considers action against Apple, carriers - sources

Both the headline and the lede are greatly misleading. The second and third paragraphs contradict the promised premise:

In a report published last month, Japan’s Fair Trade Commission (FTC) said that NTT Docomo, KDDI Corp and Softbank Group were refusing to sell older surplus iPhone models to third party retailers, thereby hobbling smaller competitors.

Apple was not named in that report, but two senior government sources told Reuters that regulators were also focusing on Apple’s supply agreements with all three carriers.

The carriers are almost certainly responsible for any shadiness in the deals because this only benefits them, not Apple. We’ll probably never actually find out, but I’m pretty sure the reason iPhones are not still exclusive to SoftBank is probably because Apple finally gave in to carrier demands for special concessions.

KDDI and DoCoMo are late-comers to the party. In 2008, SoftBank was the exclusive carrier for the iPhone, and it benefitted greatly. Three years later, SoftBank was still experiencing incredible growth, which was credited in large part to its still-exclusive deal with Apple. KDDI started offering iPhones in 2012, with DoCoMo finally deigning in 2013 to offer iPhones after years of steadily bleeding away customers, primarily to SoftBank.

SoftBank went from a distant third-place player in the market with about 18% share, to near-parity with second-place major carrier KDDI between 2008 and 2013, when all major players, including DoCoMo, finally offered iPhones on their networks. Without SoftBank’s runaway success, KDDI and DoCoMo might still be resisting Apple’s entry into the Japanese market even now.

The existence of business practices that shut out secondary players are an open secret. There is a very limited secondary market for unlocked phones because the vast majority are sold SIM-locked to a carrier. There are only three major players in the market, all of whom lock their handsets and in practice never unlock iPhones even after the handset is paid for and the typical 2-year contract is up. Discount carriers never even have a chance due both to carrier collusion and Japanese market rules.

The carrier that set the lock is the only entity legally allowed to unlock handsets. SoftBank has never offered SIM-unlocking. There have been persistent rumors of the other carriers offering SIM-free (i.e. unlocked handsets) for years, but reportedly neither KDDI nor DoCoMo will unlock iPhones still. Despite being required as of May 1, 2015 to offer SIM-unlocking, the carriers have been allowed to set their own timeline, and apparently their estimate on when they’ll do that for iPhones is somewhere between “#^¢* you!” and “We’ll get around to it … someday”.

Blaming Apple for customer-hostile business practices on the part of the carriers, and laggardly-enacted toothless laws that do virtually nothing to open the Japanese market is absurd. That the present situation favors Japanese incumbents is no coincidence, and past protectionistic behavior is the only element that lends credence to this report that Apple might be investigated in the future. The chance of Apple being found of wrongdoing in anything resembling a fair hearing is extremely slim, in my opinion.