July 11th, 2008
08:18 AM GMT
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TOKYO, Japan – The scene is uniquely Japan: Techno-freaks dressed up like cartoon characters, young women dressed like maids and superheroes, and even a dancing storm trooper.

Me interviewing our stormtrooper.
Me interviewing our stormtrooper.

They'd gathered early this Friday morning for the latest tech event: The release of the new Apple iPhone 3G in Japan.

Some 1,500 people camped out overnight through a hot and humid Tokyo summer, but that's hardly a sacrifice, to finally get their hands on the iPhone.

But here's what's unique about this latest tech gathering: The device is American. Made in Japan? Where did that familiar stamp on the back of your electronics go?

While these techies lost one night of sleep camping out for the device that promises portable device nirvana, Tokyo's corporate executives have been losing sleep for months wondering why they didn't invent it first.

In a recent lunch with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, a good source moaned to me about the state of Japan's electronics market and how it was falling behind.

Why? Items like the iPhone represent, in many ways to the Japanese boardroom, the symbol of the new era of doing business.

Apple and Google are taking not small steps, but leaps and bounds in innovative technology. Japan, once the unchallenged ruler of the world's consumer electronics market, now watches as the Western world schools the East. Remember Sony's Walkman? Neither does anyone who wants an iPhone.

The debate is raging in Japan's government halls and in its corporate pikes. Bloggers are suggesting a coup of Tokyo's grey haired boardrooms so Japan can break from its rigid business rules. Others suggest that slow and steady, like Toyota's model of "kaizen," incremental improvements, wins the game.

There are no such debates on the streets outside of the virgin sales of the new iPhone in Tokyo.These weirdly dressed consumers are merely punching the air with joy, pronouncing a new digital era has finally arrived in their hands. The excitement here is being repeated all over the globe and celebrated in an American company. It's a party Japanese companies know all about. They're just not leading this one.

July 11th, 2008
06:29 AM GMT
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HONG KONG - For Yin Ho, fame was instantaneous.

The first in line, Ho was mobbed Friday by the hordes of press covering the launch of the iPhone 3G here in Hong Kong. And he was enjoying the glory, posing with an enormous grin for the camera, first with a sample phone, then with his own precious handset.

Hong Kong did not have the queues of Japan or the United States. Carrier Hutchison Telecom had an online lottery to pick the first 500 customers to receive the iPhone. More than 60,000 applied. New iPhones were also given to select friends and loyal customers of the company.  

Officially, the new iPhone 3G is the first to be released in Hong Kong. In reality, the original iPhone is everywhere, brought over from the United States or Western Europe and unlocked to run on networks other than Apple's approved service providers. Many of the customers in line for the new phone on Friday proudly showed me their original models. The taxi driver who took us to the launch this morning even had one on his dash.

Critics might complain about the new iPhone's price plans, battery life or features that don't measure up against existing phones on the market in Asia. For the die-hard iPhone fans online this morning in Hong Kong, none of that mattered. They wanted the new phone, for status, for the new features, for its style. And they wanted to tell all their friends they had it first.

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