au Smart Pass, a service KDDI (Japan’s second largest mobile carrier with about 30 million subscribers) launched on March 1, is on the way to become a massive success.
au Smart Pass is an app subscription service for KDDI’s Android users: for a monthly fee of 390 yen/US$4.70, the service gives them unlimited access to an initial 500 applications, which are selected by the carrier itself (all of these apps are free to download).
According to KDDI, this “carrier-side pre-filtering” makes it easier for the average user to pick apps that are suitable for them (given there are hundreds of thousands of apps out there, KDDI does have a point). The list includes utilities like weather apps or dictionaries, but also mobile music and games.
The carrier says that a whopping 400,000 users signed up for the service in just 3 weeks – an excellent number in Japan’s hyper-competitive mobile market.
With services like this, NTT Docomo, KDDI, and SoftBank could become a danger in the long run for companies like GREE and DeNA, given how much power, capital, and human resources these carriers have in Japan.
Case in point: KDDI, which aims at attracting a total of 4 million subscribers for au Smart Pass as early next year (Docomo has a similar offering called D Market).
Game companies could choose to go through carrier-controlled market places instead of GREE or Mobage, causing players to spend less time on social games instead. Gameloft, for example, is already offering a total of ten games on au Smart Pass (i.e. Let’s Golf 2, UNO, Dark Quest, etc.).