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Technology

iPhone 11 debuts to throngs of Japanese buyers

Apple fans swayed by new photo functions despite the hefty price tags

Apple's new iPhone 11 series went on sale in Japan on Friday, with the top-line models offering three cameras.

TOKYO -- Apple's new iPhone 11 debuted in Japan on Friday and was met with long lines of eager buyers across the country, a key market for the U.S. company.

At the Apple Store in Tokyo's Marunouchi business district, a line of about 130 people waited for the store to open Friday morning to get their hands on the smartphone that features improved photography capabilities.

The baseline iPhone 11 comes with two cameras -- one for wide-angle photos and the other for ultra-wide-angle photos -- while the pricier iPhone 11 Pro and 11 Pro Max have the same cameras supplemented with a third for telephoto shots.

The new operating system, iOS13, provides enhanced photo editing features.

The iPhone 11 starts at 74,800 yen ($693) but observers are focusing on how the more expensive models will fare in the market. Prices for the iPhone Pro start at 106,800 yen.

A 30-year-old office worker who purchased the 11 Pro Max said it was the upgraded cameras that convinced him to buy.

Analysts note the still-strong support for iPhones in Japan, despite their lofty price tags. "The brand continues to be popular among Japanese consumers," said Tomoaki Kawasaki, a senior analyst at Iwai Cosmo Securities. There is always demand for devices with advanced functionality like the iPhone 11 Pro Max, he said.

Unlike some of Apple's Chinese and South Korean competitors, the new iPhones lack 5G support. But Kawasaki said weak consumer confidence in certain Asian brands over alleged security concerns will help drive iPhone sales in Japan.

Japan's three largest mobile carriers launched campaigns for the new iPhones on Friday. One of them, SoftBank, offered discounts of up to 50% for installment and trade-in purchases of the new phones. The campaign is designed to make it easier for users to buy a new model after two or three years, said SoftBank Vice President Jun Shinba.

iPhone sales in Japan have been helped by sellers offering iPhones at a discount if users lock into a fixed-term carrier subscription. These package deals will be prohibited by law starting in October, allowing users to change carriers without having to pay a hefty penalty to the carrier they want to leave.

But this also spells the end to deep discounts on phones, and Japanese will soon start to feel the real cost of a handset.

Masayuki Yarita, a 39-year-old office worker, bought an iPhone Pro Max at a store run by mobile carrier KDDI. He intends to pay for the phone in 48 monthly installments then trade it in at the end of the two-year carrier contract.

"It's a little too expensive to buy in one installment," Yarita said.

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