Market Insight

Rakuten focuses on security for Japanese app store differentiation

August 21, 2015

Abel Nevarez Abel Nevarez Research Analyst II, Mobile and Telecoms

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Japanese online retailer and services company Rakuten has launched its own branded Android app store in Japan. The new app store, ”Rakuten App Ichiba”, touts enhanced security features to prevent mobile malware attacks and greater loyalty points across a range of services –in-store and in-app payments will also be available within the app store.

The new app store features about 380 apps from 180 developers. Rakuten has also partnered with security firm Trend Micro to evaluate all apps uploaded to the app store. Rakuten App Ichiba will also offer an “anti-malicious app countermeasures” feature that will scan and check the security of all the apps installed on the user’s Android device free of charge once a month.

Our analysis:

Security focus is not enough to offset limited app catalogue

 Japanese users are among the most active mobile users in the world, generating $6bn in total smartphone and tablet app store revenues in 2014. The Japanese market is also one of the most competitive. App stores from Apple and Google dominate revenues and Japan’s mobile operators also continue to offer a range of app store and subscription services which will limit Rakuten’s ability to take a share of the market.

Rakuten’s limited selection of apps will be a major drawback. App exclusivity is difficult for any player large or small to execute. Others such as Amazon and internet portal Yahoo Japan have all toyed with offering app exclusives with little impact on their business.

Rakuten’s security features on the other hand will do more to attract customers. Its tightly controlled platform will attract security conscious users that may be reluctant to use more open alternatives such as Google Play, but Rakuten must increase its catalogue size to have any chance of success.

Renewed interest in mobile app stores

The early days of the mobile app market that followed the launch of Apple and Google’s stores in 2008 saw a rush from all parts of the mobile industry to launch application stores. As Apple and Google dominated most interest declined but there has been a recent flurry of activity.  Rakuten’s app store launch underscores renewed interest in app stores among a range of players involved throughout the entire mobile value chain: mobile browser and advertising company Opera expanded its app store plans with operator branded stores and all you can eat offers in 2014; US operator  Sprint launched its own subscription plans in 2014; and South Korean operators joined forces to provide a unified app platform in June 2015.

Rakuten follows Amazon strategy but lacks its own devices

In addition to security features, Rakuten’s app store also offers users an enhanced loyalty program, promising up to 10 times the usual number of “Rakuten Super Points” on app store purchases. Rather than challenging Google head –on, this highlights how Rakuten’s main app strategy is to generate incremental revenues and build loyalty among its existing users.

The company also plans to integrate offers from across its portfolio of services including Rakuten travel. In this way Rakuten’s strategy echoes US-based online retailer Amazon which launched its own Android smartphone app store in 2011 followed by the launch of a version for Amazon’s own-brand Kindle Fire tablets. To drive adoption of its app store, Rakuten needs its store to arrive preinstalled on customer devices. Unlike Amazon, it does not currently offer its own brand smartphones or tablets and potential partners such as local device makers and operators may already offer their own alternatives.


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