TOKYO: Sales of Apple's iPhone have increased dramatically in Japan over the last year, as competition in the country's smartphone market intensifies.

According to estimates from the MM Research Institute, a total of 1.69 million iPhones were shipped in Japan over the 12 months ending 31 March, 2010.

The research firm estimated that a total of 2.3 million iPhones have now been sold since the device's Japanese launch in July 2008.

Overall, Apple was estimated to have taken a 72% share of the 2.34 million new smartphones that were purchased in Japan over the course of the last financial year.

It was followed in the rankings by HTC, the Taiwanese mobile manufacturer, on a share of 11%, with Toshiba some way further back on 6.8%.

"The iPhone was pretty much the sole winner in fiscal 2009, but the market will continue to expand this fiscal year as competition from Google's Android and Microsoft's 'Windows Phone' heats up," the MM Research Institute's study said.

Softbank, which holds exclusive rights to Apple's iPhone in Japan, has recently launched another new smartphone that uses Google's Android operating system, as have its main rivals KDDI and DoCoMo.

"Last year was just the beginning of the smartphone competition, which is why Apple did so well. This year will be much more competitive," said Calvin Huang, an analyst at Daiwa Securities.

Looking forward, the MM Research Institute predicted that 3 million smartphones will be sold in Japan in the current fiscal year.

However, the mobile market as a whole is forecast to shrink.

Feature phones, less technologically-advanced than the current breed of touchphones, will be the main casualty of this trend, having already seen demand levels fall by 4% to 34.4 million in the last 12 months.

Data sourced from Business Week; additional content by Warc staff