TOKYO: Smartphone sales have outstripped those of feature phones for the first time in Japan, promising opportunities for brands using the mobile web, apps and similar tools.

According to figures from comScore based on a survey of 4,000 mobile subscribers, smartphones overtook feature phones in terms of overall purchase rates in February 2012.

Daizo Nishitani, vice president of comScore Japan KK, argued this trend was an "important shift" in the country's mobile market.

"Japanese mobile phone users were already highly engaged with their devices, but with the added functionality and higher levels of mobile media consumption we should expect to see significant changes in behaviour," Nishitani said.

Over the three months ending in February, an average of 101.7m people aged 13 years old and above used a mobile handset, with Sharp claiming a 23.5% share, ahead of Panasonic on 13.8%.

Fujitsu occupied third place with 11.8% on this metric, bettering NEC's 9.7% and Sony's 7.5%, meaning each of the top five manufacturers were headquartered in Japan.

Looking at smartphones more specifically, 19.3m people owned one of these gadgets in February 2012, up 28% compared with November 2011.

Google's Android operating system powered 61.4% of handsets, with Apple's iPhone posting 34.2% here, and Microsoft's Windows on 3.9%.

When discussing the activities that Japanese mobile users undertook on their phones, comScore found 56.7%, or 57.6m people, read and composed emails via this route every month.

Another 55.4% utilised applications, and 52.4% logged onto the web on a mobile browser, 45.4% sent text messages, 34.1% viewed information about the weather and 30% used search engines.

Some 23.3% read news, while 19.5% visited a social network, 19% accessed maps, and 18.8% watched television or other video content.

"The rise in smartphone adoption opens the door to tremendous opportunity for publishers and advertisers to expand their reach and increase engagement with key consumer segments through this channel," said Nishitani.

Data sourced from comScore; additional content by Warc staff