One of the best aspects of working at WWJ in Japan – the country most responsible for creating the post-war consumer electronics revolution – has to be covering the trade shows. October’s CEATEC is one of Asia’s coolest (and largest) electronics showcase events, and Japan’s cell-phone makers rolled out their very best gear. We speak with Sharp about camera keitai (What’s the cost to add a camera-thingy to a phone?), Hitachi about cell phones morphing into computers (cellys now have 133-MHz CPUs – same as PCs used to), and take a look at J-Phone’s first 3G handset from Sanyo. One of our best programs to date!
Comments from Wireless Watch Japan Editor-in-Chief Daniel Scuka:
One of the best aspects of working at WWJ in Japan – the country most responsible for creating the post-war consumer electronics revolution – has to be covering the trade shows. For the cost of dinner at Outback (or less if you get a press pass), you get to spend a day trying out, fiddling with, benchmarking, and generally doing everything but actually breaking (although that happens, too) some of the most expensive, cutting-edge, highest-tech electronic devices on planet Earth.
At the various trade shows (CEATEC is just one of several), Japan’s device makers spend huge sums on booths and on furnishing their latest models (both electronic and human) in a massive game of one-upmanship that, even today with the economy in the doldrums, harkens back to the hyper consumption of the bubble era. And WWJ producer Lawrence and I get to run around with a digicam and record it all!
This year, CEATEC, held 1-5 October at the 747-hanger-sized Makuhari Messe, saw 173,021 attendees visit 2,444 booths set up by 754 companies, according to the organizer’s website. Notably, 286 booths were hosted by overseas companies.
It’s difficult to tell from the exhibitor list how many “wireless” related companies were there. In fact, with recent industrywide moves to enable all sorts of devices with wireless capabilities (either built-in, or via WLAN, Bluetooth, or PHS data cards), it is probably impossible now to divide companies neatly into “wireless” and “non-wireless.” Basically, all electronic device makers are thinking of how to enable their products (fridges, rice cookers, MP3 players, at cetera ad infinitum) with wireless capabilities.
If I have to point to a single trend from the show, it would have to be the sheer scope and scale of makers’ efforts to convert devices of all types to digital operation and to plug them into IP networks of all types.
The November 2002 issue of Wired magazine has a great article (pg. 58, “The Great Crossover”) explaining that the 2002-05 period is the “crossover” point between analog and digital. Today, half of all audio products available in the US are digital; by 2005, two-thirds of audio and half of all video products sold in the US will be digital (only film and the boob tube are ignorant of the trend – largely for regulatory and economic reasons as opposed to tech ones). According to Wired, analog cell phones were surpassed by digital back in 1998, and cameras will likewise crossover in 2005.
(You can also see a cool short story on “e-moji” on cell phones in Japan in October’s Wired – written by, um, me!)
Japanese electronics makers are part of this trend, and as consumer devices become digital, connecting them to wireless data networks – via cell phones or built-in wireless chips – is an obvious step and it’s already well underway.
Truth be told, we simply ran out of time trying to drink in all of CEATEC; we missed getting representatives from Sanyo on camera to explain details of their cool concept models (you can see one towards the end of the program) but we did strike gold with Sharp, Hitachi, and others. We also got a hold of Moriaki Takiguchi, Japan point man for DuPont Displays and one of the most knowledgeable insiders on how the portable device display market is unfolding. Surprisingly, the biggest obstacle isn’t technology.
According to Takiguchi-san, it’s IPR, and the patent licensing rights battle – particularly for organo- electroluminescent displays – is still being played out. But you can see ultra-clear, ultra-bright OLEDs from Sanyo (due for commercialization in 2003) in today’s program as well as – Dare we add? – a taste of the future.