The last News Item in today’s newsletter (see “Wireless Surprise: In Japan and Korea, Mobile Content is Making Money” below) is an interesting story and well worth reading in its entirety (see additional commentary after the extract). There’s a growing amount of interaction and seeding between the Japanese and Korean wireless space, and it’s going to become more difficult if not impossible for me to brag that Japan – and, by extension, Tokyo – is the center of the mobile universe.
On February 21, KDDI (finally) launched Qualcomm’s BREW (binary runtime for wireless) environment on a new Toshiba handset, the A5304T. We’ve got a great interview coming up in the March 12 edition of the WWJ Video newsmagazine with Qualcomm’s BREW project manager, Ted Nozaki, but the interesting point here is that among the 21 BREW applications available for download via EZweb, several come from Korean providers. That has to be a first!
WWJ sr. contributing editor Michael Thuresson dropped me a note late last week commenting on the growing Korea-Japan ties. He mentions that the Korean government has set up the “iPark Tokyo” IT-related venture support complex housing several Korean wireless application developers aiming to do business on Japan’s wireless webs. He adds that, “iPark Silicon Valley is interested in utilizing this relationship to bring both Japanese and Korean content into the US market.” Mike cited one good example of this: Web Eng Korea, a developer/aggregator. “They opened a North American office for distribution in the US market, and have named themselves ‘Tsunami.’ They’re apparently actively looking for Japanese content to import as well.”
I also received feedback on my editor’s comments accompanying last week’s WWJ Video Newsmagazine (“Smartphones Stir Up Japan’s Mobile Market” – a look at Nokia’s Communicator now available in Japan) from Gonzague-Alexandre Gay, a self-described former consultant for the International Telecommunication Union.
He agreed that the PDA is not a “Japanese” device, and supplied some reasons why that may be. “If you look around,” he wrote, “you will see that the keitai [business] in Japan is more a ‘woman’ business than in Europe or the US. Young women (15-35 years old) upgrade their phone almost every time that a new one is released; mobile phones with built-in cameras were bought first by women and it is these clients that Japanese carriers are targeting.” I agreed that he was largely correct.
Gonzague-Alexandre went on to state that, in Japan, the mobile business is the business of ‘fun’ and that the phone is not necessarily a productivity tool – in contrast to how European and US device makers approach the problem. He agrees that in those markets, this may be changing as younger male professionals increasingly adopt mobile devices that are as ‘fun’ as they are useful – e.g. the P800 Ericsson or Nokia 7650. But he asserts that, in Japan, businessmen don’t travel much, mostly stay at the office, and so don’t really need smartphones. “His Keitai and maybe his laptop are good enough.”
He finished with the observation that, “In Japan, women don’t care if they can have Outlook, Word, or Excel in their keitai.” He says that most of the smartphones in Europe are still “too big and business oriented,” like the Nokia Communicator, et al. “So, until a smartphone brings ‘fun’ and pleasure in a small form factor designed for Japanese women, we won’t see such devices in Japan much at all.”
I think he’s made a couple of good points – and I certainly agree that the keitai biz in Japan to date has been a consumer-targeted business with female subscribers often leading the way. Maybe Nokia, Sony, Casio, Sharp, et al would be wise to create a fashionably-colored Communicator-like PDA with several applications tailored for the young, female demographic?
Finally, the past couple of weeks saw two lavish events at trendy Tokyo venues hosted by carriers NTT DoCoMo and J-Phone to fete their content provider communities (so, yes, there was a lot of overlap in the guest lists). One attendee at the J-Phone event, held at Zepp in Odaiba, reported that it was a sweaty, raucous evening with content community punters packed in six deep. “There was a lengthy line-up of folks waiting to exchange meishi business cards,” she said, adding that a good time was had, evidently, by all.
NTT DoCoMo’s event – held to mark the 4th anniversary of i-mode’s February, 1999, launch – was a little less raucous and more high-brow. You can read a report on Joichi Ito’s blog (link below); he mentions that there were about 2,000 people present, all content providers, and adds: “Most are making money. That’s impressive. There were jugglers, guys on stilts playing huge saxophones, lots and lots of food, plasma displays all over the place, art, etc. Schmooze was in the air. The NTT DoCoMo exec team has special business cards printed for the event with special assistants following them around with a box of name cards as they went around and greeted their guests. Reminds you of the good old days.”