Tokyo’s HI Corp. has developed a 3D-graphics rendering engine that was first deployed by J-Phone/Vodafone in 2001. The software allows a cell phone to display very cool 3-D images that can be rotated, spun around, and otherwise manipulated. Now NTT DoCoMo and KDDI have adopted HI’s technology, and the company is keen to boost 3D imaging into markets elsewhere. Unfortunately, Sony, Sharp, and other heavyweights have taken notice. In the cut-throat, mobile technology ocean, will HI Corp. end up as one more little fish eaten by the big fish? Today’s program features Tokyo’s HI Corp., a 10-year-old software house founded by a bunch of students that has created some very cool technology.
Comments from Wireless Watch Japan Editor-in-Chief Daniel Scuka:
The firm’s Mascot Capsule Engine has been adopted by J-Phone, NTT DoCoMo, and KDDI for their wireless Internet platforms, and it allows a cell phone to render extremely high-quality 3D graphic images – typically, people, pets, vehicles – that move in weirdly compelling ways that the user can control. The images can be spun, rotated, and otherwise manipulated so that, yes, you can peek up the pixelated cheerleader’s skirt, or see the color of the digital fur on Fido’s belly.
The system was first fielded by J-Phone back in 2001, and has since been adopted by the other two wireless Internet giants. Bandai, among others, creates the image data, and the rendering engine can be controlled by an onboard Java appli. All in all, HI’s technology permits some pretty interesting content to be deployed.
As we mention in this show’s summary, this is a story we’ve told before: an innovative Japanese software house creates some compelling technology that gets picked up by one or more carriers here, is commercialized, and establishes itself as a mobile Internet content, application, or service standard. Next step? How to use the local success in Japan as a platform to boost the source firm’s fortunes overseas.
And HI Corp. is definitely eyeing overseas expansion and sales. They’ve already signed deals for one handset in Europe, and they sent one of their English-speaking development staffers to the wireless show in Cannes last month. HI Corp. has already teamed with browser-maker Access (now supplying browser its browser client to Palm), and announced last month that it would work on a version of Mascot Capsule for Texas Instruments’ OMAP mobile processor platform and for the Symbian OS.
But the global mobile software and content market is nothing if not dynamic, and since we taped this program, 3D rendering technology has, unfortunately for any small vendors, caught the attention of the likes of Sony, Sanyo, Itochu, NTT Data, and Sharp – all tech heavyweights fully capable of gobbling up any competition they can’t buy or otherwise co-opt.
In a CNET news story yesterday, it was reported that the five giants have formed a consortium to “create technical and safety standards for bringing 3D displays to desktops, laptops, and cell phones.” The story states that the aptly named ’3D Consortium’ was founded by the five to enhance their existing work on technology for screens which make two-dimensional images appear similar to 3-D holographic images. To see the 3-D images, users wouldn’t need any sort of special glasses. NTT DoCoMo already sells a Sharp-developed cell phone with such a screen.
While 3-D display screens may not compete directly with HI’s technology (which uses regular LCD displays to display 3-D graphic images), it’s got to be at least a little scary for HI Corp. to hear that Sony et al are about to muscle into their space.
Nonetheless, HI Corp. has a clear lead, demonstrated commercialization, and the ability, I presume, to move much faster than any consortium ever can. Also, HI has received investment from Canon, Bandai, and Qualcomm, among others, so it’s unlikely to disappear anytime soon.
Time will tell which 3D technology will prevail (or both?), and we’ll keep our eye on this story as it unfolds.
Sony, Others to Create 3D Standards, see this article businessweek.com