Six months on from NTT DoCoMo’s largely successful counterattack – via the new 2G 505i handsets – on Vodafone’s Sha mail photo messaging service, the market-leading carrier has launched its next set of fab-five 505iS (S= second-generation) phones with working models, mockups, and three models (call girls?) – but, unfortunately, without the lovely Ai Kato (see 505i launch Viewpoint here). On top of entering the 2-megapixel camera war, the 505iS-series offer both JAN- and QR-standard bar-code reader capability (Cool! Get all your details in a flash!); a DoCoMo representative we interviewed gave strong hints that the 505iS may be DoCoMo’s final, or next-to-final, second-generation PDC upgrade. With the company seeking to emulate KDDI’s hugely successful push from 2G to 3G, migrating customers onto FOMA/W-CDMA in the latter half of next year is more vital than ever. As DoCoMo’s recent FOMA predictions arch up Chuck Yeager stolen-Starfighter-like toward the stratosphere, or at least the top right of the graphs, what gives FOMA The Right Stuff? Is this the end of the road for second generation?
Before we launch into the specs, some background (note: DoCoMo 505iS press release here.)
DoCoMo needed to pull something hot and sexy out into the marketplace this spring, having been blind-sided by (then) J-Phone’s assault on the teenie market with Sha-mail in June 2001 and then Movie Sha-mail in March 2002. By September 30 this year, J-Phone had sold 10.7 million Sha-mail and 2.3 million Movie Sha-mail keitai, much to the chagrin of Big D. DoCoMo’s answer to Sha-mail, i-Shot, didn’t appear until June 2002, but then flew off the shelves so that just prior to the original 505i launch, DoCoMo had likewise sold some 12 million camera keitai.
J-Phone then beat DoCoMo to the punch again, just pipping Big D at the post to become the first carrier to tout the world’s first megapixel CCD-equipped camera keitai (our old friend, the Sharp J-SH53). In fiscal 2001, off the back of disastrous foreign forays (money-pit investments) DoCoMo looked to have lost the plot, as well as 116 billion yen (a cool billion US dollars) in the year ending March 2002. Last fiscal year (to March 2003) was better, with 212 billion yen profit but it was clear that DoCoMo needed to roll out a whole new fleet of cutting-edge, bells-and-whistles, second-gen PDC sets this year.
Well, the 505i-series seems to have delivered big time, selling 4.1 million handsets in six months, with the NEC (N505i) model proving the most popular, according to a well-placed source; DoCoMo is on track to a hefty 618-billion-yen profit for the fiscal year ending in March 2004. Wow!
Which brings us back to the 505iS.
Mitsubishi Electric’s D505iS will be first out of the gate and into the pocket this week (October 23), with the N, P, SH, SO (NEC, Panasonic, Sharp, and Sony) versions out shortly afterwards, according to Nobuo Hori of DoCoMo’s PR division. To be exact, the phones will be out “well before” the end of the (next) quarter when they are made “perfect,” according to Hori.
So what’s new? The multi-megapixel keitai camera wars in Japan have now truly begun with the 505iS. We asked DoCoMo’s Hori if DoCoMo had asked for more multi-mega pixels and he said, “Yes.” Again, DoCoMo isn’t the first, because KDDI announced the Casio A5403CA a few weeks ago, but, as usual, it looks like once Big D starts steamrolling, you’d better watch out. Two of the 505iS series will be loaded with double-barrelled megaxipel count cameras. The D505iS will have 2-megapixel capability with pictures saved in data form, a 20x digital zoom, and 22 shooting modes, while Sharp (those guys again!) will have the top spec at 2.02 megapixels – but with a much lower continuous standby time (350 hours vs. 520 hours for Mitsubishi).
Multi-megapixel capability, however, is also raising a red flag for DoCoMo’s network capacity. Wireless Watchers will know how important camera phones have become in Europe, just as they are in Japan, but in a recent speech at WPC Expo, Vodafone’s Darryl Green fessed up a minor mea culpa about PDC’s lack of speed stopping users from fully enjoying their Movie Sha-mail clips (limited to 5 seconds at a few frames per second). In contrast, for the 505iS-series, DoCoMo will offer up to 15 seconds of moving images at 5 frames/sec. But, what’s the point in having a wonderful picture when 2G maxes out at 9.6 kbps for sending (images go off the handset via the slower, circuit-switched channel)?
DoCoMo’s answer, of course, is i-motion – but that’s only available with FOMA. Which begs the question, how many more bells and whistles can DoCoMo add to PDC the split 2G/3G effort causes a meltdown? They clearly need to shift people onto 3G – and what is the incentive to switch if people can get such great PDC phones? Other features of 505iS, by the way, include the ability to chat with up to 10 people simultaneously, and personalized menu icons. 2G i-moders may just choose to fight rather than switch.
Hori’s answer was less circumspect than we thought. There may never be a 506i or a 506iS, he hinted, although this is a possibility and not a probability and we bet 2-megapixel cameras will become standard on FOMA sooner rather than later.
Final note: We were impressed with the QR code [Quick Response Code, a matrix symbology consisting of an array of nominally square cells that allows omni-directional, high-speed reading of large amounts of data] function, which we saw in action when we used the camera to snap an image of the code printed on a DoCoMo business card.
We’ll forget this technology’s supply-chain tracking business apps, and the fact that this is not new for J-Sky people, because, Hey! Presto! Name, number, and email addy can all be automatically input to the phone’s address book simply by scanning a QR Code – just as promised on the press release. Hori said he is going to get his own QR code for his business card pretty soon and, No, this is not mandated by DoCoMo – yet.
– Paul Kallender