It’s been a year or so, but finally Vodafone K.K. is attempting an aggressive rollout of impressive (albeit) 2/2.5G handset terminals clearly aimed at fun– and the young. Over the next couple of months the company is adding 5 terminals [.pdf here], including the new V602 from Sharp and V601 from Toshiba that have mulitimedia features even more impressive than those aboard DoCoMo 900i series, as well as an improved radio phone from Sanyo and a clearer TV picture from Sharp. Better still, last week’s news that Vodafone has decided to adopt a FeliCa compatible removable solution for contactless payments shows the company is definitely on board with promoting the mobile phone away from a communications/ game device into become a viable e-commerce tool not only here in Japan, but potentially accross the vast Vodafone empire.
This summer’s rollout tops out with the 602SH and V601T that the company believes are not only competitive with DoCoMo’s latest 2/2.5G offerings, but also contain 900i-beating features.
For example, both handsets are the first 2.5G terminals that are capable of downloading songs- chaka-uta, a function that has proved to be a bit of a killier application for KDDI. “The songs might take a little more time to download, but in terms of quality, the songs’ quality will be second to none,” says Vodafone K.K. spokesman Matthew Nicholson.
Did we at WWJ ever give you the impression that we were impressed by Sharp’s phones? In addition, did you ever get the feeling that the old J-Phone did so well building up its market share through fun and functional features aimed at the teen market?
Well, it seems that Vodafone hasn’t entirely lost itself in the smoke of takeover and merger. Let’s have a look at the features in addition to Chaku-Uta.
1. Both the 602SH and V601T contain the industry’s first T4G graphics accelerator chip and Mascot Capsule Ver. 4 3D polygon engine for 256K appliVer. 2 compatibility that, according to Nicholson, will knock players’ socks off. Don’t forget the 2.4-inch 320 x 240 pixel System LCD yeilding a max. of 260,000 colors as you crash into the railings at 250 kmph (on screen, of course!)
2. Kaitai Karoke! Yes; they’ve gone and done it again. Both the Sharp and Toshiba phones plug into televisions to become mobile karaoke machines that use the TV’s screen and speakers to help you strike the wrong note in style! It’s officially called V-kara. Let’s hope there is a simple disabling button on the mobile phone, which effectively becomes the hand held microphone.
3. Movie Mask: Well, Final Fantasy may not be pre-loaded into Vodafone K.K. phones, but here’s something that could really take the kiddies by storm: You can customize/ morph still and moving images adding things such as ties, tashes and hats to figures. Facial features may not add up to killer applications, but it seems that fun and inventiveness is certainly back at Vodafone K.K.
4. While the Toshiba holds a respectable 1.3 megapixel camera, the Sharp tops out the range with a 2.02 megapixel camera that contains a 40x digital zoom.
The three middle-tier phones, the V401D by Mitsubishi Electric, V401SA by Sanyo and V402SH by Sharp also have plenty of plus alphas.
First of all, the Mitsubishi has, Mitsubishi claims, the first ever finger touch pad as well as a CCD Honeycom camera can record 2.00 megapixels.
The Sanyo V401A is a slightly less super slider than its 3G predecessor but has the advantage of being thiner and lighter (weighing in at 113g) but also packs a FM tuner that also receives Japan state broadcaster NHK channels one and three.
If you want real telly, however, Sharp’s V402SH beats Vodafone– and Japan’s– first telly celly from NEC because of its upgraded 2.2 inch QVGA plus FM radio. The swivel screen could also improve both picture taking and program viewing.
As a package, this summer’s rollup from Vodafone looks to have stolen a lead on last week’s DoCoMo linup of 506is, which, we felt, were accretive to the MOVA (2.5G) brand image rather than really offering anything new. Last week’s announcement by DoCoMo seemed symptomatic of a bit of a conundrum brewing up in DoCoMo; time, money and resources spent on MOVA at some point detracts from FOMA, and that’s not the direction DoCoMo wants to go. Outgoing president Keiji Tachikawa has signalled clearly that DoCoMo needs to maintain its 2.5G base while shifting more subscibers into FOMA, meanwhile, explaining the 506i iteration’s appearance, on time, for DoCoMo’s standard cyle.
Of course, Vodafone K.K.’s return to form is explained rather self-obviously by Nicholson as part of a new strategy to stop realising terminals in dribs and drabs. We figure it doesn’t take an MBA to figure out that Japan’s eagle-eyed customers will be attracted by shops basking in the glow of shiny plastic radiating from a blockbuster range of new cellies rather than the odd new terminal design.
This also doesn’t cover up for the fact that the new lineup leaves Vodafone K.K.’s lineup of 3G phones looking even more forlorn, but the company is now talking of the realise of long-awaited models in Japan in 2H04 instead of when we thought, which was August or early September.
Thankfully at least, last week’s announcement by Vodafone that it is introducing contactless IC card technologies, that are FeliCa compatible, in its phones is a really welcome relief. There’s a really interesting twist in Vodafone’s approach using Hitachi, not unknown for its smart tag technology with its famous Mu-Chip, to embed two types into a removeable flash memory card.
The spin from Nicholson is that users will be able to upgrade their terminals to contactless card services without buying a new phone. Secondly, it leaves the slot open for Vodafone to back a rival platform to Sony and FeliCa outside Japan, it seems.
– Paul Kallender.