Last week saw an interesting double play for mobile devices in Japan as both NTT DoCoMo and Willcom announced new phones — DoCoMo’s 7-Series — or new PDAs — Sharp’s oddly named W-Zero3[es]. These, combined with the continuing speculation on the this fall’s entry of RIM’s Blackberry email device (will it have Japanese text input capability?), made it a busy week for wireless watchers.
On Tuesday, WWJ was first on the Web with a full report and images of DoCoMo’s new 7-Series, a mix of models from Sharp, Panasonic, NEC and Mitsubishi, as well as from US maker Motorola.
The new M702iS and M702iG appear to be localized versions of Motorola’s popular Razr, while the P702iD, N702iS and D702iF are ‘designer’ models, featuring colors and shapes fashioned with input from noted Japanese designers. These are all stripped-down ‘FOMA lite’ models, including i-Channel and Deco-mail, and designed for those wishing to use their phones for little more than calling plus the odd email (Who are these people? — Ed.)
Later that day, Willcom held a presser to unveil the latest version of their super-popular Windows Mobile Smartphone/PDA: the W-Zero3[es].
The device is likely to be at least as popular as its predecessor, and offers 416-MHz Intel CPU, 128MB of flash memory and 64MB of SDRAM. In addition to the Windows Mobile 5.0 (Japanese) OS, the device also has the Opera mobile browser and Flash pre-installed. According to press information, Willcom will also release separate Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and 1Seg TV tuner cards at a later date (there are some nice pics and video over at Digital World Tokyo).
Willcom will begin accepting reservations for the phone this week and it will go on sale on July 27, for JPY29,800 (with a one-year service contract). Improved battery performance compared to their original W-Zero3 design gives either a call time of about 400 minutes or backlight/data usage time of 300 hours.
On top of all this, IT Wire ran an article quoting a Sharp product planning guy as stating that the W-Zero3 already is “Japan’s Blackberry.” Looks like Sharp are working hard to cement their market share (i.e. the lead) ahead of any challenge by RIM. The article also reported speculation that the new Blackberry will not allow Japanese language input nor support i-mode, two potential show-stoppers if the Canadians hope to make any sales whatsoever (WWJ will post an in-depth interview with RIM later this week).
SoftBank no-show at EXPO COMM Wireless?
Looks like SoftBank, owner of the shiny, new (OK, second-hand; but like new…) 3G cellco soon to be formerly known as Vodafone, will be a no-show at EXPO COMM WIRELESS JAPAN 2006, Tokyo’s top-lead mobile-focussed trade show, which starts next Wednesday.
The show’s exhibitor list runs straight from ‘Skywave’ to ‘Softfront’; no ‘SoftBank.’
Expo Comm is Tokyo’s major annual event focussed strictly on mobile (October’s CEATEC has mobile plus consumer electronics) and it’s a significant signal for a major carrier to absent themselves.
One of the ways in which carriers succeed in Japan is by cementing relationships with the hugely complex chain of distributors, handlers and retailers, all under various trading company umbrellas, that actually sell the phones.
Immediate, sales-affecting issues like shelf space, retail floor presentation, end-of-aisle placement, sales force targets, motivation, etc., all hinge on what carriers pay to subsidize the chain and how they relate to the players. Indeed, this was one of the areas in which Vodafone failed to capitalize after taking over J-Phone; cutting sales subsidies made the balance sheet look good in Newbury but hurt the company locally.
Pretty much every phone sales guy in Tokyo will visit Expo Comm and will spend much if not most of their time hanging around booths run by DoCoMo, KDDI, Willcom and IPMobile… but not SoftBank (nor eAccess).
This could be a sign that SoftBank is repeating the mistake that Vodafone made; Son’s always been at least somewhat contemptuous of competing at retail — even going to the extent of hiring a huge mob of white-coated teen arbeito part-time workers to simply give away DSL modems to commuters at train stations when he was battling to grab home broadband market share from NTT.
It may not be related, but SoftBank’s shares fell steeply last Friday after Merrill Lynch told investors to sell, forecasting a sharp loss in FY2006.
Mobile Monday Cool Biz Event starts shortly
This evening’s ‘Cool Biz’ event at Mobile Monday (MoMo Tokyo) at Super Deluxe in Roppongi starts at 1830 (doors open). We’ve got a couple of fantastic presentations lined up from DoubleClick Japan, on mobile marketing, and from Microsoft, on how Windows Live plugs into mobile. Both should be good and I hope Microsoft in particular can respond to audience questions on services strategy for mobile.
Note that registration closed over the weekend (there are well over 200 on the list!), but you can still attend simply by showing up at the door and paying the nominal JPY1000 entrance fee (includes complimentary drink ticket for the first 150 entrants and light buffet while it lasts).
– Daniel Scuka