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I’ve had some interesting discussions in the past ten days with folks in Japan, Europe and elsewhere on the topic of mobile email. The topic also came up at last Friday’s W2 Forum seminar on Japan and Korea (“Trends & Insights from Japan & Korea“), held in London and attended by a lively and interesting group of folks from publishers, content providers, media, analysts, ad agencies, tech vendors and others.
I’ve been covering mobile in Japan since i-mode launched in 1999, and I am convinced that one of the biggest drawbacks facing mobile platforms outside Japan is their over-reliance on SMS, primarily in the GSM world. Conversely, mobile email has been one of the most significant factors underpinning the Japanese carriers’ success.
NTT DoCoMo’s i-mode (indeed all Japanese carriers’ mobile Internet platforms) works using SMTP email (with some restrictions due to network and memory), with each handset having a unique address of the form
Further, mobile mail in Japan has always been capable of transmitting clickable (embedded) links, and, since approximately 2004, ‘Decomail’ (HTML-formatted mail) has been available – and widely used.
The presence of embedded links is vital; one researcher in Germany (who incidentally attended one of Mobikyo’s past mobile missions to Tokyo) has written a yet-to-be-finalized report in which he identifies embedded links as a crucial element in enabling mobile marketing (more details below).
Just like PC web email, mobile email in Japan can have a wide range of files attached, including .jpg, .gif, .png., .bmp., .doc, .txt, .mp3, etc., limited only by the carrier’s (and handset’s) technology.
WWJ’s Lawrence Cosh-Ishii in Tokyo regularly uses his Vodafone 3G handset (from Sharp) to record a 45- or 60-second voice mail, save it locally on the phone, attach it to an email, and send it (under his flat-rate data plan, so at zero marginal cost) to my PC here in Germany; I then listen to it using Apple Quicktime. Try doing this as simply and cheaply with SMS (or even MMS!).
Lawrence additionally says he is a fairly regular DVD renter, using Tsutaya, one of Japan’s biggest chains. He subscribes to their regular email updates sent to mobile phones, including “coupon images that I can show at the counter on check-out,” as well as new release info and links to movie reviews, etc.
“One other point that is the massive success that Xavel (Girl’s Walker) have had with their daily member mail blast. At last count, they had well over 10 mn mobile customers getting a daily rich-mail blast of the coolest fashion trends with shopping (and coupon, of course) links embedded. They are making a killing on the ads with that desirable target demographic and critical mass volume.”
For more on what Xavel is up to, access today’s Viewpoint “DoCoMo Mobile Credit: Everything You Know About 3G is Useless”
Mobile email is hugely more flexible and useful than SMS. Messages can be sent to multiple addressees, forwarding, ‘reply to all’, and CC: & BCC: work just like they do on PC mail, and attachments, in-line images and HTML formatting all work just fine. Further, you can send mail to people whether they are on their mobile or on their PC (the sender need not even think about this).
As described above, the presence of clickable links allows mobile email to be used as a powerful marketing tool, and in Japan there are millions of subscribers accepting opt-in email transmissions, either via the carriers’ own push-mail services (such as DoCoMo’s ‘Message Free’) or those from individual site subscribers.
In short, SMS compared to email is like 1950s black&white TV compared to the latest hi-definition color services: it’s more useful, it’s more enjoyable and it’s more widely used and paid for.
Some sage advise when entering new turf; Stop, Look and Listen.. it’s also good to secure a local guide. Japan is the cradle of mobile civilization – we have been dedicated to this space since 2001 – trust our archives here offer some useful material.
Domestic activities continue to set the pace, and sharp players are looking at global markets. We have hard-earned industry expertise and trusted network of contacts with access to advanced intell. and potential deal flow. Need a lift.. Ok, buckle-up!