We recently spent a fascinating hour with James Gosling, godfather of Java and an eloquent supporter of open standards and common sense when it comes to mobile application development. James points out that NTT DoCoMo has let anyone drop software into the network and get paid. But North American carriers don’t appear to have taken the hint. “[They] have this attitude that their networks need to be closed. Personally, I don’t buy it. They’re being very, very short-sighted.” Mobile business developers and service planners everywhere: Don’t miss this one.
A couple of interesting events took place in Tokyo last Friday. The American Chamber of Commerce hosted their Fourth Annual E-Business Summit, while Credit Suisse First Boston’s lead telecoms analyst Mark Berman conducted a 3G/Wireless Internet Conference. Some interesting points came out of both. Afterwards, Kobe University’s Jeff Funk commented that the predicted fall in 3G packet prices is “interesting,” while Matsumoto’s additional arguments — that the US is a car society and thus Japan’s experience isn’t relevant — was not valid since “SMS is doing well in Europe and DoCoMo claim that i-mode revenues per person are independent of the region in Japan.”
We spent a day at Sun Microsystem’s JavaOne conference and show in Yokohama in September, and were pleasantly surprised to meet up with mobile software vendor Openwave, grand-daddy of the WAP Forum (freshly repainted as the Open Mobile Alliance). Japanese carriers have created killer Java services… and they had to do so from scratch. That included the provisioning system which actually feeds the applis onto the handsets (providers merely have to write the downloadable Java code). Now another major player has launched a Java provisioning system (which also works for other content). Want to launch Java, but you’re not partnered with DoCoMo? You’d better watch this one twice…
NTT DoCoMo took it square on the chin this week, announcing it would book extraordinary losses of 573 billion yen against its investments in three major foreign partners, KPN, AT&T Wireless, and Hutchison 3G. The company cited the slowdown in the global telecommunications market, and it would be natural to suspect the Sanno Park Tower strategists are back in their corner, applying ice and stitching wounds. Industry watchers, meanwhile, are having a field day. hOWEVER, this week’s write-down represents mere pachinko pocket change for DoCoMo, and, as potentially one of Japan’s (and by extension, the world’s) most profitable companies, the carrier is well on its way to creating something that the Europeans are still trying to sort out: a functioning W-CDMA network.
By platform, mobile games (mostly Java, as far as we could see) represented 9.2 percent of the 393 new titles announced at the TGS, a significant if yet modest chunk of the overall game market. This was up steeply from 4.1 percent of 339 titles at the fall 2001 show, but still not equal to the 11.0, 14.7, and 17.1 percent shares seen at the spring 2001 (309 new titles), fall 2000 (334 new titles), and spring 2000 (380 new titles) shows, respectively. We have lots of Java screen savers,” said Taito Corporation at the DoCoMo booth; Seoul-based game maker GameVIL comes ashore to leverage made-in-Korea BREW expertise (KTF’s BREW allows 200KB downloads — the standard for KDDI to beat?); and advice on creating successful Java services from PCCW: “Prepare a good environment for the developers.” Daniel had a splitting headache, but this program rocks!
Early this year, there was some comment in the open press concluding that the US was the world’s leading source of wireless innovation and technology expertise (“Europe Had Decisive Wireless Lead, But Lost It to US With Poor Moves”). Well, the good news is that finding some of those smaller, innovative creators of made-right-here-in-Japan, ready-to-be-exported mobile technology is getting an awful lot easier. We spent yesterday at Sun’s JavaOne conference in Yokohama, and there was an interesting line-up of companies displaying their wares on the showroom floor.
WWJ has been focusing on mobile Java for the past few weeks — and with good reason. The pundits claim the interactivity and secure mobile execution environment provided by Java could be vital for making 3G data services pay off sooner rather than later. We visited then-pre-IPO software developer Net Village, creator of the “Remote Mail” Java-based mail appli. A couple of key facts emerged: Java boosts packet revenue for the carriers, the cost and complexity of deploying sophisticated Java applis may be beyond what the carriers themselves can do (economically), and Remote Mail is one cool app — 330,000 happy users can’t all be wrong! (See a live demo.) Oh — and NV’s IPO generated a modest 4.094 billion yen.
I was sitting in the DoCoMo shop in Machida last week waiting to cancel my second PHS data card (which we rarely use since we got a home WLAN), when it suddenly occurred to me: there’s no enterprise wireless data market in Japan because the carriers — yes, the **carriers** — don’t want one. NTT DoCoMo announced that consolidated revenues from “packet communications services” (read: i-mode) reached 715,600 million yen, up **102 percent** from the year before. Clearly, revenues from wireless data are booming, and if the corporate market has not yet been tapped, just think of the riches that will flow to the likes of DoCoMo, J-Phone, and KDDI when it is.
Java continues to be one of mobile Japan’s little-told success stories. We drop by J-Phone/Vodafone to find out who’s using Java, how “applis” are loaded onto the portal, and how “desktop” applications function. Already, Java content providers are focusing on the desktop appli as a way to capture and maintain new subscribers, since the always-on functionality tends to drive loyalty. We also get a live demo of downloading and running Java games. There’s an ecosystem brewing here, and the aroma is pure success. Wireless marketing heads everywhere: Pay Attention!
All of Japan’s carriers devote an extraordinary amount of time, effort, and resources to creating marketing and sale materials designed to entice customers, boost sales, and — let’s be frank — brag about their networks and handsets. The Big Five (NTT DoCoMo, KDDI/Au, J-Phone, DDI Pocket, and Tu-Ka) produce monthly full-color catalogs touting the latest in handsets, networks and data services, calling plans and discounts, and customer support services. DoCoMo also conveniently produces a quarterly compendium of their monthly issues in English, while KDDI makes their calling plans and discount options widely available in English, Korean, Chinese, and several other languages. We combed through several carrier brochures and extracted some gems of info that are rarely if ever mentioned by English-language press, but that help to illustrate the depth and scope of the wireless business here. Without further ado, herewith we present WWJ’s first quarterly Review of Japan Keitai Trivia. Rabid Japan wireless devotees (and you know who you are) won’t want to miss this.