There’s been endless yakking about cultural differences between Japanese and US keitai users. Which features appeal to which culture? Is wireless Internet important for Americans? Those Japanese will pay for data, won’t they? Yada yada yada… We’ve heard comments ad nauseam about the differences between Americans, Europeans, and Japanese when it comes to choosing cell phones. While we have long disbelieved the odious stereotypes — like “Japanese want to pay for Internet access” and “American thumbs are too big for those tiny i-mode keypads” — we have to admit, we weren’t sure what to believe ourselves. WWJ gets to the heart of the matter with a visit to Cellular Plaza Mims, a unique cell phone shop serving large numbers of true-blue Americans here in Japan.
For the past several weeks, WWJ has been emailing J-Phone to set up an interview for our video newsmagazine. We finally settled on a date, and they asked us to submit our outline questions. J-Phone PR’s Matthew Nicholson responded to some of these earlier this week, and herewith we present a summary of his comments, wherein J-Phone reveals (almost all) about brand image, “plastic” roaming, and handling spam mail.
This week, Wireless Watch Japan ( WWJ ) was invited by NTT DoCoMo to visit their Club D Showroom, located on the 29th floor of corporate HQ in Tokyo. We do the intro from the FOMA F1 — that’s the race car that can communicate at 384 Kbps on a test track using FOMA, we play with 504i Java and 251i i-shot handsets and tried videoconferencing with the new 3G PDA by Sharp. This programme is pure eye-candy, and is not-to-be missed for the serious 3G wireless aficionado. Boy-o-boy-o-boy… it doesn’t get much better than this folks! After buying a soda via c-mode, we ask, “Why does DoCoMo spend so big to promote its technology?”
“Take a look at this list,” says Arjen van Blokland, pointing to the top ten i-mode site listing at imode.nl. “Not one of them is Japanese,” states Arjen in a voice that betrays evident relief that 104.com didn’t get involved in European i-mode. He asks, Where’s Cybird?, illustrating that fact that the Japanese content producers and aggregators — like Cybird, Index, MTI, and others — have seen signal unsuccess at penetrating the baby i-modes overseas. He may have a good point — given that it should have been the Japanese that taught the rest of the i-mode world how to do content right.
There’s a tremendous amount of initial wireless LAN network activity going on in Japan right now, but it’s still too early to say how WLAN will affect 3G. One thing is certain however: licensed-spectrum carriers are looking closely at WLAN to determine whether the technology will disrupt their carefully knit 3G network, wireless Internet, and data revenue plans. We speak with an industry insider on a recent WLAN hotspot trial conducted by a major mobile telco. But large carriers and others thinking about launching hotspot networks shouldn’t worry about finding content. First, solve the billing, roaming, and security problems — then content providers will beat a path to your door… just as happened with, oh…, for example, i-mode.
But the most significant hidden news in this announcement may just be the fact that there are 300,000-plus extremely heavy data users already using i-mode. This means that DoCoMo has a captive, willing audience already on hook that is ripe for targeted migration to 3G. And it would appear that this audience has been woefully underexploited — FOMA had just 127,400 users on July 31. Looks like Big D will slash i-mode transmission fees on both the 2G and 3G networks starting September 1.. OK — maybe the reduction isn’t exactly a “slash,” since the 2G rate will only go from 0.3 yen per packet (128 bytes) to 0.2 yen per packet, and this reduction will only be applied after the first 100,000 packets (i.e. the first 30,000 yen of transmission fees).
G-mode was set up in 2001 for the sole purpose of creating Java games for wireless. They say they’ve sold 63 million downloads since then, and their games are played 250,000 times per day. This is the first mobile content provider we’ve ever met that claims made-in-Japan games can be exported overseas, despite the barriers of language and culture. Considering that Tetris — known globally — has no text, they just could be right.
At lunch today, I almost choked on my okonomiyaki. But it wasn’t the fried noodles, vegetables, bits of squid, or pancake-like dough that comprise this Hiroshima delicacy (only rarely reproduced with any satisfaction in the Tokyo area) that caused my trouble; it was an involuntary reaction to my lunch-mate’s comment that DoCoMo looks like it’s becoming “a media company.” Whew!! Regular readers of this newsmagazine will know that one of my themesin the past couple of issues has been how Big D is morphing from an engineering-centric technology company into a media player, just like one-time ISP AOL has.
With over 150 different Internet-capable cellular handsets in use by four different carriers, the challenge of formatting content to match the terminal is becoming, well, terminal. Each model has its own screen dimensions, color capability, and other idiosyncrasies, and if your business depends on making sure that mobile shoppers can see pics of all your products, like, say Yahoo Japan Auctions’ does, you’re in a world of hurt. Fortunately, one company has a solution. Thank God for the Americans!
A little-noticed PR release came out of North Hollywood on July 29 announcing that Walt Disney Internet Group and KG Telecom had agreed to distribute Disney mobile wireless content to KG Telecom wireless subscribers. KG Telecom will be the first operator to launch Disney content on thei-mode platform in the Chinese market, and the agreement allows KGTelecom’s customers in Taiwan to subscribe to downloadable content, such as screen savers and ring tones, based on Disney’s lineup of popular characters including Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck (WWJ’s favorite — Ed.), Goofy, and Snow White.