BeatCast and Kaopass: Unknown Mobile Applications that won't be for Long
It’s rare for me to be Oh-My-God! impressed by mobile applications these days (blame it on George Bush and the endless beat of dreary war drums…), but the demo we saw was really terrific. The animations were great, the sound effects weren’t irritating (like they are with a lot of Java applets), and you could access pics of all the latest car models that slide onto the screen from the left or the right. If there’s a better way to sell cars via mobile, this may be it.
Juicy rumors? About the time that North Korea lobbed a second missile into the Sea of Japan earlier today, I was having a quick lunch at the Mark City Starbucks with L., a participant in the ETP (European Training Plan). The ETP is sponsored by the EU and provides for up-and-coming business folks to spend a couple of years in Japan studying the language and business culture and gaining experience at a Japanese company.
My source, a voluble, affable Italian with an in-depth telecoms background, was excited after a weekend trip to Hokkaido – he had run into a senior manager from DoCoMo Hokkaido in charge of marketing.
He cited the manager as saying that, so far, 80 percent of FOMA customers in Hokkaido use the 3G network “only for voice;” the manager foresees this pattern continuing in the rest of the country. “He insisted,” said L. between bites of a chicken-and-something sandwich, “that their strategy is primarily on business users, as it was with 2G PDC.”
The manager described one system whereby farmers could use FOMA’s video capabilities to monitor their cabbage fields via some sort of webcam; sadly, the traffic fees earned from such usage come to 5 to 12 Yen per transmission, and the farmers check only about once per month.
L. further cited the manger as saying that, regardless of FOMA’s lack of subscriber take-up, the company is “committed” to FOMA: “He seemed convinced that FOMA will take off, but can’t say when.” Neither can anyone else – and the clunky, short battery-life 3G handsets have been a big part of the problem.
Whether any of L.’s information is accurate, it is true that FOMA has struggled to date – but that may be about to change. The Telecommunications Carriers Association (TCA) announced last week that NTT DoCoMo sold 37,000 FOMA terminals in the (short) month of February – an impressive (if yet modest) increase over January’s 2,600 and December’s 3,000. The reason? The new FOMA handsets with 150-hour-plus battery life.
While this is still small jyagaimo (KDDI pulled in 579,400 in February!!), it’s the first noticeable up tick in FOMA sales – ever. Can Big D come from behind? Probably not – but it would be nice to see more W-CDMA handsets that can compete against KDDI’s kick-ass fleet.
I got in late this afternoon from a shoot at BeTrend, a mobile software developer being incubated at SunBridge’s Venture Habitat in Shibuya. It’s rare for me to be Oh-My-God! impressed by mobile applications these days (blame it on George Bush and the endless beat of dreary war drums…), but the demo we saw was really terrific.
While the system – an ASP-based, Java-powered, sales-and-marketing tool – is new and still in the testing phase (the technology’s received zero coverage in English media so far), the first client is – get this! – auto maker GM (the Opel brand).
BeTrend CEO Hideaki Inoue stepped us through the service, “BeatCast,” which allows all sorts of content (text, graphics, images, audio) to be push- and pull-delivered to a celly.
The animations were great, the sound effects weren’t irritating (like they are with a lot of Java applets), and you could access pics of all the latest car models that slide onto the screen from the left or the right. If there’s a better way to sell cars via mobile, this may be it. (You can see our complete report in an upcoming WWJ video program, probably in early April.)
By the time we have that program ready to go, you’ll also have seen an in-depth focus on BitWallet’s new Edy cashless payment system, now undergoing intensive work to make it ready for mobile (destined to be Japan’s top mobile story for 2003?); we’ll also show you Omron’s “Kaopass” (“facepass”) face-recognition software (also not yet reported in English media). We participated in a Kaopass demo using a regular DoCoMo keitai which took about 2 seconds to recognize your humble author’s unsightly mug – and, no, the handset didn’t crash. 😉 Both programs were recorded at the IC Card and Security shows at Tokyo Big Sight, and should air in the next few weeks.
But seeing all these applications got me thinking that one of WWJ’s themes for 2003 appears to be non-content-download services. Sure, there’s plenty of business to be done on mobile with simple digital content offerings – images, screen savers, ring tones, nantoka, nantoka… But this year, it looks like services, particularly marketing and promotional services whose effectiveness is measured by more than just subscriber numbers, are big.
I guess the 2G handsets are finally sufficiently sophisticated that all these gee-whiz services can be deployed.
This would be different than, say, in California, where a state lawmaker has proposed a bill that would provide for a 30-day cancellation period for people who sign contracts for new cell phones.
“Buying wireless service isn’t like buying a DVD player because you can’t ‘road test’ it while you’re sitting there in the store,” said Senator Debra Bowen in a press release. “There’s no way to really know if your wireless phone is going to live up to the promises made by the salesperson until you start using it in your everyday life. If you figure out the clarity and coverage don’t meet your needs, but you’ve signed a two-year contract, you’re stuck with it.”
I bet a certain W-CDMA carrier is relieved that no such law is under contemplation in this jurisdiction.
— Daniel Scuka