Natsuno and Ai Kato Launch 505i; and WWJ – Facing a Transition
Herewith, I’d like to query you, the loyal and keen WWJ readers (some 30% of whom are in Europe, according to last fall’s subscriber survey), on what an outsider needs to know about Europe’s mobile Internet. What are the companies, technologies, business models, and content services serving to boost the future? What – and who – matters most? Which will triumph: i-mode or Vodafone Live? Can Japanese terminal makers kick their way into the market? And will the Open Mobile Alliance boost Europe’s wireless industry far ahead of Japan’s – given sufficient buy-in from content providers and software creators?
The WWJ mail newsmagazine is a little late this week due, primarily, to extra time required to keep up with all the recent developments.
First and foremost has to be Tuesday’s NTT DoCoMo launch announcement and press conference for the 505i-series – the next generation of the carrier’s 2G i-mode terminals.
Among the six (from Mitsubishi, Fujitsu, NEC, Panasonic, Sharp, and Sony Ericsson), you’ll find enhanced Java, mobile Flash display capability, enhanced onboard memory, removable memory sticks, a 1.3-megapixel camera, QVGA-resolution displays, finger-print-scanning authentication, and enhanced i-mode mail (see first news item below).
My first impression was that DoCoMo has now entered a “post-packet-fee” era. By this I mean that the company is no longer merely fixated on deploying features and services that boost individual packet usage and ARPU; this has been the sine qua non of mobile carriers in this country since the dawn of i-mode.
Now, with 1.3-megapixel cameras, extensive use of removable memory, a high-tech fingerprint reader/scanner built-in, and other non-packet-generating features, DoCoMo has clearly decided to make the phones uber-sexy so as to grab market share and stem the churn over to KDDI (and – to a lesser extent – J-Phone). Who cares how many packets 505i users generate, so long as they actually buy one of these babies and make lots of voice calls (still the cash cow for DoCoMo); Oh – and you can take pretty decent snaps with it, too, even if you never send a pic over the network.
In any event, all that technology in one place was enough to make a guy forget that it was the drop-dead gorgeous teen idol Ai Kato up on stage cooing about how great the phones were (OK – not quite enough…).
As WWJ video producer Lawrence Cosh-Ishii wryly pointed out, the contrast between this week’s DoCoMo extravaganza and J-Phone’s December 2002 3G launch press event couldn’t have been starker. Then, the traditionally teen-market-focused J-Phone guys went out of their way to look, act, and appear ultra-buttoned-down and uber-corporate – in keeping with the business target audience of their new Vodafone Global roaming services.
On the other hand, DoCoMo – a traditionally plodding, corporate entity that regularly runs B&W snaps of their president in full-page newspaper ads touting their technology – bent over backwards to emphasize the youth-centric appeal of the sexy new i-mode handset series.
Natsuno-san, co-creator of i-mode, was on stage wearing a cream-colored suit with no tie, while the firm must have written an I-don’t-know-how-big cheque to get the (apparently) keitai fan Kato to try out the new models first-hand; La Kato appeared surprised to find camera-quality digital photo capabilities in the new phones. Maybe teen idols don’t get out to Akihabara much?
We got some great footage as well as an interview with Natsuno-san, and will put it together for you in an upcoming WWJ video program.
Big D has recently rolled out a watch-phone that runs on the PHS network, a GPS-enabled handset (their first consumer mass-market device so enabled), and an e-commerce payment system that uses the IR port for POS terminal communications (see additional news items below). Whew!
The other big news is much more personal and represents a transition for WWJ.
After an intended two-year Japan stint that has surprisingly turned into nine years, my wife and I have decided to accept a transfer with her employer to Europe, and we’ll relocate to the Frankfurt area this summer. After more than two years of thoroughly enjoyable weekly work on this newsmagazine, my last issue will come out at the end of this month.
Present plans also foresee at least a temporary pause in the WWJ video newsmagazine series, but be aware that we’ve got enough footage in the can to present several more WWJ video newsmagazines to you even after my participation in the newsletter ends.
I won’t get all maudlin and teary-eyed just now – I’ll save that for my last issue on Apr. 28. 😉 But I am getting excited about the move. I realized the other day that I know much less about the European mobile industry than about Japan’s – naturally enough.
Herewith, I’d like to query you, the loyal and keen WWJ readers (some 30% of whom are in Europe, according to last fall’s subscriber survey), on what an outsider needs to know about Europe’s mobile Internet.
What are the companies, technologies, business models, and content services serving to boost the future? What – and who – matters most? Which will triumph: i-mode or Vodafone Live? Can Japanese terminal makers kick their way into the market? And will the Open Mobile Alliance boost Europe’s wireless industry far ahead of Japan’s – given sufficient buy-in from content providers and software creators?
Please don’t hesitate to drop me a note – even if just a few lines – to provide your feedback; I’ll collect and collate the responses and present them to all in next week’s WWJ (please send by 12:00 JST, Monday, April 14).
— Daniel Scuka