USA: Better than Europe for i-mode?
USA: Better than Europe for i-mode?

USA: Better than Europe for i-mode?

USA: Better than Europe for i-mode?

In the US, data speeds rock: “With my Sprint PCS service I’ve had long downloads with speeds of 59 to 84.4 kbps. In a video test I had a burst of up to 104 kbps.” But is culture significant? “People in the United States have less trouble talking to each other than do people in Japan – many teenagers here actually prefer sending mail to talking, not only because it’s cheaper, but because it’s easier for them to say what they want to say.”

My sincere thanks to all who replied to the call for comments on the North American mobile Internet.

While the quality of the comments was, similar to those on Europe published last week, excellent, the volume was rather lower. This reflects, perhaps, the overall differences between the stages of development of the US mobile Internet vs. Europe’s; there’s a lot more going on in Europe at later stages of development than in the US/Canada (or maybe WWJ subscribers in Europe are just more voluble!).

Ironically, despite the mobile Internet being at an earlier stage of development in the US, North America may prove ultimately to be a more fertile ground for some of the wireless successes seen in Japan – particularly Java games – than Europe. How so?

Consider that North America, like Japan, constitutes a more or less homogeneous market. There is one major language (plus, of course two highly significant subgroups: French speakers at 8 million and Spanish speakers at approx. 35 million as best I can determine via Google), the geography is unified (Hawaii and Alaska are only tiny markets), and the vast majority of mobile users use mobile in much the same way.

These same factors have contributed not insignificantly to the mobile Internet successes of DoCoMo, KDDI, and J-Phone in Japan.

Further, in planning third-party marketing, sales, and distribution via mobile (whether for digital content or retail goods), the North American population offers the benefit of a unified and consistent “shopping” mind set; tastes, manners, styles, modes of purchasing, and other significant characteristics are all very similar and make the mobile marketer’s job a lot easier. Europe, in contrast, offers a hodgepodge of marketing challenges across multiple languages, markets, geographies, and usage patterns.

Finally, when it comes to mobile gaming (which has been extremely significant for i-mode’s post-January 2001, post-Java success), poking away on a tiny keypad is, I would argue, culturally much more acceptable in the US than in sophisticated, uberchic Euro capitals.

This is not to say that American mobile users are unsophisticated; rather, it’s just more likely that in the US – like in Japan – your friends won’t think you’re a hopeless geek if you pull out a cool Sanyo or Sony Handset and start bashing away on Tetris.

I should add that the idea that the USA may ultimately prove more auspicious for the replication of the i-mode model’s success than Europe is not original to me; I heard similar ideas from a major content provider at a recent meeting. But I suspect this thesis has a lot to support it.

And despite the US’s plethora of non-compatible networks standards (see the first comment below), any well-planned mobile data service should be successful regardless of underlying transport technology. Unfortunately, roaming – whether for voice or data – will be harder to achieve in the US (it’s a fact in the GSM world), and this will mitigate against advanced services – including mobile Internet – achieving maturity any time soon.

Without further ado, WWJ presents a compendium of wisdom on North America’s mobile Internet courtesy of fellow WWJ subscribers (see below – after farewell comments). Thanks to all who responded!


At this stage, we’re still firming up plans for hand over to my replacement for the WWJ weekly ‘zine. It would be premature to make any announcements, but it does appear likely that WWJ will be able to continue bringing you the same great Japan wireless coverage that you’ve come to expect. If plans work out, WWJ will continue to serve as your No. 1 source for insider mobile info and provide in-depth, behind-the-shoji reporting. Check the WWJ or J@pan Inc site next week for an update!

For me, this is definitely the final WWJ Viewpoint column. I’d like to thank everyone who has subscribed to, read, commented on, offered feedback on, been interviewed for, and otherwise supported this media project over the past 97 issues. I’ve learned a great deal about the mobile industry in Japan and have had a great time meeting people, interviewing folks much wiser than me, and thinking about some of the issues.

For me, Japan remains a fascinating mobile market that can teach many salient lessons for wireless industries elsewhere – despite significant structural peculiarities.

But the single most important factor that the Japan market has got right is precisely the same that will boost success elsewhere. Namely: in planning any sort of mobile-based business, forget about technology. Forget about three- (or five-) letter acronyms and abbreviations, and forget about “Internet.”

What really matters – the only thing that matters – is identifying where your customer needs a product or service and then creating an offering to match. Solve a problem, deliver some entertainment, or provide a service – and folks will pay. In this regard, the mobile data market is no different than any other.

Finally, never underestimate the hidden or unseen consequences of technology. Sure, using the Internet to share data via mobile terminals helps enrich many lives. But remember: the terminals use silicon chips and other components manufactured at factories that use some of the worst environmental pollutants around under some of the most lax regulatory regimes anywhere. Let’s think and act on what we know.

And (Hey! It’s my last issue… I can prattle on if i want… ;-)) – really FINALLY – remember the important things in life. Play with a child. Go for a walk with an old-timer. Call your mom. And above all else don’t take yourself or anything too seriously.

Final thanks: to my lovely wife for all her support, to Lawrence Cosh-Ishii for his help, encouragement, and amazing video expertise, and to my colleagues and friends at J@pan Inc and everywhere for their professional advice and wisdom.

— Daniel Scuka