Wireless Watch at CEATEC; Next Stop Ubiquity
Wireless Watch at CEATEC; Next Stop Ubiquity

Wireless Watch at CEATEC; Next Stop Ubiquity

Wireless Watch at CEATEC; Next Stop Ubiquity

There was some real gold buried in the 2,460 booths and 505 companies that exhibited at the Combined Exhibition of Advanced Technologies (CEATEC) 2003 last week, and a bunch of press releases over the last two weeks have induced us to write a comprehensive tech review of what’s new with mobile technology. At the show we managed to corner the chief designer of Mitsubishi Electric’s next generation keitais (NGKs?) on a new series of very cool modular phones they have developed for next year, Melco looks to have made a conceptual breakthrough with these prototype handsets. Suffice to say we think that series with plug-and-play games console, megapix camera, GPS and other modules that snap onto it’s sleek clamshell design, looks as if they will blow the competition (Sony Ericsson and Samsung versions) out of the water. We also took a ride on the new Sanyo TV-Phone coming out for KDDI and saw a few other goodies like ASIMO and fish feeding with FOMA! We’ll show you all these cool new keitai in action, so be on standby for our video program that’s coming soon. The central message we took from CEATEC was that there are plenty of outstanding innovations coming on stream in the next 18 months that will finally herald the dawn of “ubiquitous” communication. Ahh, ubiquity, the means-anything buzzword that launched a thousand PowerPoint presentations…

As mentioned, the last two weeks have proved a purple patch for new keitai technologies. First of all at CEATEC, DoCoMo revealed that next-year’s FOMA users will be able to program and watch on any 3G terminal what their videos are recording at home, turn many of their home appliances off or on, and even do the hovering remotely via a Toshiba developed vacuum cleaner equipped with an ultrasonic radar and a viewcam built-in. We can personally testify that we were able to steer the vacuum cleaner into harm’s way using a FOMA phone keypad to drive the cleaner like a little dodgem car around the display floor. Fortunately, the actual vacuum function was not engaged, so we weren’t sucked in. We couldn’t get our paws on ASIMO, but that’s maybe something for next time.

And, as hinted both in the introduction, and in the sort of vision for Vodafone’s next-generation 3G services outlined by Darryl Green last week, truly “ubiquitous” services do seem to be now in sight. First off, Green’s hints about new Microsoft systems for Vodafone last week are being floated by the biggest kids on their blocks, cooperation on muscling XML-based specs to converge desktops with keitais and possibly give unpopular MS a foot in the mobile door against Java 2. The deal has a air of inevitability about it, doesn’t it, with Gates needing the major carrier to kick start MS mobiles poor showing. Let’s hope that the duo don’t get away with providing MS-standards in the wireless web space.

Mobile is moving again and the spin is positive. Back in Japan, in a series of keynote speeches, the (perhaps) great and good of Japan’s electronics and mobile industries showed that maturation of subscriber rates in Japan just means more and better services. Habitual contrarian Sony chairman Nobuyuki Idei has been talking about ubiquitous networking for years. CEATEC was more of the same, but Idei said the continuous evolution of technologies by Japanese companies were finally helping to pull Japan’s semiconductor industry out of a decade-long slump. DoCoMo’s Tachikawa, not unknown to revise his predictions, said he was confident that data volume (no doubt including Japanese housewives sweeping things under the carpet on FOMA) will finally surpass voice by 2010. Didn’t we read it would be earlier somewhere? But now we can literally see ourselves plugged into all sorts of useful applications, for example, more than just sucking up the dirt.

But seriously, folks, the revolution is at hand. KDDI, which smartly moved into keitai GPS in 2001, has just announced a great-sounding business application in that it is to begin jointly selling GPS services tying into corporate customer information systems allowing companies to locate and track a sales or repair staff partially we suppose to stop them goofing off but to also help them get to customers more quickly. The move comes on top of KDDI’s huge success with GPS-Keitai/EZnavigation that were first launched like a rocket back in December 2001 and hit a million in subs in five months.

This week KDDI announced its EZ Navi Walk service that will start at the end of this October that will allow real-time continuous position display and voice guidance for users, backed with another flood of new phone models including the Sanyo A5503SA that packs an FM radio tuner and the Sony Ericsson A5404s armed with a 2-megapixel camera. Please see our press release page for more specs and models. EZ Navi Walk is the third major iteration of the service, that expanded into the GPS MAP location information services for business apps (where’s that salesman).

That’s the big picture. Now lets dig a little deeper.

Numbers Going Up and Up

Latest figures from the Japan Electronics and Information Technology Industries Association (JEITA) released today (October 14) show Keitai shipments shot up 25 percent or 4.15 million in August compared to last year on the back of KDDI 3G subs rises and continual demand for camera-keitai upgrades. This was the tenth straight monthly increase.

According to the Ministry of Public Management, Home Affairs, Posts and Telecommunications (MPHPT), Japan’s market for ubiquitous technologies and services will swell from about $270 billion in 2005 to about $720 billion later in the decade, even as mobile penetration hits 80 percent. Perennial optimists In-Stat/MDR estimates that smartphone sales will grow 94.5 percent on a compound annual basis through 2007, while camera-keitai will CAGR 53.2 percent through 2007. Strategy Analytics meanwhile said camera-phones for the first time outsold digital cameras to the tune of 25 million to 20 million. The company believes 65 million camera phones will be sold worldwide in 2003, amounting to 13 percent of handset sales with NEC, Panasonic and Nokia divvying up about 15 percent each of the market.

On Display: Sanyo vs. NEC Tellycellys

While we think Mitsubishi’s modular prototype is a big story that we have to write soon, user satisfaction with the new Sanyo digital broadcast-receiving tellycelly was positive. We hooked a Sony employee into telling us that the slider design version of the phone we recently covered at WPC ’03 will be a winner. Sanyo has been field-testing about 300 of the 2.5-inch QVGA resolution (320 x 240 pixels) organic EL screen/ CCD-equipped phone and, from our interview at least, they seem confident enough it has overcome the screen’s burn image problem to commit to shipping the phone before 2005.

The prototype panel has a brightness of 150cd/2. The organic EL layer is a white light-emitting low-polymer material, used in combination with a color filter, according to the company. Sanyo forecasts the mobile screen market (that includes PDAs) will hit about 800 billion yen by 2005, with organic EL panels accounting for about 220 billion yen of that. Together with partner Eastman Kodak, Sanyo says it hopes to get a 70 billion yen share. Meanwhile Display Research pegs the global market for thin display panels at 3 trillion yen in 2002, with LCDs comprising more than 90 percent of the market.

Sharp meanwhile is piling on the panel display technology. WWJ regulars will know that we are big fans of the company’s CG screens, so much so that Cosh-Ishii-san rushed downtown from the foot of Mt. Fuji (his home) to play around with the J-SH53 recently.

Sharp continues to live up to their name with its so-called mobile ASV (Active Super View) LCDs that include a new lineup of four models from 1.5 to 6.5 inches, including a new QVGA 2.5-incher for keitai. The cool thing about all these is the high contrast ratio of 300:1. This means we’ll be able to drive our arcade games outdoors on sunny days from most angles, because the displays also have a 160 degrees viewing angle on both horizontal and vertical planes.

Following Sharp’s success with the J-SH53, Casio Computer also said it plans to roll out a quasi-3D, 262,000 color 2.4-inch QVGA resolution prototype display. And, just around the bend, NEC Electronics has also just said it’s carved out a 2.4-inch display that has embedded control circuitry and a graphics chip that makes the display the first for a keitai able to render curves.. hmmm.. curves!!!

Assuming that plain clamshells are on the way out, KDDI could build an early edge on the Vodafone analog tellycelly as Japan begins digital terrestrial broadcasting with the potential of fully bringing out the advantages of OEL technology over the best LCDs. Unfortunately, the prototypes only yield about an hour of program viewing at max, a literal turnoff if you want to watch a baseball game.

The New Horizon

A question that has been bugging us since the camera-phone craze really hit is ‘whats next’.. like when on earth will we be able to listen to the radio with our keitai? A quick look at WWJ’s home page shows that KDDI and TOKYO FM are making waves,
with the companies announcing field trials with digital terrestrial audio broadcasting and keitais and PDAs just begun.

What with the telly and now the radio too? Wow! However, the service will also offer content downloads, radio shopping (lets hope for socially meaningful applications for the visually impaired) electronic program distribution ahead of a full service launch next February 2004.

Not to be outdone, Vodafone KK October 14 finally released some specs for the NEC V601N analog tellycelly unveiled by Darryl Green on Oct. 1 that you can see in operation on last week’s video program. The spec however already looks a problem with a projected viewing time also maxing out at 60 minutes, but you do get an earplug. Figure in a few calls and downloads and you’ll be nearly be able to watch that crucial soap episode sans the dramatic finale. The good news is that quasi-government broadcaster Nippon Hoso Kyokai (NHK) says it won’t try to charge users for their access.

Vodafone also appears to be barking up a different tree, announcing that also in December it will begin marketing the infamous Takara-developed Bowlingual function which allows owners to (perhaps) interpret whether their mut wants a bone, a scratch, walkies or a wee-wee on a new Sharp keitei, that uses an SD Memory Card to store the translation software. Ubiquitous times indeed.. 😎

— Paul Kallender.