NEC's V601N: Japan's First TV CellPhone
NEC's V601N: Japan's First TV CellPhone

NEC's V601N: Japan's First TV CellPhone

NEC's V601N: Japan's First TV CellPhone

It’s sassy, not clunky – but analog only. If this sounds like an ode to Japan’s first Tellycelly, please make your call swift: The TV will only run about an hour before the batteries poop, but the sales potential is, we think, killer. Vodafone’s V601N [.pdf] from NEC, on sale in December, follows Japan’s long consumer electronics tradition; namely, a cool, high-tech gadget that will sell at a premium by the truckload. Watch the tube, no pesky packet fees, grab screen shots and capture live video from broadcast programs, access TV guides via browser, and use it as a remote to control your karaoke machine. Watch our exclusive WWJ video clip of the ‘next big thing’ in action at Vodafone’s October press conference when it was introduced.

While the analog TV capability is eye-catching, this phone is no slouch when it comes to mobile Internet. It features enhanced “Movie Sha Mail” video mail using MPEG-4 video files (up to 10 seconds), a 262,144-color TFT display, and a 310,000-pixel CCD camera. With the TV switched off, it has a standby time of about 450 hours and you can talk for approximately 125 minutes (yes: it makes voice calls, also). No price has been set, but if past price points for high-end 2G models are any indication, the V601N should hit the streets at around 29,000 yen.

The question naturally arises: once the TV celly is in volume production and the retail price drops to about the same as a regular megapixel camera phone (the current marketleaders), which one will consumers choose? On all three of Japan’s major 2.5G cellular networks, photo transmissions are uniformly low; in June 2003, for example, the 15 million camera-phone users on NTT DoCoMo’s system sent about 45 million snaps – that’s just three each, on average, according to data released by the company to analysts.

Could it be that the camera phones will have fertilized the market for a much wider adoption (and actual usage) of TV phones? “From the consumer behaviours we’re seeing in Japan, the current practices required for watching TV on a phone already exist,”says professor Philip Sidel, mobile researcher at Niigata’s International University.

And once consumers do start choosing TV cellys en mass, the challenge will be for the carriers, handset makers, and content providers to figure out which value-added services will sell alongside the (free) analog TV content.

Vodafone has established browser-based TV guide services (which users pay for both in content access fees and packet traffic fees) for the new TV phones, but what about interactivity during broadcasts? Over the past 18 months, several trials have been conducted by Japanese broadcasters to solicit audience feedback via mobile phone during prime-time programs.

Typical scenarios included voting for a winner during a goofy, slide-in-the-mud-and-eat-live-eel game show, or respond to a question (“Should unwed mothers qualify for free bus passes?”) during a talk program.

Results seem to have been uniformly positive. One trial involved a quiz show Time Shock 21; viewers predicted the winning team and responded via phone,and a special prepaid gift card was awarded to those guessing the correct answer (and to those who were able to answer the question before the program was over). Another example involved a music-variety program called “Music Enta,” where mobile users were asked to answer the same quiz as guests on the program within the same amount of time (a special ring tone was sent to those with the correct answer).

In trial results reported by the Mobile Content Forum, a Tokyo-based industry body, TBS found that 98 percent of participants in such trials said they “would participate” again if such a service were offered; 25 percent said they would participate even if a fee of 100 yen were levied.

The TBS report concluded, “It was found that users do not mind dealing with television and mobile phone at the same time. Going on the Internet while watching TV is actually more of a pain than one may think, and users are apparently less resistant to the idea of using the mobile phone.”

Now that TV is actually on the mobile phone, we can expect much more of this in the future. And when broadcasters switch to digital TV (already mandated in Japan), you’ll be able to click on live links actually embedded in the program image while watching.

Welcome to Japan; welcome to the future.

— The Editors