Japan Keitai Truisms
Japan Keitai Truisms

Japan Keitai Truisms

Japan Keitai Truisms

In a report released April 6, Tokyo-based Ipse Marketing gave the results of a survey conducted in January 2004 on the degree of usage of advanced phone features. The report said that users of mobile phones are “more adept at utilizing various functions in a mobile phone than they were a year ago,” and specifically highlighted Java application programs, movies, video, and the use of an external memory card as new features that the average i-moder in the street is increasingly using…

Specifically, 67.0 percent of respondents said they had a camera phone (compared to 24.7 percent in the company’s December 2002 survey), and of these, nearly half (46.3 percent) have phones that can record video. More than 30 percent of respondents said they had Java-enabled and/or video phones, and 10 to 20 percent have phones that feature video mail, location-based services, and/or external memory cards.

In addition to cameras, the features that respondents said they had at least tried were Java (cited by 81.0 percent), external memory cards (61.5 percent), video mail (60.2 percent), and the infrared-based TV/VCR remote control function (58.2 percent). Obviously, folks are not afraid to try all the new features that DoCoMo et al are stuffing on to the handsets. After picture taking, external memory cards and Java applications were the most frequently used functions; 60.1 and 51.2 percent, respectively, of respondents used external memory cards and Java “frequently or occasionally.”

The results indicate that multi-functional mobile phones are becoming widely used in everyday life — and this should come as no surprise. When you put sophisticated yet reasonably easy to use technology into the hands of the average person, they are more than likely going to figure out how to use it, particularly when that use brings about some benefit such as convenient communication (mail, voice, videotelephony, pictures) or immediate access to information (look up restaurant guide on mobile Web).

In contrast, the classic negative techno-consumer comparative case recited countless times is programming one’s VCR: “Technology is too complex,” so the argument goes, “since nobody can figure out how to get the little clock thingy to read the right time and stop flashing.”

This techo-truism indeed happened because:

  • it was rather complex to program a VCR — you actually had to read the instruction manual because each VCR maker implemented a slightly different way of programming time, date, channels, etc., and the buttons were ungodly difficult to find and use, and
  • it took time — more than about 15 minutes, in the case of my first VCR.

It also took time to go into the menu and preset recording sessions to grab a program while one was out. Uhggg!

But after using one of the new 900i-series handsets, the Fujitsu model, during April’s Mobile Intelligence Tour in Tokyo, it struck me again how amazingly easy it is to use Japanese phones — and I don’t just mean DoCoMo’s (although the 900i cellys are notably slick).

Upon arrival, we distributed 11 rented phones to tour members from Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Australia, and the US, and in about 30 minutes we were making video calls; had registered each other’s respective phone numbers, email addresses, and pictures in the address books; were sending email with picture attachments to each other and to colleagues and friends back home; and were accessing i-mode (ironically, possibly the most boring activity of all).

And I don’t think any of us so much as cracked the user manual. Sure, several of our team were usability experts and highly experienced mobile Internet designers, but others were not — and they, too, had little trouble logging in, switching on, and booting up.

And the only reason why it took us an additional day to start swapping photos to/from our laptops via miniSD memory cards (the slots are standard on all new FOMA phones as well as many others) was the rental company didn’t supply the cards (I bet they disappear rather easily) and we had to organize an expedition to Bic Camera to buy some.

The phones were easy to use, buttons are located in ergonomically good positions (even for this 1.94 meter-tall, large-handed westerner), menu hierarchies are obvious and intuitive (although Japanese electronic makers have still not solved their long-standing trouble with getting decent-quality ‘engrish’ display translations), and the new “Task” key — which allows multitasking between multiple features — was a joy to use. Any average consumer, I think, would have figured out the same in just a few minutes — well under the classic VCR programming time burden (roughly anything over 10 minutes).

When I returned home to my dinky, clunky ol’Samsung GSM celly, I almost cried.

Forget VCRs. One of the enduring techno-truisms from Japan’s cell-phone world is that the handsets are the ultimate user interface, and the makers and carriers appear to have realised this fact. And it’s a large part of what makes the mobile Internet in Japan so successful.

— Daniel Scuka


Ipse Marketing Survey Outline
(1) Title: Survey on the use of mobile phones in Japan – January 2004
(2) Methodology: Web survey on the IPSe Marketing, Inc. Web site
(3) Subjects: Japanese Internet users who use mobile phones
(4) Period: January 7, 2004 – January 18, 2004
(5) Number of Valid Responses: 2,429 (41.5% male, 55.9% female; average age 33.3)

NTT DoCoMo’s F900i Site

Samsung’s SGH-V200 Site


DoCoMo Unveils 3 New 506i Handsets
28 April 2004

Vodafone Unveils First TV/ Radio Mobile Phone
7 April 2004

Cell Phone Users Want TV Function
14 February 2004