Japan 3G Phones Raising the Bar
Japan 3G Phones Raising the Bar

Japan 3G Phones Raising the Bar

Japan 3G Phones Raising the Bar

Today we look at some of the highlights from NTT DoCoMo’s 1 June 2004 press conference announcing the release of three new 3G cellphone each of which includes new functionality not seen before in the Japan market. This press event is typical for a new handset announcement; all three of Japan’s major cellcos (NTT DoCoMo, KDDI, Vodafone) conduct similar sessions for their new model releases. Today‚Äôs models all make the first FOMA handsets released back in late 2001 look fatter, clunkier, and more awful than ever. The battery life issues have been solved, and these sleek clam-shell beauties are more sophisticated than ever before.

In Japan, cell phones are distributed, marketed, and sold only under the control of the carriers — a situation quite unlike overseas where the handset makers can also sell their models independent of carriers. As a result, in Japan, if you want to buy a Sony or Fujitsu handset, don’t call Sony or Fujitsu.

Instead, you have to go to a carrier-branded cell-phone shop or to an independent retailer each of whom will only sell you the phone with activation of a new contract, or if you already hold a current contract.

Therefore, while today’s event will announce new FOMA 3G models from Fujitsu, Panasonic, and NEC, the conference is organized and conducted by NTT DoCoMo.

NTT DoCoMo has already released four FOMA 900i-series handsets, including models from Fujitsu, Sharp, NEC, and Panasonic. All phones in the 900i-series include:

  • Java-based, “i-appli” application capability with a 400-kilobyte “scratch pad,” or RAM, memory for execution and up to 100 kilobytes of storage for Java applications. This compares to 200 kilobytes and 30 kilobytes, respectively, in earlier cell phones.
  • They also feature “Deco-mail,” which is basically HTML-formatted email capability substantially similar to what your PC’s email program can handle.

  • 900i keitai also provide the “Chara-den” function, allowing you to switch on a cartoon avatar to represent your face on another person’s cell phone if they happen to ring you up for a video call when you’re indisposed, say in the toilet or just out of bed. You can control the avatar’s facial expressions displayed on the other person’s phone by using the keypad.
  • Finally, all 900i phones have the “Chaku-motion” function, which is basically the ability to download and playback multimedia clips combining video and high-fidelity music to signal incoming calls. This feature is proving to be extremely popular in the market.

The F900iT boasts a wireless Bluetooth headset for convenient, hands-free conversations. Pictures drawn with a stylus on the touch-type main screen can also be e-mailed as attachments, and TV video stored in miniSD cards may be viewed on a main screen. When folded with the camera lens and TFT main screen rotated to face outward, the phone can also be used as a compact digital camera and Web viewer. Sales will begin in the Kanto-Koshinetsu area on June 19, 2004, and DoCoMo’s regional subsidiaries will market the handsets in their respective areas.

The N900iS comes equipped with 20 “deco-mail” templates for decorative e-mails. On-screen dictionaries (Japanese, English-Japanese and Japanese-English) can be easily accessed with the Multi-Task button while surfing the internet or writing e-mail. The phone also features a pre-recorded voice that can read e-mail aloud. Sales will begin nationwide on June 25, 2004.

The P900iV folds for use like a video camera, with the lower half serving as a handy grip and the main screen rotating up or down for convenient viewfinding. Videos and still images stored in the phone may be viewed on a TV screen using an optional cable, while videos stored on a miniSD cards can be viewed on a main screen. Movie resolution has been boosted to 320 dots by 240 dots–more than three times the figure of previous handsets (176 by 144). Sales will begin nationwide on June 19, 2004.

Today’s models all make the first FOMA handsets released back in late 2001 look fatter, clunkier, and more awful than ever. The battery life issues have been solved, and these sleek clam-shell beauties are more sophisticated than ever before.

But that sophistication may be causing makers more headaches; on March 3, DoCoMo suspended sales of the earlier Fujitsu F900i handset due to software glitches that affected how the phone received email, one of the prime mobile Internet functions.

The company was able to resume sales a few days later and offered a software patch for free upgrade. Clearly, as phones become more and more complex and approach desktop PCs in functionality, problems unavoidably will crop up. Perhaps we’ll see a “reboot” key on phones in the not too-distant future?

— The Editors