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Pioneer to ally with Matsushita on PDP technology? June 28, 2006

Posted by fukumimi in Economy & Business, electronics, Japan, technology.

This news is a little bit old, having made the newspapers in early June. Article from the Asahi Shimbun here (Japanese).
Pioneer, the struggling consumer electronics firm is rumoured to be considering an alliance with Matsushita.

Pioneer was a pioneer in the PDP business (pardon the pun). However as a relatively small player, it has been struggling, although its technology is well regarded. Its strengths are in the high end market, which is beyond the reach of most consumers. The rumoured deal might see Pioneer supply high end panels (full HD, large size panels) to Matsushita, whilst Matsushita would supply lower end PDP modules to Pioneer, which would allow Pioneer to beef up its product range, especially in the volume sector. (There might also be Pioneer branded LCD panels from the Matsushita/Hitachi factory, although one has to wonder whether the Pioneer brand would be competitive in the LCD market as a late entrant with an OEM supplied, badge engineered product)

Is this really the best way forward for Pioneer? It has been struggling and has announced that it will no longer be developing its own DVD recorder related microprocessors and software, rather it will be sourcing from Matsushita going forward. Pioneer was a pioneer in the DVD-R market as well…..

The PDP and DVD-R stories illustrate the fact that Pioneer have the technological capacity and market reading foresight. However it would appear they cannot sustain their initial lead, and get overtaken by a bunch of fast followers, Matsushita being a great example of a leading player of this strategy. (Which is why techie types tend to turn their noses up at Matsushita. A bit like they do at Toyota (which, to be fair, is trying to lead things (sucessfully so far, it would seem) in the hybrid sector)

It’s not like Matsushita isn’t working on high end PDP either. They have been exhibiting the world’s largest 103″ PDP every opportunity they get. Will the internal political machine be willing to overcome the dreaded NIH syndrome, and work with Pioneer at the higher end of the market?

Pioneer is doing brisk business elsewhere, notably in the car audio and navigation markets, where it is a market leader.

My personal opinion is that Pioneer would be better off remaining independent, and not get too draw into any relationship with a much bigger partner. I actually think this company would be an interesting proposition for a private equity play.

The Digital Divide in Japan June 28, 2006

Posted by fukumimi in Communications, Internet, Japan.

The Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communiations has announced statistics for broadband penetration in Japan (as of March 2006). (via Yahoo! Japan)

The top 5 prefectures with the highest percentages of households without access to broadband services (ie they cannot get broadband even if they wanted to because there is no broadband infrastructure in their neighbourhood) are as follows:

Kagoshima (23.8%)

Iwate (22.2%)

Kochi (19.5%)

Akita (17.3%)

Niigata (15.3%)

There are a total of 39 local authorities defined as “Zero Broadband Areas”, where there is no broadband access for even a single household within the municipality.

On the other side of the divide, the top 5 prefectures with regards to broadband service coverage are:

Osaka (0.1%)

Toyama (0.2%)

Tokyo (0.3%)

Mie (0.4%)

Kanagawa (1.0%)

The MIC is aiming to improve broadband penetration in remote areas, but businesses aren’t exactly queing up to provide expensive infrastructure to hook up remote islands and mountain villages. Japan has more than 4000 islands, 260 of which are inhabited. Japan’s land is also 73% mountainous or hilly, and whilst the population is concentrated mainly in the alluvial plains and coastal areas, there are significant populations living in remote valleys deep in the mountains mainly engaged in agriculture or forestry (as an aside, these rural populations are seeing a major shift in age distribution, in many such communities a person in their 60’s is young).

The prefectures topping the list of low penetration rates have geography against them, Kagoshima’s remote islands are dispersed (compared to Nagasaki for example, which has even more populated islands but most are fairly close to the mainland), the other prefectures are very mountainous which accounts for the low penetration rates.

It is difficult to justify building out a fiber based infrastructure to a remote island, or to a dead end mountain ravine community miles from anywhere. Wireless communications technology is probably the way forward, but can a business case be made for such infrastructure deployment?

The best option seems to be a geostationary satellite based infrastructure (with terrestrial wire/wireless infrastructure for the last mile as appropriate), this could also be used for ship based communications as well.

[Addendum] I guess high power PLC (power line communications) may be an option for mountainous regions where the problem is the “last mile” (or more realistically, even last 10 or 20 miles), it does not solve the long distance communication problems for remote islands.  In any case, I am not a fan of polluting the mains electricity with high frequency “noise”.

Japanese Blackberry update June 28, 2006

Posted by fukumimi in electronics, IT, Japan, Mobile.

Following up from a previous post, where I wondered why DoCoMo is bothering to sell Blackberrys in Japan without Japanese language support, I came across the DoCoMo USA site where they offer a mail client with full Japanese language support. The Namimail software allows Japanese read/write support on Blackberry.

So if DoCoMo is providing this service in the US, why aren’t they offering the same software on Japanese market devices? It would seem to be a no brainer.

Is it a symptom of a large bureaucratic organisation where one division doesn’t have a clue about what another division is doing?

Place shifting TV hots up in Japan June 24, 2006

Posted by fukumimi in electronics, IT, Japan, Shopping, technology.
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Sling Media goes on sale in Japan on July 8th.

It will compete against Sony's Location Free, which is being pushed quite aggressively in Japanese electronics stores of late.

Itochu (an investor in Sling Media) will be importing the devices, and IO Data will be the distributor. 

Nintendo DS web browser launch announcement June 23, 2006

Posted by fukumimi in IT, Japan, Mobile.
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Nintendo have announced that their web broswer for the Nintendo DS will go on sale on the 24th of July.

The web browser is based on Opera's browser, and will intially be sold on-line.

The browser software is contained in a DS cartridge, and a memory module is inserted into the Gameboy Advance slot.

Price is quoted as JPY3,800.

Utilising the 2 screen layout, input is via virtual keyboard or handwriting recognition on the lower screen.

The default layout appears to have one screen display the overall page layout, and the other screen display a detailed zoom view. Other display configurations can be selected.

The browser does not support Flash, PDF nor any audio or video functionality. 

The Public Prosecutor’s Office continues to sniff around… June 22, 2006

Posted by fukumimi in IT, Japan, law.

Gee, it seems the prosecutor seems to be on a mission.

My well connected source (who predicted back in December that the prosecutors were sniffing around Livedoor and Murakami, and were trying to decide which one to bust first) informs me that the CEO of another leading internet company was voluntarily interviewed by the prosecutor's office recently.

Officials shouldn't be short of targets, many of the younger internet companies who have floated in the last few years are the target of plenty of gossip and rumour, and looking at the press releases, financial statements and other documents relating to various transactions in which these companies have been involved, some things seem contrived and artificial. If you looked back at the attendance list of the extravagant parties that were part of the Bit Valley phenomenon, or even just looked at the younger companies inhabiting Roppongi Hills, you would get a good list of potential suspects.  

More on the BoJ’s Fukui June 22, 2006

Posted by fukumimi in Finance, Japan.

Governor Fukui's hole seems to be getting deeper and deeper.

Having previously stated that he didn't "make much" on his investment with the Murakami fund, it transpires that his original JPY10M had grown to JPY24.7M in 6 years or so. This during a time where ordinary people were earning about 0.1% annual interest on their savings accounts, or 0.001% annual interest on their basic accounts.

He also said previously that he had not realised any profit from his investment, yet 5 years ago, JPY2.42M was paid into his bank account. 

Major media outlets are also discussing the timing in february of his decision to withdraw his funds from Murakami & Co., specifically citing possibilities such as a leak regarding the investigation into Murakami's suspected insider trading, or the BoJ's monetary policy shift about which Fukui would have had full knowledge.   

England 2 – 2 Sweden June 21, 2006

Posted by fukumimi in World Cup.
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Two defensive errors from England prevented us from beating Sweden for the first time in 38 years.

Beckham was at least partly responsible for the first goal, his marking being poor at the near post for the first Sweden goal headed in from a corner.

The second Sweden goal was Sol Campbell making a mess of a clearance in the 6 yard box. Hopefully Rio Ferdinand will be fit for the knock out stages.
Owen's apparent knee injury is a major concern. Neville hasn't been training since his injury, that is also a concern, given Ferdinand's substitution today. Looking a bit thin at the back. Suggest we could play an asymmetrical 3-2-3-2 (3-3-2-2 or even 3-2-2-2-1?) with Beckham behind Lennon on the right wing, as we saw for some of the T&T game. 

Brighter news for England – Joe Cole again looking in form again, Rooney looking sharper every time he comes out onto the pitch, and Gerrard is looking good, as ever.

asahi.com:Supreme Court: Life sentence too lenient – ENGLISH June 21, 2006

Posted by fukumimi in crime, Japan, law.
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asahi.com:Supreme Court: Life sentence too lenient

It seems that Japanese courts and public opinion are going against an international trend towards the abolishment of the death penalty.

Whilst the brutal rape and murder of a young mother and the murder of her baby are inexcusable crimes, it is difficult to agree with the decision of the supreme court which is basically giving an order to the high court to deliver a death sentence.

The murder was a minor when he committed the crimes.

Even the US has abolished the death penalty for minors.

(There is a difference in that minors are defined as under 20 in Japan as opposed to under 18 in the US, and the international laws draw the line at 18, so Japan is not overstepping the line there, Japan is not a signatory to the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, aimed at the abolition of the death penalty, but is a signatory to the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC)

If there are problems with the criminal law system (and I believe there are), they should be addressed.

Firstly, life imprisonment rarely means life. There have been high profile cases where lifers have gotten out within less than 10 years. Giving the courts the opportunity to pass sentences to exclude the opportunity for parole.

Secondly, regarding the laws regarding minors in general, if we are to believe that 18 and 19 year old should be held to the same standards as adults, they should also be given the same rights. If we are going to execute 18 year olds, there should be a discussion about lowering the age of majority. 18 and 19 year olds cannot legally smoke or drink alcohol, they cannot vote, yet they can be executed. Surely there is a major inconsistency here.

Addendum (added 6/22):

The title of the Asahi Shimbun piece is misleading. The legal term is 無期懲役 (muki choeki) which means indefinite term, and definitely does not mean "a sentence to spend the rest of your natural life in prison".

(Average term served is about 20 years, but significantly shorter terms have been highlighted by the press when they have come to light. There is a decrease in early releases, admittedly.)

TechCrunch日本版 June 20, 2006

Posted by fukumimi in IT, Japanese, TechCrunch.
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ご存知TechCrunchはMichael Arringtonが主催するWeb2.0ブログ。数ヶ月前からはフランス語版もあり、こちらはフランスで有数の人気を誇るブログに成長しているとか。

TechCrunch(US)の記事の翻訳だけでなく、日本のWeb2.0の話題も取り上げる予定とか。( さらにこれが本家でも発信される可能性があるらしい)