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au My Page – Mobile personalized homepages and data storage in the sky for the masses is already here December 19, 2006

Posted by fukumimi in Communications, Internet, Japan, Mobile.
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Not being an au/KDDI subscriber, I haven’t had the opportunity to try this, but My Page is a new (free) service launched by the #2 Japanese mobile telco which provides homepage personalisation, on-line data storage (photos and mail) and with both PC/mobile access. No syncing is currently provided, but they give you a full 100Mb of storage, which is probably plenty for most users. Basically, 20million+ users have the capability to access these services already. (depending on the phone you have, the range of functionality which can be used will vary)

My Page also provides some tools like calendar, photo album, blog, SNS, local search, all accessible from both mobile and PC. Search is provided by Google, of course.

DoCoMo has offered a similar service (but with SyncML based syncing of data between handset and server), but it costs (albeit just 100 yen a month) and only provides 4Mb storage. Because this is an extra service, I strongly suspect that user numbers are way lower than on au.

With the vast majority of phones having closed operating systems and with the carriers controlling the handset feature set, one might suspect that this would lead to a stifling of innovation. However, this market shows emphatically that this is not necessarily the case.

It is fine for independent software companies to produce mobile apps (and good luck to them), but for the average user, having to download applications is a turn-off and this leads to a substantial adoption barrier (bar the tech-savvy early adopter crowd).

The evolution of the mobile internet market in Japan is obviously different from that of the US (and virtually every other geography where internet connectivity is mainstream). The Japanese mobile internet market (and without a strict walled garden approach, I think the use of the term “internet” is appropriate here) evolved nearly concurrently with mainstream internet adoption on the PC platform.

Indeed, many users had their first taste of the internet on their phones, using i-mode or ezweb or JSky (as it was then, back in the J-Phone days). Japanese mobile users have had internet email access as default for years. No-one thinks twice about sending email from/to a PC from a phone, or vice-versa.

Whereas in the US (and elsewhere), the PC internet came first, and wireless is still barely there. It seems that the US mobile model can’t shake loose the memory of the way things unfolded on the PC. And why are we still stuck with SMS (I say this as a UK mobile phone user)???

In a comparison between the “closed” Japanese model, and the “open” US/European model, from a functionality perspective (and prices aren’t outrageous either), the Japanese model seems to have delivered more to users, faster, more efficiently (and created more successful mobile internet companies and IPOs).

And I put this down to the fact that the Japanese market did not yet have a “successful” PC model to copy, and the fact that the mobile telcos were more aware of their strong position and were able to position themselves at the center of the value chain, holding all the cards.

Also perhaps to the fact that users were perhaps more comfortable with the idea of a handset being an integrated unit (hardware, OS, applications, connectivity) rather than having an implicit expectation of being able to add applications as one would expect in the PC paradigm.

Anyway, this is a roundabout way of saying that, whilst I extend my best wishes for the dozens of ventures who are building mobile apps, I’d like to see a single example of a standalone application model which has worked in the mobile arena. And by worked, I mean penetration of the mass market, not a few thousand technophile early adopters.
For without a doubt, the mobile internet model is already a resounding success in Japan (many users use their phones to access data than to make phone calls), and stuff like mobile advertising (which relies on a mobile internet content ecosystem to get off the ground) is really old news.

I can see that mobile telcos elsewhere appear to be less than enthusiastic about opening up their systems (even with an open content approach, the telcos would still make good money on communication charges), but seeing how people like DoCoMo and au(KDDI) seem to be doing fine, isn’t it about time that all players involved in the mobile game wake up and think about what is best for the consumers? If it means a shift in power balance, so be it – although looking at the strategies of the mobile telcos elsewhere, there are companies who really need to get with the programme and stop thinking like legacy telcos and approach mobile differently.

It is clear that compared to the US and Europe, mobile users in Japan are clear winners – and mobile businesses and investors haven’t done badly either.

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