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Sharp signals offensives in the display market September 3, 2007

Posted by fukumimi in electronics, Japan.
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Sharp released details of its new touchscreen integrated display, which does not require a touchscreen module overlay.

Unlike traditional touchscreens which are based on resistive or (as in the case of the iPhone) capacitative approaches, the Sharp approach is based on an optical approach, with an array of optical sensors integrated into the LCD display. The Sharp touchscreen display supports multi-touch by default, with individually addressable optical sensors for each pixel on the display (which is a 3.5 inch high resolution half VGA display). The advantage of this optical approach compared to the capacitative approach as employed by the iPhone is that any object can trigger the touchscreen mechanism (an iPhone touchscreen would not respond to input by a gloved finger or the tip of a long nail, for example which makes it less than easy to use for young girls with long manicured nails who tap keys with their nails)

Sharp claims that the aperture ratio for these optical sensor integrated LCD panels is on a par with their existing LCD panels, which means no more light is blocked by the addition of the optical sensor array, maintaining brightness compared to their existing displays. As there is a non-negligible insertion loss associated with a traditional touchscreen overlay which can be avoided with this new approach, better power efficiency can be achieved for the same external brightness performance.

The optical array can also act as a scanner to read barcodes, business cards and the like.

The integrated approach theoretically allows for a thinner module than a traditional LCD + touchscreen overlay approach.

This follows on Sharp’s announcement earlier in the month showing off its vision for LCD flat panel displays in the near future, which featured 50V display with a thickness of just 20-29mm, improved power consumption and lighter weight, clearly stating that Sharp sees the future with LCD, rather than EL technologies (specifically OLED).

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Toyota to launch plug-in hybrid Prius July 19, 2007

Posted by fukumimi in electronics, Energy, Japan.
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The Asahi Shimbun reports that Toyota is set to file papers to allow it to test a new plug-in hybrid version of its Prius on the open road.

A fully electric plug-in vehicle of reasonable proportions for a single car household at a reasonable price and energy efficiency is still a way off, thus this plug-in hybrid approach is attractive, assuming that the electricity generation and delivery process results in a net decrease in CO2 emissions (which is a fair assumption given the current state of the electricity generation industry, and especially if the recharging is done preferentially at low power usage times where a proportionately higher percentage of the power generation is non-fossil fuel derived).

The technical highlight is the fact that Toyota are apparently switching to Li-ion technology.

A single full charge is only good for 15-20km range in full EV mode, but with advances in telematics and other innovations (including perhaps in social infrastructure), a significant portion of the daily use may be runnable in EV mode, at least in certain locales where typical trip distances are small (and even if the car has to revert to normal ICE assisted hybrid mode, the 15-20km worth comes off the top line CO2 footprint)

I think that the key is the improved telematics and other software which will allow maximum exploitation of the electrical storage capacity. Encouraging and educating users to use networked trip planners which are integrated to the in-car navigation and telematics systems would potentially allow an operating profile which maximises stored electrical energy usage. It shouldn’t be too hard for Toyota to build that functionality on top of (or in place of) their G-Book navigation system and integrate with the rest of the car electronics.

Of course, getting away from the whole “owning a car is a status symbol” mindset would be nice, especially in Tokyo. (I fully understand that if one lives in the suburbs or the countryside, one car per person is pretty much mandatory)

Sony does Second Life for PS3 March 9, 2007

Posted by fukumimi in Economy & Business, electronics, Internet, IT, Japan, technology.
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A welcome bit of positive publicity for Sony, with their announcement of Playstation Home, the 3D virtual world for the PS3 platform having received a warm response in much of the reporting around this new service.

I’m not the best person to ask about this kind of stuff as I much prefer interacting with other people in a real physical environment (preferably with alcoholic drinks in hand), but I think this idea may have legs.

Second Life has been receiving plenty of media coverage here in Japan over the last few months, but the media response is shifting. To begin with it was all about how amazing and revolutionary the concept was (which is pretty amusing for anyone who has been around for a while in the space), but now we are seeing some articles (like this one in Japanese) beginning to question the concept and its viability especially in Japan. (from pretty much the same people who were cheerleading before, lol)

A big problem the media has apparently just noticed is the language issue, and the miniscule number of Japanese language users populating the site. Now there’s a surprise.

More fundamentally, Second Life pretty much requires a decent desktop PC with decent graphics card. The reality of PC sales in Japan is that laptops are much more popular even with regular users, what with us Japanese all living in rabbit hutches and paper houses. Further, the gaming market has been dominated by games consoles, and PC gaming is a much smaller niche market than in the US, which means that high spec desktop machines are just not as popular. The net result is that many users are unable to access Second Life, and such people aren’t going to buy a high spec machine just to get onto Second Life.

The Playstation Home on PS3 eliminates the hardware barrier to entry (ok, you need to buy a PS3….). Consumers (especially the non technical ones who would run away screaming at the prospect of having to know what CPU/GPU/RAM specs are for their PC to ensure Second Life compatibility) are guaranteed that any PS3 (with a decent broadband connection, something which is pretty much ubiquitous here in Japan) will be able to run Playstation Home. PS3 owners have a minimal barrier to entry to Playstation Home, and this is something which cannot be underestimated. The fact that the Home environment will apparently be localised for local tastes (the Japanese version was created by Bandai Networks and is more touchy-feely/”cute” than Second Life, but the graphics will likely be changed for other locales (and perhaps even demographics?))

The games within Playstation Home apparently include things like bowling and billiards. I know that the Wii would have difficulty rendering a 3D landscape at anywhere near the PS3 level, but Wii Sports in a networked Wii virtual world with on-line buddies would be pretty damn cool, I think.

Lenovo battery recall…. March 2, 2007

Posted by fukumimi in Economy & Business, electronics, IT.
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205,000 batteries this time, manufactured by Sanyo’s Li-ion battery subsidiary. (Yomiuri)

Sanyo claims the batteries were custom manufactured items for Lenovo and does not expect other customers to be affected.

Couldn’t have come at a worse time for Sanyo, who are currently busy working to rework financial figures for upto the last 4 years having been accused of false accounting amounting to hundreds of millions of dollars….

Kick them when they’re down…. (Asahi article)

Another news item about Sanyo batteries in mobile phones from Sanyo and Kyocera apparently expand alarmingly due to a power management software problem. Said software was developed by Sanyo and Kyocera.

When it rains, it pours, I guess….

On CES 2007 January 12, 2007

Posted by fukumimi in electronics, IT, Mobile.
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Seeing I wasn’t in Las Vegas for CES this year (I promised myself I will make the trip next year), CES attendance was remotely via internet media coverage.

Whilst that meant I didn’t get to see much of the really interesting stuff going on at the grass roots level, most of the eye candy got sufficient coverage so I could get my tech geek fix.

1) On Apple’s cellphone

Yes, it looks nice. Real nice.

But GSM? Multi-year exclusive contract with Cingular? Not coming to Asia until 2008?

Again, Apple shows it can do the slick consumer product and presentation, but it is very old school when it comes to its business strategy. It seems it is another walled garden approach. I suspect the thing won’t even be a real “smartphone”, and will limit third party development to the sandbox of widgets and/or J2ME applets, not nearly the same kind of freedom as made available on real smartphone devices. I guess the thing is targetted not at business users but at Apple fans.

Anyway, technologically, there is really nothing new here. It shows again that UI is what really defines Apple. Full points there, at least as far as the screen GUI is concerned.

However. It doesn’t appear that a tactile feedback mechanism is incorporated into the screen, which will probably slow things down. Audible feedback? Not an option, if one expects to use one in public. I will grab any “iPhone” whose user dares to use one in my vicinity with some lame beeping audible feedback mechanism engaged, and throw it on the ground and stamp on it until the screen breaks. I’d do the same for any user who has a similarly annoying beep beep emanating from their conventional phone. I guess they could keep their headphones on at all times… In any case I just can’t see how the touchscreen can be made as easy to use to type text as even a physical tenkey (which permits blind touch typing) let alone a physical QWERTY thumb keyboard.

Apple going ahead with using “iPhone” although they knew Cisco owned and markets a telephony device of that name? Shows balls, but I have one word for Apple. Hypocrites. They get the lawyers go after anyone within a country mile of any of their trademarks, and then they pull this. Perhaps they think that the voice of their adoring fans will sway the courts. Think again. Cisco isn’t about to be bullied into submission. Cisco is twice as big as Apple.

Steve Jobs saying that phone calls are mobile’s killer app? Wrong answer. ESPECIALLY for the users right bang in the middle of the user profile for the “iPhone”. I’m sure the cool and trendy teenagers and twentysomethings will get annoyed when they realise that it is much more difficult to type their SMS messages and email. I didn’t see much typing being demonstrated at the demo….. I wonder why…..

Wi-Fi is nice, but don’t expect it to be nearly as ubiquitous as cellphone coverage, so data browsing is going to be a nightmare even on EDGE. So much is made of the ability to access the web. I’m not convinced that zooming and moving around sections of a PC format webpage is anywhere near optimal. We have full PC webpage browsing on mobile phones here (with similar zooming and scanning capability), and I (nor hardly any of my acquaintances) hardly ever use it (even with the high resolution screen on the phone). When it comes down to it, content is about substance, not presentation, especially when you are on the move. Do you think you can read a webpage whilst walking with an “iPhone” more easily than with, say, an optimised cHTML page on i-mode? I doubt it. I think it is unavoidable that for user friendly browsing experience on the move, you’ll need to format customised pages for the phone. Despite the protests of graphic designers, the prettiness of a page (ie the use of rounded corners or pastels or overelaborate use of graphics) does not add informational value. Both service providers and users need to get over their stubborn insistence that the mobile web should be similar to the PC web. The reason the Japanese mobile web community has been thriving is fundamentally intertwined with the fact that no such false expectation existed.

2) What is it with those squat cylinders?

Is that like the new “in” look? Both Microsoft and Sony (VAIO VGX-TP1) had them on show. I guess they had to compete with Apple without ripping off the square with rounded corners look. The circle is the new square?

3) TVs

I wonder how much electricity Sharp’s 108V LCD consumes (and how much it costs). My guess? It is more expensive than Panasonic’s 103V PDP to buy, but runs on maybe 20-30% less electricity. Which would still mean drawing more than a kiloWatt of power, which is not very green at all. I wonder how they managed the backlighting of such a wide panel. I guess edge lighting with CCFLs around the perimeter just won’t hack it at those dimensions. So, that would mean either a wasteful CCFL array on the back plane, or a similarly positioned LED array. Former would mean increased energy consumption, latter, increased cost.

Bring on the next generation of RPTVs. Expect to see a 60 inch RPTV (with a depth of between 4 and 6 inches) at around the $2000 price point in about a year, with electricity consumption slashed to a third of that found in similarly sized FPDs based on competing technology.

4) Audio

Really not much to really get me excited here, lots of wireless networking on show, with “digital active” loudspeakers. Colour me sceptical. A vibrating box isn’t the best place to put sensitive electronics, and you still need to shell out for mains cabling, so it isn’t truly wireless in any case. It is OK for run of the mill stuff, but at the high end? Not convinced. I’m still looking to upgrade my CD front end, the search continues. Toying with the idea of a PC based system as discussed previously. (got a new cartridge for my record player last summer – but that is in storage because of the move)

Motorola Razr on NTT DoCoMo December 12, 2006

Posted by fukumimi in electronics, Japan, Mobile.
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Going on sale on thursday (December 14th) is the DoCoMo version of the Motorola RAZR, designated M702iS in DoCoMo-speak. Available in “Hot Pink”, as well as black and silver. It isn’t as slim as the Softbank XS707SC which went on sale last week (which is just 11.9mm thick), but it is the slimmest DoCoMo phone at 14.9mm thick.

People who are familiar with DoCoMo model numbers will see the phone is part of the lower end 70x series, which means it lacks a high res digital camera (only 1.3 Megapixels) and embedded FeLiCa (for contactless payments via Edy, Suica, iD, etc) which are available on 90x series phones. The DoCoMo-RAZR is however the only 70x series phone which will allow global roaming, at least in areas with a W-CDMA network.

Another Li-ion battery fiasco December 8, 2006

Posted by fukumimi in electronics, Japan, Mobile.
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Sanyo Electric, which has a massive 90% share of the Japanese domestic mobile phone battery market (and 40% global market share), is the company at the center of another Li-ion battery fiasco.

Sanyo was aware of at least 11 reports of batteries overheating by May of this year, but neither Sanyo, Mitsubishi Electric (whose phones used the Sanyo manufactured D06 battery) or NTT DoCoMo (which sold the Mitsubishi Electric produced D902i/D902iS/D903 which used the battery) announced a recall until yesterday. The recall was triggered by a case where a user suffered burns due to a faulty battery last month. There have apparently been at least 17 cases of serious overheating (including one case of the battery exploding).

The battery business is one of Sanyo’s key business lines, and was expected to be a core business as Sanyo restructures and sheds loss making business units. Sanyo had brought in an external CEO to rebuild the business and the restructuring has not been going very well. This incident may trigger wider repercussions within Sanyo.

This will come as a blow to DoCoMo as well, they are struggling with users switching to rival au(KDDI) since mobile number portability was introduced back in October.

Keeping the problem quiet for 6 months is not acceptable when consumer safety is at stake. In any case, the recall which affects 1.3 million units will cost up to $50M. The companies are saying that other battery models are unaffected. If it turns out this claim is later withdrawn, heads should roll.

Sony Mylo to launch in Japan October 18, 2006

Posted by fukumimi in electronics, Internet, Japan.
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Sony has apparently decided that it will sell the Mylo in Japan. Available at SonyStyle and shipping from mid-december. Mylo is a handheld “personal communicator” with QWERTY keyboard, wireless LAN connectivity, has Skype and Google Talk installed and the Japanese version also has a music application called Playlog installed, this seems to be a Last.fm type application/web service/SNS type community which allows sharing of listening histories (and communities based around music). Playlog software is also available for PCs, and there is also a blog widget available too.

Unfortunately, Mylo doesn’t do Flash so no YouTube on Mylo, although there is Mylo advertising on YouTube.

There’s also a Mylo blog

Price, JPY45,000.

From eWeek: Are Laser HDTVs on the Horizon? October 16, 2006

Posted by fukumimi in electronics.
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Are Laser HDTVs on the Horizon?

You betcha. (Or at least, we’re betting on it. Our firm has an investment in Novalux)
If eWeek had done its homework, it would have been aware that a couple of Japanese electronics giants have relationships with Novalux (Mitsubishi and Epson), and both Matsushita and Canon have also shown propriatary laser projection TV systems.

RPTV has come a long way, and improvements in screen and optics technologies have produced significant improvements in picture quality and form factor (JVC recently launched a RPTV which is less than 30cm thick which allows wall mounting – it is also significantly lighter than a PDP/LCD screen of comparable size, which also potentially means less reinforcement surgery for your walls).

Laser light engines will allow for even slimmer form factors due to simplified optics requirements and smaller and simpler light engines, reduced weight (again due to the light engine form factor/complexity and  reduced optics), improved colour gamut, improved electrical efficiency and much improved light source lifetimes over existing UHP light bulb technology. Another often underlooked advantage of RPTV technology is its relative eco-friendly nature compared to LCD and PDP technologies. For a start, both LCD and PDP technologies require a lot of glass, which happens to contain not insignificant amounts of lead. Further, the semiconductor content in RPTVs is much, much smaller, which means a lot less semiconductor processing required for each unit. A laser based RPTV also has significant electrical efficiency advantages too.

There will be laser RPTV models on display at CES in Las Vegas in January, hopefully from several manufacturers.

Whilst PDP technology appears attractive on the shop floor with high brightness and apparently crisp images, a comparison of two properly calibrated machines will reveal the superiority of the RPTV devices for a high quality display. Of course, some people will prefer the over-hyped images projected by a badly configured PDP, in the same way that they will be attracted to the boom ‘n’ tizz aural nightmare of a boom box over a real hi-fi.

I’ve seen the future of high end TV in my home, and it is a laser RPTV. At least for the larger form factors and with the requisite ambient environment. (Optimally with a LCoS imaging panel, rather than a DLP implementation, as far as I am concerned)

There will no doubt be a market for PDP displays (especially in commercial settings perhaps, where the need for high brightness and wide viewing angle are pretty much mandatory), but LCD rules the sub-40 inch market and I foresee that next generation RPTVs will be dominant in the 50+ inch market, pushing out PDP. LCDs are growing larger in size too, but manufacturing difficulties and yield issues make mass production of 60+ inch LCDs at a competitive price point unrealistic.
Even at lower price points, the economic arguments for RPTV seem compelling. Certainly one does not need to invest $2-3 Billion for the infrastructure required to produce the required parts, and this must translate into lower prices for the consumer. Both the laser light source manufacturers and imaging device (DLP, LCoS) manufacturers seem confident that a (sustained) $1000 price point for a 60V display is achievable. I doubt that the same can be said for competing technologies, at least not the ones on the market now (or for SED, the Canon/Toshiba effort which has been delayed but may see the light of day next year, finally). Further afield, we may see polymer based display technologies (OLED and the like), but that is likely to be significantly beyond 2010, if they can get things like carrier mobility up to the levels required to display high quality video. (I do think the technical hurdles will be overcome in time, and then with the likes of inkjet printing techniques available will open the door to mass produced large format displays which will be thin and lightweight)

A tale of two ostriches August 21, 2006

Posted by fukumimi in electronics, IT, technology.
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Alternatively known as the Dell/Sony battery fire fiasco.

Dell and Sony knew about and discussed manufacturing problems with Sony-made Lithium-Ion batteries as long as ten months ago, but held off on issuing a recall until those flaws were clearly linked to catastrophic failures causing those batteries to catch fire, a Sony Electronics spokesman said Friday.

From an Infoworld article, dated August 18th.

The two companies knew about and discussed the contamination problem, and the problem was rectified, but they didn’t recall batteries known to be suffering from contamination.

As a result of those conversations, Sony made changes to its manufacturing process to minimize the presence and size of the particles in its batteries. However, the company did not recall batteries that it thought might contain the particles because it wasn’t clear that they were dangerous

I’m sure consumers will be thrilled to buy from manufacturers who when aware of a problem, just cross their fingers and pray that problems won’t occur. That is such an effective and reassuring strategy. Especially when the results of a battery short circuit are not unforseeable.

What we need are batteries which are less susceptible to such catastrophic failures. Electrically rechargeable Zinc/Air battery anyone?