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Some additional thoughts on the SB/iPhone news June 4, 2008

Posted by fukumimi in Internet, IT, Japan, Mobile, technology.
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We can stop talking about 3G iPhone  “rumours”. Since SB (and all other Japanese carriers) no longer have legacy 2.xG networks which are actively adding users, a Japanese launch must be equated to 3G. 3G only or 3G+GSM, that is now the question.

Coming just one day after SB’s launch of their ’08 summer collection, one has to wonder what impact the news of iPhone’s launch at some time in the future will have on SB ’08 summer handset sales will be. Given that the two other major carriers have also begun marketing their ’08 summer models, the timing of this announcement could be seen as a spoiler tactic targetting users who might have been thinking of upgrading their phones on rival networks. Many of the upgraders this season will be upgrading into the newly introduced 2-year fixed term contracts for the first time, so this would appear to be a good time to tempt users to switch with a unique offering. IF the iPhone will be a pure SB offering, of course.

SB’s summer ’08 collection launch yesterday was notable for its focus on young women. Women are apparently underrepresented in SB’s customer base, and the announced handset lineup was heavy on models targeted towards women. This may offset the negative impact of the iPhone announcement, a quick strawpoll conducted around the office seemed to suggest that the iPhone will appeal more to techy, geeky young men. The fact that the iPhone form factor and capacitative touchscreen interface isn’t optimal for single handed use especially with long manicured nails counts against the iPhone in the Japanese F1 demographic, for sure. So, targeting women with their summer models and guys with the iPhone may be valid.

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iPhone to be sold through Softbank Mobile in Japan June 4, 2008

Posted by fukumimi in Internet, IT, Japan, Mobile, technology.
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Softbank Mobile’s press release here.

No specifics on timing of launch, price, exclusivity, etc.

The phone hasn’t been through the JATE approval process yet, so it’ll be at least a couple of months before we see it in the shops, based on the usual timelag between JATE approval and products hitting the shelves.

Nintendo DS sales top 18 million July 20, 2007

Posted by fukumimi in Economy & Business, games, IT, Japan, Mobile.
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The Sankei Shimbun reports that domestic sales of the Nintendo DS handheld gaming console has topped 18 million units.

That number translates to one DS for every 7 people. Of course, some of these DSes have been shipped overseas, due to the region-free nature of these devices. Global sales exceeded 40 million units in March, and this suggests there is potential for Nintendo to grow sales outside Japan if it can replicate the model of getting users outside the traditional gaming audience to buy the device.

Most of the DS commercials on TV feature titles which are not games in the traditional sense of the word. There is everything from e-books to brain training to language training to interactive cookbooks and more.

More than a year after the launch of the DS lite, many shops sellout as soon as they stock them. (The Wii is even harder to obtain. The PS3 on the otherhand is plentiful)

I can’t help but wonder if the $100 laptop approach is really a better option than getting Nintendo to supply something based on the DS. Better battery life and real portability.

It can also be used to teach people to actually write as well as type.

i-mode’s global expansion is faltering July 18, 2007

Posted by fukumimi in Economy & Business, IT, Mobile, Overseas, technology.
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Reuters reports that both Telstra (Aus) and O2 (UK) are abandoning i-mode.

I guess this just highlights the difference between the mobile scene in Japan vs elsewhere.

I would like to point out that the following statement from an industry analyst:

 “In the i-mode business model, operators keep only a small amount of content revenue, making most of their money by charging for data network usage,” […] “But regular users of the Internet on mobiles will become increasingly dissatisfied with ‘having the meter running’ while they surf, and the trend is already moving in favour of flat-rate data tariffs.”

is misleading in that flat rate tarrifs are available with i-mode on DoCoMo, and as such the i-mode business model is not tied to a metered data service.

If the reports of the O2/Apple iPhone deal are correct, I would suggest that O2 is betting that users will embrace the “full” internet on the phone and make i-mode redundant.

I’m still not convinced that continously zooming and scrolling to read a page not optimized for a phone’s limited size is the best option for users….

The iPhone’s magic powers of memory recall July 9, 2007

Posted by fukumimi in IT, Mobile, technology.
3 comments

This post originated as a comment to a post by Michael Parekh on his blog, but it got rather long so I decided to post here instead.

Apparently Michael and his wife have been having some problems with their iPhones, through which he became aware of the ability to auto-restore a dead iPhone (or its replacement) to the last known good configuration. He writes:

The only saving grace of the whole experience was that after re-activating the phone with AT&T via iTunes, I got a very welcome message in iTunes, asking if I’d like to automatically restore my wife’s phone, with all her data and settings.

Apparently, unbeknown-st to me, iTunes had made a backup of her phone (and presumably mine), and was able to fully restore her new iPhone to be a familiar clone of the old one in about 20 minutes. Including the personal picture she was using as her start page “wall-paper”.

That helped restore my shaken faith a bit in Apple’s newest baby.

So, I guess the unlimited data plan conveniently masks the fact that Apple is uploading data from your phone to their servers, apparently without the knowledge or explicit consent of the user.

[Update: Having thought about this a bit more, it is possible (read: I hope) that the data sync is just occuring between the iPhone and the iTunes software on the user’s PC. That would mean of course that users who don’t sync their iPhone to iTunes regularly will not be able to take advantage of the restoration functionality. On balance, I’d greatly prefer this alternative scenario (with its attendant “inconveniences”, given the implications of the original hypothesis. The scenario below which is based on server-side backup is, for me, rather uncomfortable, even as a law abiding citizen with no major skeletons in my closet. In any case, I think Apple would be well advised to clarify how they are doing this, especially as their chosen carrier partner is at&t – recall the at&t/Narus/NSA case.]

Handy indeed for the times your iPhone breaks, or when you drop it in the toilet, or it gets stolen, but I have to wonder what people would say if the same kind of “convenience feature” was executed by a Microsoft (or even Google these days) without explicit user approval. (I’m assuming that no such approval exists (or is buried in the small print), I don’t have an iPhone and haven’t read through the ULAs or other legal documentation.)

I wonder how aggressive the data backup is. Michael says “all [the] data” was backed up. There are things like the address book, sent/received emails (esp. those sent via WiFi), browser bookmarks, browser history (again, especially usage via WiFi), browser cookies (ditto), calendar entries, notes, which they would not have access to by just monitoring the at&t network.

Given a phone is a personal device making the user that much more identifiable, the privacy issues are worth consideration, I think.

iTouch sold for $191M July 4, 2007

Posted by fukumimi in Economy & Business, Internet, Japan, Mobile.
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Just a few months after For-Side.com sold its iTouch subsidiary (apparently for around $100M, and not GBP33M as I saw quoted elsewhere) to a group led by iTouch’s ex-CEO, iTouch has been flipped to the Italian mobile content firm Buongiorno for $191M.

$91M in 4 months isn’t bad.

But it does beg the question, did For-Side.com’s executives shop the deal around sufficiently to get the best price, as they would be expected to do by their shareholders?

Gmail now available on all major mobile carriers (in Japan) April 10, 2007

Posted by fukumimi in Japan, Mobile.
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Joy!

Gmail can now be accessed using the standard mobile phone browsers on DoCoMo and Softbank, as well as au. (reported here)

I see that there was no mention of Willcom or new entrant eMobile. I guess these providers don’t penalise users for using full browser sites in the way that the traditional mobile carriers do and is less of an issue anyway. (plus I think virtually all the handsets for these carriers have full internet capable browsers installed, mainly Opera Mobile?)

As a Gmail user, in the past I’ve resorted to using the full browser capability on my DoCoMo phone when I needed to check my personal email whilst out and about. (Another way was to use a reformatting proxy service like Mobazilla, but sending login information to some proxy isn’t my idea of fun)

Now that Gmail is supported on the standard mobile browser, no more extra data packet charges beyond the flat rate charge for i-mode.

Joooooooy. (in my best Stimpy voice)

(For really private or business sensitive correspondances, obviously I use more secure methods which a) do not involve Google, and b) involve encryption – oddly correspondances related to my day job don’t seem to be afforded any where near the same level of security, but then I don’t make those rules)

Mobile game and SNS site tops 4 million users March 13, 2007

Posted by fukumimi in games, Internet, Japan, Mobile, Shopping.
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mbga.jp, the mobile phone portal offering games, avatars and social networking, has announced that has exceeded 4 million users on March 10th. mbga.jp is run by DeNA,  a rival for Rakuten in the retail e-commerce sector with its virtual shopping mall and on-line auction services, and run by ex-McKinsey consultant (Ms.) Tomoko Nanba.

The portal opened its doors last February, and mbga.jp seems to be the front runner in the games and SNS sector, as far as dedicated services for mobile phones are concerned.
This is reflected in the age of its users, more than half (56%) are aged 19 or below, with another 32% of users in their twenties.  Mobile phones are becoming the major device from which younger users are accessing the internet, according to a Netratings report published last November. Over the last 6 years, the percentage of people in their twenties who access the internet from a home PC has plummeted from 23.6% to 11.9%, which is barely above the percentage of people in their fifties. Interestingly, the percentage of people in their thirties who access the internet from a home PC has also declined (from 27% to 24%), whereas the 40+ age groups all saw an increase. The ~19 age group has increased from 17.3% to 20.9%, but even this growth is lower than that seen by the 40~49 age group, who went from 19.5% to 24%, tying with the 30~39 age group as the most active users of the internet via their home PC. Facta has an interesting article which details the statistics quoted above in graphical form (in Japanese only unfortunately), which notes that younger people, especially once they start working, are less and less exposed to a PC, a trend which may result in another digital divide between users who can use a PC and those who rely more heavily on their mobile phones. But the numbers do bode well for services which target the mobile phone, especially with regards to a younger user group. The current teenagers and twenty-somethings are likely to take their behaviour with them even as they grow older.

The success of mbga.jp and the fact that it has survived competition against players like Rakuten and Yahoo! Japan in the PC web based businesses it runs is reflected in the share price for DeNA, which has steadily risen since the IPO in early 2005, in contrast to many of the hyped internet IPOs. The company is current valued at JPY181B, or a little over $1.5B, which must make Nanba-san the most successful female Japanese internet entrepreneur.

And in contrast to many of the internet entrepreneurs who have hit the jackpot bringing overseas business models and simply localising them for the Japanese market, mbga.jp has the potential to be a model which can be successfully exported elsewhere. Nanba-san is better qualified than most to make DeNA a global leader in mobile content, with her McKinsey and Harvard MBA background.

NTT DoCoMo unveils product strategy for winter 2007 February 8, 2007

Posted by fukumimi in Japan, Mobile.
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NTT DoCoMo has announced (news article here in Japanese) that all phones in its flagship 90x series which are expected to hit the shops this winter will all have ISDB-T receiver to receive digital mobile TV (so-called one-seg) broadcasts. All 905 series phones will also be HSDPA compatible 3.5G phones (max download speed of 3.6Mbps), and will allow global roaming with the integration of GSM.

The phones in the stores now are the 903 series, and there will be a 903iS range out for the summer and a 904 series before the 905 series hit the stores.

One could look at this information release as an attempt to keep users on DoCoMo until the winter, and that the 903iS/904 phones aren’t going to feature anything groundbreaking. DoCoMo has struggled recently since MNP kicked in, with January subscription numbers seeing au way ahead with a net 200,000 increase in user base, compared to DoCoMo gaining just 7,000. The strategy may backfire though, because with these interesting handsets on the horizon, users surely aren’t going to switch to new 903/903iS/904 handsets which are just more of the same when the 905 seems to pack in many more features. If I were a mobile handset maufacturer, I’d throttle back on production and sales targets for the interim models.

On locked vs unlocked phones January 30, 2007

Posted by fukumimi in IT, Japan, Mobile.
4 comments

A rebuttal to Michael Parekh‘s analysis

From the CNET article cited in Michael’s piece:

In Asia, about 80 percent of cell phones are sold independently of a carrier. And in Europe, roughly 70 percent of cell phones are sold unlocked. But in the U.S., between 90 percent and 95 percent of cell phones are sold through a mobile service provider.

Michael’s analysis:

This of course has resulted in a market that offers far greater array of wireless software and services in overseas wireless markets as compared to ours.

The problem with the analysis?

Answer: Japan

In Japan, 99%+ of phones are locked to a carrier. (Nokia has started selling an unlocked phone recently)

Yet, Japan’s wireless services are as advanced as any overseas market. Devices, network speed, sites optimised for mobile phones. By any metric, Japan is a top tier cellular wireless market.

Software (apart from maybe games) for wireless devices isn’t a very big market, but that is due to the fact that most phones have closed operating systems.

The thing is, with an ubiquitous high speed network, the goal is towards web services/SaaS, as touted for the PC in the US. I think the Japanese mobile market is pretty much there already. For example, I only have a basic calendar application on my phone, but I never use it because at work we have a web based calendaring app, which also has optimised mobile phone access. Virtually all mobile internet services are accessible from any of the major carriers.

With 3/3.5G networks covering the whole nation, including all underground stations, I can’t think of many places where I would need wireless service but couldn’t get it, apart from vacations on mountains and ininhabited islands where I would actually rather not being a phone call away from work related stress.

One more thing. Japanese phones have moved from SMS to real email years ago. Isn’t it time everyone else did the same? That would be a real killer app.

I don’t mean to support the strategy of locking phones to carriers, rather I just want to point out that services innovation (at least of the kind which is useful to the masses) and locking phones to carriers are not linked in the way that some people think (or would like people to think).