jump to navigation

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

Posted by fukumimi in Internet, IT, Japan, Mobile, technology.

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.

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

Posted by fukumimi in Internet, IT, Japan, Mobile, technology.

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.

“The tyrrany of qwerty” December 21, 2007

Posted by fukumimi in blogosphere, Japan, Personal Blogroll, technology.

Gen has a post titled as above, referencing an article in which he was quoted.

As comments are still broken chez Kanai, I’m got to write about it here. (Gen: hint. ditch MT ;-))

Gen writes:

My quote is:

“To a certain extent, Asia is a slave to the alpha keyboard, [..]”

I’m pretty sure I said qwerty keyboard, but I’ll let Jeff slide 😉

I’d posit that Jeff’s liberal quote is more accurate. It is not really QWERTY that is the problem, as Dvorak or Maltron or any of the other proposed keyboard layouts which also assume alphanumeric requirements are equally “guilty”.

Gen’s quote continues:

“Many input methods for languages like Chinese and Japanese require knowledge of the Roman alphabet to use, which is crazy when you think of it. Imagine if the PC was developed in China and everyone in the rest of the world needed to know Chinese before inputting their own alphabet. Well, that’s the case for a lot of PC users in China and Japan.”

The more important point is this. Japanese input does not _require_ any knowledge of the Roman alphabet. OK, so Gen said “many”, but to ignore the fact that Japanese PCs come as standard with an ability to input text based on the Japanese alphabet is glossing over a not so trivial detail. All common keyboards sold in Japan have letters of the Japanese alphabet assigned in parallel to the alphanumeric markings (and there are plenty of keys to cover the entire Japanese alphabet. Typically the space bar is also shortened to add a few extra buttons to do things like hira/kata switching). You can even buy keyboards with markings which gives more prominence to the Japanese alphabet than the roman alphabet. I bet Gen’s Macbook has a US keyboard…. 🙂

And as for the software side of things, all common OSes understand the key mappings required to type in Japanese. (And creating a new driver for any new input device is trivial)

I know literally just one single person who actually uses Japanese alphabet input in preference to phonetic (roman alphabet) input on their PC, though.

The current Japanese keyboard format is the so-called “old” JIS format, they actually tried to popularise a newer version but they killed that off due to lack of traction….

I guess if we were to design a Japanese keyboard from scratch, would it contain keys in 5 rows rather than 4? (to reflect the traditional set of 5 grouping in the Japanese alphabet) Do we set up the groups right to left in the traditional layout, or do we go for a layout which is closer to the existing JIS layout? Do we even want to bother in the increasingly heterolingual world we live in? Would there be a real productivity increase?

Mixi to join the OpenSocial bandwagon? November 2, 2007

Posted by fukumimi in Internet, Japan, Media, technology.

The Nikkei is reporting that Mixi, Japan’s largest SNS is jumping on the OpenSocial bandwagon.

No official announcement from either Mixi or Google as of noon on Friday Japan time, even though the MySpace announcement  also mentioned in the Nikkei article is the subject of a release from Google.

The Mixi tie-up, if it does materialize, would be an interesting development, given Mixi’s dominant position within the Japanese SNS scene.

Whilst I think opening up is great for users, and is the only way “also rans” can hope to compete with dominant players, it is interesting to see someone in the position that Mixi is in embracing the concept.

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

Posted by fukumimi in Economy & Business, IT, Mobile, Overseas, technology.
add a comment

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.

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.

Today’s energy conservation tip June 18, 2007

Posted by fukumimi in Energy, technology.
add a comment

A group led by researchers at AIST (the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology) have found that adding hair conditioner to the water used in water circulating air conditioning systems (as commonly found in office buildings and the like), can dramatically reduce energy consumption used to circulate water in the system. OK, the boffins at AIST didn’t really put hair conditioner in the water, rather just a surfactant mix. But as this Asahi article points out, surfactants are a main functional ingredient of hair conditioner.
The test was performed using Sapporo City Hall, a 19 floor building (+2 underground floors) which has an air conditioning system with a 37kW rated output pump which circulates 32 tonnes of water through the air conditioning unit.

The energy savings found appear impressive. The AIST team calculated that by adding just 0.5wt% (ok, that is still about 150kg…) of generic surfactant into the water, the pump could be driven at 30% reduced speed, which translates into a power reduction of around 65%. For the Sapporo City Hall, this translates to a potential annual reduction of the electricity bill by JPY630,000, and a reduction in CO2 of 32 tonnes/yr.

This kind of fairly low tech solution is all the more attractive because it is potentially so easy to replicate on a massive scale.  I wonder how many buildings have air conditioning units which might be able to accomodate modifications to take advantage of this research?

Here in Japan, energy consumption peaks during hot summer days, when air conditioners are on full blast in all those office buildings. If this research can be applied on a wide scale, a significant reduction in electricity consumption due to air conditioning units can be achieved. This has the additional benefit of specifically reducing peak load electricity consumption, most of which is generated by fossil fuel burning power stations. All electricity is not created equal, peak load electricity has a higher carbon footprint than base load power a significant proportion of which is drawn from nuclear capacity.

There is also an economical argument for reducing peak load consumption for building owners and tenants too, as commercial electricity unit costs are determined using a formula which incorporates peak load consumption.

(There are potential issues about discharging surfactant loaded water during maintenance of course, but I suspect that the problems are addressable….)

Sony does Second Life for PS3 March 9, 2007

Posted by fukumimi in Economy & Business, electronics, Internet, IT, Japan, technology.
add a comment

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.

Some more Wii related thoughts February 28, 2007

Posted by fukumimi in games, technology.

Gizomodo (via *michael parekh on IT*)

A picture speaks a thousand words, the picture captures the brilliance of the Wii. Blue Ocean Strategy indeed. (And it wasn’t a one off fluke either, the DS’s strong sales performance is built on the same fundamental philosophies)

And on a more business oriented note, Wii Remote + RoR + SAP BW!!!, a demonstration of the Wii Remote as the UI device for a business app. I can certainly think of uses for supporting multiple UI devices on a shared large format screen , complete with tactile feedback of clickable UI rollovers (though most of my ideas don’t involve SAP backends). No more fighting over the mouse, and you can walk around whilst you do things on screen…

Looking at the way the Colgate-Palmolive guys were able to lash up a IR triangulation bar thingy so easily, led me to think that an IR bar + bluetooth dongle set (and a business version of the Wii remote?) with requisite drivers etc would probably be a marketable proposition. I think a standalone (bluetooth or USB) Wii Nunchuk is pretty close to an ideal mouse replacement for portable laptop users who don’t like trackerballs and don’t always have some flat surface to use a mouse on. On that note, JVC/Victor had a device which was probably a little ahead of its time. The Nunchuk probably wouldn’t have sold very well as a mouse replacement on its own, but as many users become used to manipulating the Nunchuk through their exposure to the device on Wii, the learning curve is slashed. I’d like to see one with a retractable cable, and perhaps a slimmer form factor. It is probably mostly just empty space inside anyway. I guess the guys who OEM the Nunchuk for Nintendo can have this idea for free.

I’ve noticed that the IR bar seems to move from its precisely positioned spot on top of my TV. (I’m still lumbered with a 32inch CRT, partly because I am apparently overly fussy about image artefacts which plague LCD and PDP screens (which are becoming very negligible), and HDTV broadcasts in general, which are often butchered somewhere in the production/broadcasting process and exhibit compression alogorithm artefacts which become annoyingly noticeable once your eye and brain notices them, also partly because our TV works fine for now and it has been deemed inappropriate to buy a new toy at this time.)

Yes, I should probably use the included sticky pads, but I’m afraid it will leave a nasty stain when (if) I remove said device from my old TV to a new one (when that will be I don’t know).

I was thinking that getting the bar to sit on the narrow ledge of a LCD/PDP would be even more precarious, and the cable dangling from the IR bar is rather unsightly. So, I suggest that Nintendo offers a co-branding opportunity to the highest bidder to produce a flat panel TV with integrated IR bar. I guess integrating a Wii into the TV is going a bit too far. (But then Sharp does have a TV with a PC integrated into it. Or is it the other way around? The so-called Internet Aquos series)

Wii whipping ass in the US February 22, 2007

Posted by fukumimi in Economy & Business, games, technology.
1 comment so far

The January sales numbers for games console sales in the US (courtesy of NPD via Reuters and Yahoo Japan) are being reported, showing Wii as being the clear winner for the month, with 436,000 units.

The 2nd place goes, perhaps surprisingly, to Playstation 2. Yes, two, not three. 299,000 units sold.

3rd up is Xbox360, 294,000 units. I guess having shifted more than 10 million units in 2006 having gotten to market much earlier than its rivals PS3 and Wii, maybe Xbox360 sales are running out of steam having sold to its core customer base and with Wii gaining plaudits for getting non-gamers on board much more effectively than its rivals, it may be a hard slog ahead for MSFT.

At the back of the pack is Playstation3, at 249,000 units. Too expensive and not enough games yet, in my opinion.