The Mobile Japan


We have all heard of the success that NTT DoCoMo‘s i-mode has had since it’s introduction in 1999. The strength of that business and the adoption of the mobile phone as a data-based tool instead of simply a telephone, is a key to the company’s dominance. i-mode rules due to the Japanese culture’s adoption of the mobile phone as a enabling tool and there are no signs of slowing as evidenced by a few recent news items out of Japan.

Takashi Murakami: Tan Tan Bo

The FOMA F801i, a cell phone just for kids was introduced on Dec 10th. This 3G cell phone has a myriad of functions and is scaled for children’s hands. It comes with a 100 decibel alarm that is activated by pulling a string. This alarm not only deafens everyone around it, it also notifies the family via their mobile phones that the alarm has been activated and then provides the child’s location via GPS. The phone also comes with a locater mechanism worn on a wrist band so little Timmy can find his misplaced phone and most importantly; it’s water proof. The only thing this phone lacks is a kid friendly name like Sparky or RingRing. The F801i? Come on!

Half of the top ten books in Japan this year were written on a mobile phone. Author Rin wrote one the years most successful works, Moshimo Kimiga on a mobile device and has sold 420,000 copies to date. The thought of writing a novel much less reading one on a mobile phone is a leap for most. For those of you that think reading novels on a cell as a pastime for those that embrace pop culture, it is important to note that Dostoevsky’s, The Brothers Karamazov was also released this year and has sold 300,000 copies.

They were not the first but Japan recently hosted a mobile phone film festival in partnership with Forum des images of Paris (examples of French films here). Films range from 60 seconds to 45 minutes and come from 18 countries with a wide range of subjects. I’ve always said that I’m really not interested in watching a film or television show on a mobile device (David Lynch agrees) and yet I’m beginning to think that if I were to see video created for the mobile medium, I may think differently.

SoftBank funded, Cyber University is now offering a class via the mobile phone. The class is free and course information is displayed as video and text. Not exactly sure how testing happens but it is easy to imagine getting some of the answers wrong because people won’t stop calling. It will be interesting to see if this delivery method continues to grow as some already have issues with online education and it’s lack of hands-on experience.

Japan is definitely a testing ground for potential mobile behavior and time will tell if those behaviors can span across cultures.

By Michael Myers