Japan’s Super Phones

I had a chance to visit the KDDI Design Center in Harajuku right at the base of Takeshita-dori (well worth a visit if you get a chance) as well as a few electronics stores to see what’s on offer from the major operators. Here’s some of the highlights of what I saw.

Casio Exilim 8.1 megapixel phone The obligatory 8.1 megapixel camera phone. Some of the specs include a wide angle lens, a 3.1-inch, 480 x 800 pixel OLED display, and a video mode that films in VGA at 30 frames per second.
Reviewed on engadget.

Animated Cover DisplayOver 90% of the phones in Japan are flip phones so the outside cover display is important for things like date/time, signal & battery meters, and scrolling message previews. Many of the models I saw featured a display that was behind a mirror type cover (you can see my camera in this photo) that makes these displays more subtle when they are sitting out on the table during a meeting. Some of the models offered for women double as mirrors so you can check your make-up.

Bluetooth settings pageThe graphics on the phones were truly stunning. Not only was the resolution magnificent, the graphics complimented the fit and finish of the phones beautifully. The example to the left is the settings page for the phone’s bluetooth feature. The idle page (as people in Nokia call the homescreen of the phone) was also a place where a lot of time was spent to create an experience with beautiful visualizations of simple things such as the time.

TV on the PhoneThe average person spends two hours a day on the train commuting to and from work or school so many phones have built in television antennas to pick up broadcast TV using a technology called 1seg. These phones are equipped to make the transition to digital television next year and, with enough on-board storage, could even begin to act as pocket Tivos.

I’m still learning the ins-and-outs of the cell phone operator business but it’s curious why we don’t see more of these phones outside of Japan. The Japanese domestic market is cut-throat and margins on these devices are razor thin so there’s not a lot of money to be made on these devices for the manufacturers that make them (indeed, Nokia’s pulled out of marketing devices for the Japanese market for all but their high-end Vertu brand).

When I asked around, people told me the PR and marketing of having a leading device was more important than the revenues. I can see what they are driving at when you see a specialized sports phone branded by G-Shock and the 8.1 megapixel camera phone from Casio as well as the TV phone by Sharp. Each of these devices help position their company for their other products and become extensions of their other products.

Fujitsu NetbookThe last image is obviously not a phone but I include it because it’s an example of the full featured laptops that are on sale from the cell phone vendors. They are subsidized so you can pick one up for under $100 with a two year wireless data plan (about $40/month). Most run Windows XP so if you throw Skype onto one of these things along with your bluetooth headset, it could work as a phone.

Yes, that’s a standard sized business card on the keyboard. Don’t think anyone’s going to write the next great novel on this machine but it certainly is an impressive feat of miniaturization!

MyBlogLog does Social Analytics

The MyBlogLog team are back at it again with the release of Topics. This was the last thing I worked on when I was finishing up and it’s great to see a vision realized. As their blog post says, there are almost 650,000 MBL members interacting with the social web and as each person clicks, favs, diggs, etc they are leaving bits and pieces of their intention all across the web.

When we first started to look at the data that was coming through everyone’s aggregated lifestreams, we remained true to the principle that we would not try and archive everything coming through. We wanted to be part of the messaging bus but the sheer cost of trying to archive all this information and try and organize it was something best left to the big search engines.

We did recognize the value of the data and the idea was that we would strip off the meta-data and original links and use the meta-data in interesting ways and point back to the original source. Topics is just that, a first instance, I believe, of something they are calling social analytics. A moving chart showing the “most interesting” phrases being linked to, shared, and discussed among the MyBlogLog community.

MyBlogLog TopicsThe chart above is from today, it shows today’s top topics with Bettie Page (RIP), and WordPress 2.7 topping the charts. You can scroll back into the past to see how these terms fared in the past (curious to see a little blip from Bettie Page back on 11/19 – wonder what that was about?). Then there’s a link to previous days so you can go back and see what was hot yesterday and the respecting histories of those phrases.

There’s a lot of thinking that went into what looks pretty simple. Not only is there a lot of crunching going on to process every tweet, blog post, photo, delicious link, etc that runs through the system, there’s also some text abstraction to make a jumble of words clump together (color = colour, etc).

For those that grumble that MyBlogLog never sends them any traffic, there’s something for you too. Down below each day’s chart is a list of the top headlines around each topic. Remember, these are MyBlogLog members’ so it’s nice and open where anyone really has a shot to get ahead of the news and write something authoritative.

Keep rockin’ it MyBlogLog!

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Software for your Nokia E71

UPDATE: I’ve now created a dedicated page for mobile software that I recommend. Go to Software for your Nokia to see the latest.

Following up on yesterday’s post about more unique uses for GPS, here’s some stuff I’m running on my Nokia E71 which I’m finding really useful.

Traffic Pilot – download the client to your phone and turn it into a traffic sensor. When running, your location is tracked and used to determine average speed. Crowdsourcing everyone who is running Traffic Pilot is then used to figure out if a road is congested or not. I’ve been using Traffic Pilot for the past few weeks and comparing it to traffic reports on NPR and KCBS and it’s often determined congestion before the incidents are reported on the radio.

Included is a link to “Traffic Report” which will read off conditions for the roads in your area with a helpful scroll bar so you can rewind back if you miss something. Coming soon, Traffic Pilot will use your daily commute patterns to learn which routes you take and send you an SMS if there’s any trouble reported on any of the routes.

Screenshot – useful tool I found to take screenshots of your cellphone screens. It’s not “signed” for the E71 so you need to use the Symbian Signed site to upload the .sis file and get a link to a signed versionThere’s no “camera” key on the E71 so you need to change the default. I use the Backspace key with the 2 second timer.

Google Maps with Streetview – it’s now out for Nokia’s Symbian OS. Figure out what that dive bar your friend told you about looks like from the street.

Skype Lite – for low-cost international dialing. I use it when connected via wi-fi.

Sports Tracker tracks your workouts and plots them on a map which you can share with your buddies. You need a MicroSD memory card (SanDisk 8GB microSD)
to run it for some reason.  Nokia Research is hosting a version of  Sports Tracker that runs on an E71.

Be sure to check out the Solace theme which brings in all the N86 icons and adds a nice gloss to the menus.

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5 Uses for Low Cost GPS Tracking

With low cost GPS tracking devices, it is now make it economically feasible to electronically “tag” people and things that you love. A couple of examples:

  1. Lobster Pots
  2. Celebrities such as Simon Cowell
  3. The baby Jesus statue in the nativity
  4. Your pet dog
  5. Lingerie???

But no one has come up with the most obvious application suggested to me by Yahoo Researcher Marc Davis. It’s got to be out there. Has anyone added the ability to turn on your phone’s GPS from a desktop browser so you can find your phone when you’ve lost it?

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Transfer Funds by Simply Dialing

I’m still in the Gee Whiz phase of my learning about the mobile phone industry. The ease at which someone uses SMS to text a cab reservation in Helsinki taught me to look at SMS as a command line for the real world and today I’m learning about mobile SMS banking.

My colleague Jan Chipchase (his blog, Future Perfect, which covers culture and technology is fascinating btw) points to a video which (complete with “natty soundtrack”) shows SMS fund transfers in action in rural India.

Just as parts of Eastern Europe skipped over laying telephone cables and went straight to cellular, the third world, where there is no established banking infrastructure, is jumping ahead to mobile electronic banking.

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LA Times files Chapter 11, is Googlezon upon us?

Last year in April, I put out an open wager that one of the top 100 newspapers in America would stop printing it’s daily paper. The wager had a long horizon and the service changed hands from something called BluBet to dotblu so I lost track of it but a tweet from an old Dow Jones colleague prompted me to do a bit of research.

141 people joined me in my wager and 89% of them went along with my prediction that someone on this list would halt print operations. We were wrong on the timeline (compare 2005 & 2007 newspaper circulation figures) but The Christian Science Monitor announced in October that they would cease print operations in April 2009. Today we read that the Tribune Company, owners of the Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times (to name a few) is re-organizing under Chapter 11.

One under appreciated consequence to GM, Ford, or Chrysler going under is that the auto dealerships they support are a huge source of newspaper advertising revenue. My local paper has an entire section devoted to a couple of fluff reviews and many pages of automobile ads, both full-pagers for the dealerships and several pages for the classifieds. Without this subsidy, one wonders how the papers will carry on?

Is the daily paper a luxury of times past? Remember the 8-minute short, Epic 2014?  There was a quote in there, “The New York Times becomes a print-only newsletter for the elderly and elite.” That quote was a flashpoint for me when I heard this back in 2004. The line that hits me today is,

Microsoft responds to Google’s mounting challenge with Newsbotster, a social news network and participatory journalism platform. Newsbotster ranks and sorts news based on what each user’s friends and colleagues are reading and viewing, and it allows everyone to comment on what they see.

Although Facebook didn’t exist when this film was made, the Evolving Personalized Information Construct sounds a lot like Facebook Connect to me. Is this a good thing?

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Branding Personal Technology

When devices get more personal, it is increasingly more important for people to brand their device to signal their personality. Watches have always been a popular vehicle to carry corporate brands. In Silicon Valley it’s become popular to slap stickers on your laptop to show your allegiances. As devices move mainstream, embedded branding is a premium for which people pay extra.

The example above is of a Hello Kitty netbook that comes from Japan (available in the US from the grey marketer, Dynamism). Most have seen the Prada phone (photo) but in Japan I also saw a new phone branded by Coach.

Other examples above include the Yahoo shortcut embedded into every phone you buy from Softbank which I hear also requires each buyer of the iPhone to set up a Yahoo account and set Yahoo to the phone browser’s home page before you can leave the store. The Disney phone didn’t do so well in the United States but due to the ravenous popularity of the little mouse items in Japan, I think it will fare much better.

What other examples of successful branding have you seen?

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Yahoo on Widget Architecture

I was at the local Mobile Monday event last night to learn more about Yahoo’s Blueprint development framework and soak up some of the local mobile scene. One of the presenters, sorry, didn’t catch his name, was the UI Designer and he Bill Bull, Head of Platform UED, made a very insightful comment about web development.

usatoday.com is a website – our expectation is that it will change every day as new content is available.

Microsoft Word is an application – we expect it to work the same way every day.

Modern websites such as Facebook or the new Yahoo (Metro) home page are a collections of widgets that change and update themselves as new features get pushed out. It’s a mistake to think of widgets installed on a mobile device as applications, they need to be architected as dynamic pieces of code that can update themselves as new features become available or as new devices offer new capabilities. The update mechanism is a fundamental feature of any web-enabled widget.

Nokia’s Netbook, the N97

I was going to write a post about all the amazing phones I saw last week while I was in Japan but this morning’s announcement of the latest Nokia device trumps that. Techmeme is smothered with coverage.

I’ve been watching the convergence of the smartphone and laptop computer into a single device called a netbook. While Verizon is subsidizing Dell netbooks, Japan’s EMobile will give you an Acer netbook for $100 if you sign up with them. Instead of jamming a desktop OS into a tiny form factor, Nokia is approaching it from another angle and building from the mobile device up with a collection of swappable widgets.

The difference in approach is that a tiny laptop netbook is designed to run client software while the powerful phone netbook is designed to be an extension of web services that you run out of the cloud, optimized with GPS sensors and a camera for data capture.

UPDATE : things have evolved

“A netbook is for the coffee shop or airplane or subway ride. For watching a movie, checking email, updating Twitter, fast, mobile stuff,” writes Dave Winer. For that, I think the N97 fits the bill quite nicely.