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!

2 Replies to “Japan’s Super Phones”

  1. Thanks for dropping by my blog. Looking at the gadgets in your post makes our office excitement, when one of us got an I Phone, look a bit lame now! What a fabulous trip!

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