GW-317 -- The Hottest Gizmos and Gadgets from Japan

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Japan Inc Magazine Presents:
G A D G E T W A T C H

READ GADGETWATCH ONLINE AT:
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The Hottest Gadgets and Gizmos from Japan
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Issue No. 317 Friday October 10, 2008
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'Media Port UP': the strangest thing Nikon's ever made

Name: Nikon Media Port UP300x
Category: portable AV player
Price: JPY69,800
Release date in Japan: Mid December, 2008

Sorry for the odd article title, but this one's not easy to
describe. Out of nowhere, staid Nikon suddenly announces a
'multimedia playback headset device' dubbed the Media Port UP,
or UP for short. (Pronounce that as individual letters, not as
'up'. As always, there's English-language imagery behind the
name: Nikon offers a half-dozen derivations, including
'universal port', 'ubiquitous player', and 'U (your) pleasure'.)

In Nikon's words, 'This innovative product, which incorporates
display, headphones, mobile A/V player, Wi-Fi capability,
high-capacity memory, and power source in a single compact unit
is the first of its type. The UP allows users to easily enjoy
high-quality images, videos, and music anywhere.'

In short, the UP takes the media player out of your hands and
puts it all on your head. It's a set of full-ear padded
headphones with a tiny arm-mounted video screen that sits in
front of one eye, like something from a sci-fi flick. Nikon says
that despite the tiny 0.44-inch, 640x480-pixel size, the
16-million color backlit LCD display offers the experience of
viewing a 50-inch screen at a 3-meter distance. (Viewed with one
eye only, that is, an experience that sounds decidedly odd.)
Nikon is serious about the hands-free aspect, too: an internal
motion sensor lets you control volume and other features with
head movements alone.

Media is transfered via USB and stored on internal 8GB flash
memory; 802.11b/g WiFi allows downloads of new media, with Nikon
promising a content download service ('UPLINK') and video
sharing site ('UPLAB') in the near future. (There's even a web
browser available in that eyepiece; no word yet on how you'd
actually use it.) Formats handled include WMV9, MPEG-1, and
MPEG-2 movies, and MP3, AAC, and WMA9 audio files. An AV input
jack lets you enjoy media played back from other devices.

It's certainly interesting, but is it useful? The internal
memory holds less than 3 hours of MPEG-2 video, so you could
take along, say, a single 'Lord of the Rings' installment on a
flight - but be prepared to swap AA batteries after only 2
hours. And will you actually enjoy watching video in one-eyed,
military heads-up-display style?

Maybe, if you're a male aged 25-35; that's the target Nikon is
gunning for. To help Nikon reach its sales goal of 3 million
units by 2013, head to http://www.upstore.jp/ and get UP. (Japan
only, for now.) If you're short JPY10,000, there's the cheaper
UP300 model: only 4GB memory, no motion sensor controls, and no
AV jack.

More info (English):
http://www.nikon.com/about/news/2008/1007_up300_01.htm

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Tiny 'netbooks' taking big share of Japanese notebook market

What's this term 'netbook' that the kids have been throwing
about lately? It's a really small notebook PC -†a sub-notebook,
if you will. But more specifically, netbooks target those users
that just want a machine for core uses - mainly browsing, email,
and word processing - and want the lightest, cheapest notebook
that'll handle those tasks. While there have long been wee
devices in the sub-notebook category (including the palm-sized
Toshiba Libretto in 1996), the Eee from Taiwan-based ASUSTek
Computer jump-started the idea of netbooks as really low-cost
machines when it shipped in 2007 for about US$350.

Low price is driving notebook sales in Japan as well, says
Business Computer News (BCN). At retailers throughout the nation
in September, models costing JPY100,000 and lower (roughly
sub-$1000) made up 52% of notebook computer sales by number of
units. Notebooks costing JPY60,000 or less - generally machines
described as netbooks - alone accounted for 20% of notebook
units sold.

Japan Acer, the local branch of Taiwan's Acer Computer, took the
lion's share (54%) of that sub-JPY60,000 market, on the strength
of the Aspire One model introduced just a month earlier in
August. ASUSTek came in second, with 37% of unit sales in the
category (down from 53% in August). Together, the two models
have scooped up over 90% of the fast-growing category, leaving
Japanese makers like Toshiba scrambling to catch up.

Revisiting the data to look at size instead of price, BCN
reports that notebooks with screens 10 inches or smaller
accounted for 24% of notebook unit sales, up from 20% in August.
Acer and ASUS again have most of the sales, with Hewlett Packard
Japan, Kohjinsha, and MSI fighting for the scraps.

Changing topics, what OS are Japan's buyers getting with their
notebooks? The winners are Windows Vista with 72%, Windows XP
with 26% (up from 22% in August) and Mac OS X at 2.4%. On the
desktop side, those numbers are Vista 86%, XP 4%, and OS X 9%.
Or across both categories: Vista 75%, XP 21%, OS X 4%.

Some good economic news: Japan's retail PC unit sales (desktop
and notebook) in September were up 23% over the year previous;
August sales were up 28% year-on-year. Industry watchers see
this as a sign of strength in the PC market, aided by many new
product intros this summer and the strength of that netbook
market.

As a final note, BCN adds that Mac sales had been showing
double-digit year-on-year monthly growth for 13 months straight,
including a huge 37% leap in August. But sales were up only 0.1%
year-on-year in September, possibly due to rumors over upcoming
new products. (In all cases, though, take BCN's Mac data with
salt; its numbers comes from POS data at 25 retail chains in
Japan, a list which doesn't include the Apple Store.)

More info (Japanese):
http://pc.watch.impress.co.jp/docs/2008/1006/netbook.htm

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Third-generation Nintendo DSi adds cameras, memory card slot

Name: Nintendo DSi
Category: portable game console
Price: JPY18,900
Release date in Japan: November 1, 2008

The Nintendo DS, the clamshell game machine with two 3-inch
screens, has sold over 80 million units worldwide, making it an
unqualified hit for Japan's premier game company. Following the
first DS in 2004 and the redesigned DS Lite in 2006, the third
generation of the gadget, dubbed the DSi, hits Japan in
November. The DSi builds two cameras into the DS Lite and adds a
slot for SD memory cards, while improving the speakers and
growing the screens' size to 3.25 inches. Yet it manages to
shave a few grams off of its body, and loses a few millimeters
of bulk in one dimension (while adding a few in the other two).

The DSi places a 3-megapixel camera on the exterior, and a
0.3-megapixel one on the inside of the hinge, facing the user.
As with previous models, only the bottom screen is a touch
screen. Pick 'DSi Camera' from the menu, and start snapping away
with either cam. From there, play with software to add goofy
effects, twist and combine faces, and even let the DSi assign a
rating to how similar two side-by-side faces are. You can save
images to an SD card or wirelessly exchange them with other DSi
users.

'DSi Sound' is another menu item, letting you play music (AAC
format only) from the SD card, add effects, remove vocals,
sample sounds, and so on. Then there's 'DSi Shop', which looks
to be a take on the iPhone's App Store. Download browsers,
games, and more; some are free, some will cost Nintendo Points.

The device will take older Nintendo DS software as well as
DSi-only software. One feature goes missing, though: the DSi
removes the slot for Game Boy Advance cartridges. And in another
demerit that you won't see Nintendo playing up, battery life
appears to drop significantly: up to 14 hours at lowest screen
brightness and 4 hours at highest, compared with 19 hours and 8
hours for the DS Lite.

The DSi will reach gamers in Japan on November 1, but won't
cross to foreign shores until some time in 2009. (Nintendo of
America reports that DS Lite sales are still strong in the US,
and will remain the branch's focus for a while longer.) Body
color choices are white and black.

More info (Japanese):
http://www.nintendo.co.jp/ds/

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Trouble Watch

Product recalls and other goofs:

Who: ASUSTeK Computer
What: ASUS EeeBox B202 PC
Why: Ships infected with Windows virus
What to do: Call 0800-123-2787 in Japan for replacement. Do not
use USB memory or other writable media (virus can be copied)
More info (Japanese):
http://eeepc.asus.com/jp/index.htm

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Short items

Spotted elsewhere in the news:

1) NTT Docomo will bring the BlackBerry Bold to Japan some time
during the first quarter of 2009. The highest-end model from
Canada's Research In Motion (RIM), the Bold boasts full browsing
ability, audio and video playback, along with the line's
well-known tiny physical keyboard. In Japan, the device will use
Docomo's 3.6Mbps 'FOMA High Speed' HSDPA service, in addition to
its 80.11a/b/g WiFi and GPS connectivity. Service pricing plans
remain undecided. Like the BlackBerry 8707h before it, Docomo
plans to make the model available to individual buyers as well
as enterprises. Specifically, Docomo aims for 70% enterprise
buyers and 30% individual with the Bold, the company's president
told press. (More fun to come in 2009: Docomo also expects to
launch 10 handsets running Google's new Android OS.)
Press release (Japanese):
http://www.nttdocomo.co.jp/info/news_release/page/080929_00.html
BlackBerry Bold (English):
http://www.blackberry.com/blackberrybold/

2) As we turn toward rechargeable batteries to power more and
more of our gadgets, including electric vehicles, our first
question is always 'How much use will I get from a charge?' But
manufacturers wrestle with additional parameters, including time
required to recharge, number of charge cycles before the battery
wears out, and safety of the battery. Toshiba is showing off a
prototype Super Charge Ion Battery (SCiB) that excels in those
areas. Its SCiB, as demonstrated at CEATEC 2008 in a Dynabook
laptop, recharges to 90% of capacity in only 10 minutes, can
take over 5000 recharge cycles (compared to about 500 for
lithium-ion), and unlike lithium-ion batteries doesn't risk
explosion if crushed. No news yet on Toshiba's big market plans,
but SCiBs have already found a place in industrial uses, and
should appear in various makers' electric bicycles from next
year.
More info (English): http://tiny.cc/nxj0z
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STAFF
Written by: Timm Tuttle
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--------NEW GADGET BLOG: TEKRONOMICON.COM------------------

In collaboration with Gadget Watch, Gadget blog Tekronomicon
offers a detailed look at select gadgets - shiny and strange,
from gizmo ground zero in Tokyo.
See the gadgets introduced in Gadget Watch,
with photos and more at: www.tekronomicon.com
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