JIN-132 -- Who Needs a Browser Phone in LA?

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J@pan Inc Magazine Presents:
T H E J @ P A N I N C N E W S L E T T E R
Commentary on the week's business and technology news
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Issue No. 132
Wednesday, May 16, 2001
Tokyo

CONTENTS

+++ Viewpoint: Who Needs a Browser Phone in LA?
+++ Noteworthy news
- Japan convenience store offers PDA content to go
- Navitime Japan, Mitsui unveil map viewer for wireless phones
- DoCoMo net profit surges on mobile Internet boom
+++ Worth a read

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+++ VIEWPOINT

Who Needs a Browser Phone in LA?

Permit me a personal anecdote here, as I've just returned from Los
Angeles (vacation) and am still getting back into the swing of
things Japan-wise. Driving on the freeways of LA and remembering my
old California life-style (I moved to Japan in December '99), it
occurred to me that if I were still living there I would not only
have no use whatsoever for an i-mode phone, but I would find the
very idea of it absurd. Granted, I don't use a browser phone now,
but at least the **concept** makes sense. I can see **why** everyone
around me seems to enjoy checking email, playing games, and
arranging meeting places on their tiny cellphone screens. But I have
to admit that I can't imagine Californians doing this, unless it was
a status thing. Oh, I noticed plenty of cellphones in LA, but they
were more for talking or showing off (hilarious because the handsets
being showed off looked like antiques).

It got me to thinking. When I lived in the Bay Area, I would drive
to work (or rather stop-go-stop-to-stop-go to work), sit at a
computer all day, and then drive back. In the evenings and on
weekends, my computing and Internet needs were taken care of by my
home computer. In this particular lifestyle -- there needs to be a
phrase like "my infocommute scene" -- I can imagine using a
cellphone for talking and maybe a PDA for getting organized and for
email, but ... where would a browser phone fit in? You can't use it
while driving, and everything about it seems absurdly -- and, more
important, unnecessarily -- miniscule. I'd probably dismiss the
i-mode-in-Japan thing as being unique to a mutant market. I'd be
wrong about that -- anywhere there's widely used mass public transit
there's a market for browser phones, for one thing -- but living in
America you tend to get very America-centric. That centricity is
internationally contagious to the point where tech-heads around the
world think that if it doesn't matter in the US, and in Silicon
Valley in particular, it doesn't matter anywhere. Which of course is
all wrong.

Still, to those of you living that California freeway lifestyle and
scratching your heads (keep one hand on the wheel!) over the i-mode
thing, I now have one thing to say to you: I'd be scratching mine,
too. (But I'm here, and I ain't.)

-- Steve Mollman

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+++ NOTEWORTHY NEWS

** Japan convenience store offers PDA content to go

EXTRACT: Sharp and Family Mart will launch a new service on May 21
(Monday next week) that enables Zaurus PDA users to download and
purchase digital content in-store. The konbini will distribute game
software and e-book content from the "Sharp Space Town" Net service,
provided on all Sharp computer hardware devices. The price of game
software will range from 500 to 1,570 yen (US$4 to $13), the e-book
content from 100 yen to 840 yen.

COMMENTARY: Makes loads of sense, not just in Japan but anywhere.
Too bad this initial service is so limited -- only Sharp's PDA, only
in Family Mart, only games and e-books -- but it could be the
beginning of a trend that goes global. Surely competing konbinis and
PDA makers will respond to this move, and that should kick off the
race domestically. Imagine being able to download the latest news
from an airport kiosk just before your flight leaves. Sooner or
later, though, wireless broadband -- not kiosks -- will be the
download method of choice.

SOURCE: CNN.com Sci-Tech, May 11: http://www.cnn.com/2001/TECH/ptech
/05/11/japan.pda.content.idg/index.html

** Navitime Japan, Mitsui unveil map viewer for wireless phones

EXTRACT: The two companies unveiled a prototype map viewer for
cellphones at a Qualcomm developer conference. Before releasing it,
Navitime would like to add a geomagnetic compass solution that
always displays north at the top of the screen and rotates as the
user moves. Currently, the viewer allows for a highly zoomable city
map with a scale of 1 to 25,000.

COMMENTARY: Very cool development. Doesn't mean people on the street
will use it, but it's a cool development nonetheless. And it shows
where things are heading (so to speak). Giving Japan street names
might also be a good idea, but the fact that that's not going to
happen anytime soon gives cellphone-navi products all the better
chance to succeed here.

Source: AsiaBizTech, May 14: http://www.nikkeibp.asiabiztech.com/
wcs/leaf?CID=onair/asabt/brew1/130144

** DoCoMo net profit surges on mobile Internet boom

EXTRACT: NTT DoCoMo attributed the success of i-mode to a 45 percent
surge in group net profit for the year ended March 2001 to a record
365.5 billion yen. But DoCoMo projects only a 7 percent rise in the
year ending March 2002, which some say is an unrealistic goal given
the increasing competition in a market gradually hitting a growth
ceiling. Profit was about three times larger than that of Hitachi
and was 13 times greater than when DoCoMo first began announcing
earnings results four years ago.

COMMENTARY: It's been a wild ride for the folks at DoCoMo. i-mode
started in February 1999, and in its relatively short existence it's
taken the domestic market by storm, grabbed the world's attention,
and led to record profits for the company. Never mind the
fast-approaching growth ceiling -- sometimes you've just gotta stop
to say, "Wow." Wow.

Source: Nihon Keizai Shimbun, May 10

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+++ WORTH A READ

** A solid overview of the current PDA scene:
"Content delivery services for PDAs poised to take off,"
Nikkei BP, May 14, 2001.
http://www.nikkeibp.asiabiztech.com/wcs/leaf?CID=onair/
asabt/fw/130138

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STAFF
Written by Steve Mollman (steve@japaninc.net)
Assistance with news compilation:
Richard Ochero (richard@japaninc.com)

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