MMW-105 -- Mobile Music Applis - Ready For a Comeback?

J@pan Inc Magazine Presents:
M U S I C M E D I A W A T C H
Commentary on Japan's music technology news
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Issue No. 105
Wednesday November 1, 2006
Subscribers: 4,845 as of November 2, 2006
Tokyo

CONTENTS

++ FEATURE: Mobile Music Applis - Ready For a Comeback?

++ NOTEWORTHY NEWS:
** BMG Japan Licenses Catalog to iTunes
** HMV Japan Launches New Digital Music Store
** FM Radio Appli to Appear on New Mitsubishi Handset
** Dwango Introduces 'Dwango ID' Service to Counter Number
Portability
** New Puffy Single To Be Released First as Chaku-uta

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++ FEATURE: Mobile Music Applis - Ready For a Comeback?

Back in 2001, as American music lovers were getting their
first glimpse of a sleek new device called the iPod,
software developers in Japan were busy writing the first
Java applications (dubbed 'applis') for mobile phones.
With small screens, small memories and all kinds of
programming restrictions, it was a challenge to make
much of anything that worked on those early Java handsets.
Still, the novelty factor and a huge marketing campaign
combined to create a strong demand for applis on the most
popular mobile content services.

And at the time, there was no mobile content more popular
than ringtones. Coinciding with the appearance of 16-voice
ringtones complete with drums, Java applis quickly became
a 'must-have' accessory for the top ringtone providers.
Starting with programs that allowed users to hear samples
of the songs before downloading them, the range of music
applis soon expanded to include jukebox players, karaoke,
and more.

The next two years saw huge improvements in the Java
capabilities of Japanese mobile phones. The screens got
bigger, the size restrictions fewer. All new phones across
the three carriers had Java capability. Japanese ringtone
providers were flush with cash and looking for original
ideas that would help them stand out. These were great
times for software companies looking to do something in the
mobile music space. 'Compose-your-own-ringtone' applis,
mixers for customizing your songs, even mobile versions
of popular music games such as Konami's 'Dance Dance
Revolution' - nothing was too esoteric for this booming
market.

In 2004, however, the climate for mobile music applis in
Japan began to sour. As the number of handsets rapidly
proliferated, it became increasingly costly to test and
adjust applis each time a new model was released. Also,
KDDI stopped releasing Java-capable handsets, opting instead
to use Qualcomm's C-based BREW platform. Due to its extensive
per-handset approval process (for which developers pay a
hefty fee each time they test a program on a new handset),
BREW quickly gained a reputation for being a notoriously
difficult and expensive development platform.

Once BREW became entrenched as the only option for releasing
an appli on KDDI, ringtone providers were forced to develop
and maintain an appli in two completely different programming
languages if they wanted to reach the entire market. These
ringtone companies were mainly using applis as a 'free extra'
to attract new subscribers to their services. By 2004, though,
the Japanese ringtone market was fully saturated, and the
vastly increased development cost (due to the Java/BREW split)
made new applis prohibitively expensive. As a result, it's
been nearly three years since Japan has seen anything really
new or interesting in the way of mobile music applis.

Recently, however, there are signs that this 'dark period'
is at last coming to an end. For starters, KDDI has announced
that beginning with its new series of handsets this fall, all
new models will once again support Java applis. In addition to
BREW, these upcoming handsets will come equipped with an 'Open
Appli Player' that will run MIDP 2.0 Java applis. Second, since
its recent acquisition of Vodafone, SoftBank has been noticeably
'reaching out' to software developers and content providers,
making major improvements in its approval process and handset
testing labs, all of which are helping to lower development
and maintenance costs. Finally, NTT DoCoMo has recently
announced a new version of its 'DoJa' Java platform with an
array of audio features including an enhanced API for 3D
surround sound.

With these expanded capabilities in the Java API and the
ability to support all carriers without having to develop a
costly BREW version, it is likely that we will once again be
seeing some new innovative music-related applis and games in
Japan, particularly on services aimed at musicians and music
students. According to one ringtone and realtone content
provider here, several projects that have been on hold for
the last few years are starting to move again. One of these
is a 'rhythm machine' appli for creating drum loops and
rhythm patterns. Also, Sony has recently released a series
of games for its handheld PSP devices that help children
learn the basics of rhythm and melody. It wouldn't be at
all surprising to see similar games appearing in appli
version for mobile phones over the next several months.
================= You're Vending What? ====================

Japan is home to the highest density of vending machines in
the world, with about 5.6m machines, or one for every 23
people. You can buy almost anything, and the Japanese do,
with about JPY6.67trn (US$56bn) being spent every year.

Yet, apart from the obvious players such as major soft
drinks companies, there have been no foreign owners of this
massive direct sales medium - until now.

Market Pioneer Japan is proud to announce that as of
October, 2006, it has built a network of 1,000 vending
machines placed nationwide, selling stickers and print
logos. We invite owners of licenceable characters to
contact us with a view to distributing your IP assets into
the Japanese market.

Web: www.japaninc.com/mpj, email: mpj at japaninc.com

=========================================================

++ NOTEWORTHY NEWS

** BMG Japan Licenses Catalog to iTunes
In brief: Last week, Apple Computer announced that BMG Japan
had licensed its catalog for use on the Japanese iTunes Music
Store. The deal will add several well-known western artists
such as Alicia Keys, Avril Lavigne and Foo Fighters to the
iTunes service in Japan. However, the service still has some
major holes in its catalog, with Sony Music Entertainment
Japan (SMEJ) and Warner Music still holding out. Although
BMG Japan is a subsidiary of Sony BMG Music Entertainment,
the company operates independently of SMEJ, which is a
separate entity.
Source:
http://www.apple.com/pr/library/2006/oct/26itunes.html

** HMV Japan Launches New Digital Music Store
In brief: On October 26, HMV Japan started its own digital
music download service, with a catalog of one million tracks.
The new service is called 'HMV Digital', and the average
download price is about 150 yen (US$1.25). Tracks are offered
in WMA and ATRAC3 format only, and are licensed from NTT
Communications and Label Gate.
Source:
http://headlines.yahoo.co.jp/hl?a=20061027-00000016-imp-sci

** FM Radio Appli to Appear on New Mitsubishi Handset
In brief: D2 Communications announced recently that its new
'FM Radio Music Search' appli will come pre-installed on the
new Mitsubishi D903i handset for NTT DoCoMo. Like the 'EZ FM'
BREW application for KDDI, this appli will have all of the
normal features for navigating FM radio stations, as well
as 'Now Playing' info for the currently playing song.
Source:
http://www.d2c.co.jp/news/pdf/d2c_news061012.pdf

** Dwango Introduces 'Dwango ID' Service to Counter Number
Portability
In brief: With the start of Mobile Number Portability in
Japan last week, Realtone and ringtone provider Dwango has
introduced a service called 'Dwango ID' that will keep
customers subscribed to their Dwango services even after
changing to a different mobile operator. By filling out
a registration form from their phones, customers will be
automatically subscribed to the same services on their new
carrier. This will also allow subscribers to retain their
'credits' which would otherwise be lost when they change
carriers.
Source:
http://pc.dwango.jp/index.php/m/info/a/imnews_detail/number/1

** New Puffy Single To Be Released First as Chaku-uta
In brief: Nano Media, which operates several mobile music
sites, including SMA Artists for Sony Music Entertainment,
announced that an upcoming single by the J-Pop duo Puffy
would debut as chaku-uta (mastertone) a few weeks ahead of
the scheduled November 22 release date for the CD.
Source:
http://plusd.itmedia.co.jp/mobile/articles/0610/13/news123.html

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STAFF
Written by: Steve Myers (steve at thetamusic.com)
Steve Myers is president and chief enthusiast of Theta Music
Technologies, which specializes in the development of
music-related software applications.
Edited by J at pan Inc editors: (editors at japaninc.com)
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