MMW-18 -- Mobile Jakajan -- A Personal Guitar Tutor for Your Phone

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J@pan Inc Magazine Presents:
M U S I C M E D I A W A T C H
Commentary on the week's music technology news
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Issue No. 18
Tuesday, May 21, 2002
Tokyo

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CONTENTS

++ FEATURE: Mobile Jakajan -- A Personal Guitar Tutor for Your Phone

++ NOTEWORTHY NEWS:
- Napster Bought by Bertelsmann
- MP3 Insider Interview with Congressman Boucher about DMCA

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++ FEATURE: Mobile Jakajan - A Personal Guitar Tutor for Your Phone

As a general rule, I try to refrain from using this column to make
blatant plugs for Theta Team products. However, for the past two
weeks I've been immersed in a project that has brought to light many
of the issues, pleasant and otherwise, associated with creating music
applications for DoCoMo's i-mode platform. Because these points are
relevant to mobile music technology in general, and also because I've
had no time to research anything new this week, I'll simply cover the
guitar tutor appli we've built, along with some of the obstacles
encountered along the way.

As part of Yamaha's Guitar Hearts i-mode site, the Theta Team was
contracted to develop an i-appli Java application called Mobile
Jakajan (named after a Japanese word used to describe guitar
strumming) whereby users can view animations of guitar fretboard
fingering sequences which have been synched to the ringtones of
popular songs. Using the i-appli, it's as if someone were showing you
how to play the chords for a song on the guitar as the song is
playing.

We learned a lot from working on this project. In particular, we
discovered that anything which requires precise synchronization of
graphics and music is extremely difficult to do within the current
503i DoCoMo Java framework.

Here's why:

Problem #1: There is no sound control built into the DoCoMo Java API.

Those of you who have developed music apps for the PC or other
platforms will likely be familiar with simple commands for
manipulating MIDI and other sound files. Because all MIDI events are
time-stamped, even the most primitive sound APIs make it easy to time
graphic movement with musical events. Not so with i-mode Java. Your
control over playing a sound file is limited to two commands: play
and stop. This means that if you want to build an application like a
metronome that moves in time to the beat of the song, you have to
work out the number of milliseconds to give each beat, based on the
tempo of the song. While this is a fair amount of work, it still
might not be so bad were it not for:

Problem #2: There is no uniform timing method across DoCoMo handsets.

The DoCoMo Java API provides a method for setting a timer, which
theoretically allows you to perform certain events each time the
timer expires. In the metronome example, if we determined that each
beat of the song lasts for 445 milliseconds, we would first set our
timer for this amount. Then, every time the timer expires, we simply
redraw the screen with the metronome needle on the side opposite from
where we drew it last. Not too terribly difficult.

Trouble is, some of the DoCoMo models seem to have their own sense of
time. You can tell your program to redraw the screen after 445
milliseconds have elapsed, but whether that actually happens is
entirely up to a whole host of other factors residing inside the
phone your program runs on. In the end, it turns out that a good deal
of trial-and-error is necessary to determine optimal timings for
screen refreshes, and these are not consistent across the different
models.

Given the immense amount of work needed to make a
'graphics-synched-to-music' appli of this type, it seems logical to
ask, "Why bother?" After all, the Java API for the upcoming 504i
platform is supposed to contain much finer control over music
playback and event timing. Why not just wait a while and develop for
the better-suited 504i? The answer is that it simply pays more in the
long run to be the first out with this type of service. In Yamaha's
case, the company is likely hoping to attract a huge number of
existing 503i handset owners to the Guitar Hearts site. Competitors
who wait for the 504i to take root before launching a similar service
will quite probably find themselves playing a tough game of catch-up.

Yamaha announced the opening of Guitar Hearts at a press conference
on May 15 and the Mobile Jakajan appli was (unbeknownst to us)
featured on Tokyo Television's World Business Satellite the same
night (see links to news articles below). The site was officially
opened on this Monday and is accessible via the DoCoMo i-mode main
menu from Yamaha's Melo-cha! ringtone portal (From the i-mode main
menu select Menu List -> Chakushin Melody/Karaoke -> Yamaha Melocha!)

Links to further information (with screenshots, in Japanese):
http://www.zdnet.co.jp/mobile/0205/15/n_yamaha.html
http://k-tai.impress.co.jp/cda/article/news_toppage/0,,9389,00.html

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++ NOTEWORTHY NEWS
(Long URLs may break across two lines, so copy to your browser.)

** Napster Bought By Bertelsmann

Music file-sharing pioneer Napster announced on Friday that it is
being bought by German Media company Bertelsmann for $8 million. As a
result of the surprise deal, Napster's creditors will allow the
company to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and become a
wholly owned subsidiary of Bertelsmann, the second largest media
group in Europe. Napster plans to reopen as a subscription digital
music service that complies with US copyright law.

Source:
http://story.news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story&cid=581&ncid=738&e=3&u=/nm/2...

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** MP3 Insider Interview with Congressman Boucher about DMCA

MP3 insider featured an interesting interview last week with US
congressman Rick Boucher, who is a strong opponent of the DMCA
(Digital Millennium Copyright Act), which is being pushed by the RIAA
and MPAA outside the US. Check out Boucher's anti-DMCA views and the
likelihood of similar laws being adopted outside the US.

Source:
http://electronics.cnet.com/electronics/0-3219397-8-9872502-1.html

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SUBSCRIBERS: 773 as of May 21, 2002

STAFF Written by Steve Myers (steve.myers@l8tech.com)
Steve Myers heads the Theta Group at Layer-8 Technologies, which
specializes in the development of music-related software
applications.

Edited by J@pan Inc editors (editors@japaninc.com)

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