i-Mode Hits Europe, But So What?

Back to Contents of Issue: March 2002

So this is i-mode? That's likely to be the first reaction of many Europeans when they get their hands on one of the new handsets with 'i-mode-like services' right about now. They may initially be keen on new features, such as color screens and fully fledged email, but could end up slightly disappointed. Of course, we hope everyone's over the proverbial moon, but things may turn out a little tougher than DoCoMo and its European partners imagine.

Sure, we love i-mode -- most of us in the office probably have had a DoCoMo handset at one time or another -- and applaud the business nous of the NTT crew, but it's not perfect. Nothing in life is perfect and the realization of that is when doubt creeps in. The hype surrounding the bidding for 3G licenses and the incessant babble over the 'shape of things to come' has led to wildly over-inflated expectations in Europe, some of which have inevitably influenced perceptions of the new services from KPN and TIM.

European punters are not getting the Holy Grail, the best thing since sliced bread or even a chunk of the Internet on their phones. What they are getting is easy and inexpensive access to cut-to-fit services like sports results, news, stock quotes, ticketing and simple games, none of which is about to change anybody's life. It's a vast improvement over WAP (as it has been implemented to date), but i-mode is all about making the most of current technology: Call it 2.5G or whatever you want, it's really just a business model. Nothing is proprietary about i-mode; it's just intelligent, easy billing for simple, targeted services. Nonetheless, given the right market conditions and a few lowered expectations demand-side, the savvy telcos in Europe could just be sitting on a gold mine of DoCoMo-like proportions.

-- J@pan Inc editors

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