The Pulse 2 - the best of J@pan Inc's newsletters

Back to Contents of Issue: August 2002

* Matsushita SJ-MR250 MiniDisc Recorder
If using your MiniDisc player's cycling alphabetical input method to enter track names is too painful for you (i.e. you're not a 16-year-old high school girl with magic fingers who's grown up with J-Phone), you may want to look at Matsushita's new combi offering. The MR250 (JPY40,000) is a portable MD recorder with speakers and a 10-key, kanji-capable keyboard just like a phone. The idea is that you hook it up to your PC (via USB) and can send your tracks to the MiniDisc player with the utmost ease. The MR250 can be used with any of Panny's MD-Net players -- in fact with all MDNet-compatible MiniDisc recording equipment, including models from Sharp and Sony -- and will record for up to 56 hours and play back for 110 (depending on the compression level selected).

The separate speakers use full-range, 3cm, titanium cones for high-quality music reproduction and there's up to 110 seconds of anti-skip protection built in (again, depending on...). It even comes in silver or blue.
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* Whadda ya Know -- Most Email is Spam!
Of the 900 million messages that go through NTT DoCoMo's servers each day, 880 million (98 percent) are spam, according to the company. The problem is that, regardless of the source of the message, subscriber phones ring (or vibrate) every time mail arrives. Nearly everyone who owns an Internet-enabled cellular telephone has been inconvenienced as a result.
Source: Japan Internet Report No. 64 Spring 2002,

* Most Popular i-mode Ringtone Sites (June 2002)

1. Pokemelo Joysound (XING)
2. Chakushin Melody GIGA (Giga Networks)
3. Melo DAM (Daiichi Kosho)
4. Sega Kara i-Melody (Sega Music Networks)
5. Yamaha Meroccha! (Yamaha)
Among the remaining services found in the official i-mode menu, the majority are devoted to a single musical niche. In some cases, these sites are limited to a specific instrument or genre of music, while others provide a hook such as allowing customers to mix and match different songs into medley forms or to download an unlimited number of songs for JPY100 per month. Here are some of the more interesting boutique services:

1. Half Note Jazz -- This site contains many surprisingly convincing ringtone renditions of jazz standards.
2. Pokebras -- From Digital Bridge Communications, this one is devoted to Latin music.
3. Tokyo Phil-Classic -- Offers the largest selection of classical ringtones.
4. Uwasa no Indie Melo -- A site focused on ringtones from up-and-coming independent label artists ('indies'). Produced by
5. Arrange Tengoku -- Loosely translated as "Arrangement Heaven." customers of this site can change tempo, volume and instrumentation of the various parts for each song.

* Satellite Radio Could Have a Future
The venerable New York Times has been examining two new satellite radio services, looking at the pros and cons of Washington-based XM and its New York competitor Sirius. Both companies are offering 100+ channels at a monthly rate of $10 and $13, respectively. The main selling point for satellite radio is the variety of content -- several automobile manufacturers are beginning to include the systems pre-installed. Source:

* Rakuten Eyes Full Shopping via Mobiles
Rakuten, operator of Japan's largest Internet shopping site, Rakuten Ichiba, plans to make its full online shopping service available on mobile phones by the end of the year, company officials have said. Currently, Rakuten has contracts with about 480 online shops to offer a total of about 20,000 items on mobile phones, but when the new system is launched, mobile phone users will be able to choose from about 1 million items offered by around 5,500 shops if the full online shopping service is made available.

COMMENTARY: Rakuten started its mobile access channel in September 2000; some 70 to 80 percent of customers report that they use their cellphones to make purchases (and not their PCs). Last month, trading volume via keitai was 10 times greater than the year previous (2001 volume: JPY52.2 billion). Rakuten has recently had some problems attracting and keeping PC Web merchants and this expanded mobile effort is probably not unconnected to the recognition that merchants recognize the value of selling to mobiles.
Source: Japan Times, 

* Sony Clie PEG-T650C
Sony has announced a new version of its very successful CliEPalm OS handheld along with a very cool optional extra for the same. Music playback (MP3 and ATRAC3 files) is achieved courtesy of the Audio Player 2.2 software. Most useful of all is the CLIE Remote Commander function, allowing users to control their TV, VTR and DVD players via their handheld. Sure beats paying $400 plus for a specialized remote control with LCD screen. The PEG-T650C (JPY40,000) operates on the 4.01 version of the Palm OS with a Dragonball Super VZ 66MHz CPU under the hood, 16MB of RAM, 8MB of ROM and a 320x320 dot TFT LCD screen putting out 65,536 colors. The PEGA-KB20 optional extra is available at the same time, more easily recognized as a mini-keyboard designed specifically for the CliE It's tiny, looks great in the same satin silver finish and saves a lot of messing around trying to remember how to write the letter 'g.'
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* Will 3G Make Money?
In the new headquarters of Manx Telecom, color-screen 3G phones made by Japanese electronics giant NEC are being put through their paces and Manx's computer-equipped van is a regular sight around the island as it tests connection speeds and new applications.

Manx Telecom, a unit of mobile operator mmO2, is operating the first 3G phone system outside of Japan and has given away 130 handsets to islanders in a bid to discover exactly how the new system will work and if consumers find it as essential as mobile operators hope. The good news is that it does work, and well. In the van, connection speeds around the island are showing to be about 160Kbps (easily enough to watch video) and laptop Internet connection speeds through the phones compare with the quickest available via cable modems. The bad news is that the prospect of mobile operators making money from such ventures looks dubious. With debt-laden telcos now under pressure to conserve cash, investors have taken the view that the capital investment the licenses entail has become a burden. Skeptics could point out that the £5.94 billion Vodafone paid for its 3G license is 50 percent more than the current market value of rival license holder mmO2.

COMMENTARY: The top-secret, killer-app for 3G will be... (Ta Da!) whatever the top-secret, killer-app has been on 2G. In other words, don't for a second think that people will change what they do on the mobile Internet just because the connection speeds go up. Mail, ringtones and graphics are all plenty profitable on 2G and will be so on 3G. It may be better to stop asking the question posed in this news item and simply let carriers build the networks, deploy new bandwidth (as KDDI and DoCoMo have done here) and then see what takes off.

* Canon Powershot A200
Sticking a Powershot digital camera in at the low end of the market -- sorry, make that 'entry level' -- Canon hopes to capture a slice of the action amongst the folk looking for a camera that balances performance with that all-important cost element.

At only JPY32,000, the 2-megapixel update to the company's 1.3-megapixel A100 model comes with an 8MB CompactFlash card in the package, allowing up to 87 shots at the lowest quality setting (and about seven at best) before you need to download them to a PC.

Owners can get up to 1600x1200 dot images out of the camera and there's a 4x digital zoom available, if absolutely necessary. It'll even take movies at 20 frames per second instead of the A100's stuttering 15. The A200 is a very stylish little unit and for the money, it's hard to go wrong. Just remember -- 1.3 megapixels might not be enough for anything other than the smallest prints.
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