Back to Contents of Issue: December 2002

The best of J@pan Inc's newsletters: Gadget Watch, Wireless Watch and Music Media Watch:
1) Sony Aibo
2) NTT Data Tests Wireless IM Technology in Baseball Stadium
3) Toshiba to Unveil Bluetooth Mobile Storage Device
4) Sharp 3D Display
5) Fuji FilmPix M6603
6) Victor RM-A550V

* Sony AIBO
I'm sure you all know about Aibo, the robotic pet produced by Sony (it's not a dog, a Sony spokesperson says), and have just been waiting patiently for that something extra, that one special feature that will push you over the edge, persuade you to ditch the family cat and lay down a couple hundred thousand yen for the privilege. Well, gentle and alert reader, wait no more.

Sony has announced a brand new duo of the ERS-210 variety (not the scary Terminator-style one that'll give your kid nightmares) with Christmas color schemes! Two new robopets, in "Burgundy Red" and "Snow White" liveries, will wander over to you when they recognize your face to give you a special dance -- but will not do the same for your guests, shunning their advances because you've pre-programmed it to respond specially to you.

Thanks to improved software, ERS-210A will now recognize when its batteries are running low and stupefy all around it by waddling over to the "Energy Station," sitting down on it and initiating the recharge session itself! And if the endless reruns of old movies over the holiday period don't do it for you, pick up Aibo's latest toy, the JPY18,000 yen "Speedboard." Strapped to the board and using his legs for propulsion, Aibo can now hit the vert, pull off ollies and generally catch some major air as he (and fellow Aibos, if you buy more than one) chases down that pink ball he seems so fond of. The two new Aibos are available exclusively online ( and only for a limited period over the "holiday season."
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* NTT Data Tests Wireless IM Technology in Baseball Stadium
EXTRACT: NTT Data Corp. conducted a test of its wireless instant messaging (IM) technology using mobile phones among spectators at a baseball stadium. The experiment was held during the professional game between the Yokohama BayStars and the Yakult Swallows at Yokohama Stadium on Oct. 12. The participants were required to bring either NTT DoCoMo's 503i/504i mobile phone series or KDDI/au's "ezplus"-compatible handsets. Before entering the stadium or during the game, they were required to download, from the Yokohama BayStars' official Web site, the dedicated client software.
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XXX COMMENTARY: Participants could access real-time information from the dugouts, and, after predicting which player would make the first hit of the game, win prizes (including BayStars-brand products autographed by the team's players). NTT Data's Air Messenger Java client should be available as part of fully-fledged push services at stadiums, concerts, and other large-crowd venues later in 2003. Keep an eye on this one -- it's a sure-fire money maker, not the least for DoCoMo (who gets the packet revenues).

* Toshiba to Unveil Bluetooth Mobile Storage Device
EXTRACT: Toshiba is set to launch a Bluetooth-equipped portable storage device. The Hopbit will offer 5GB of storage, enough for around 1000 MP3 audio tracks and 3000 digital images from a three-megapixel camera. The Bluetooth module will allow users to seamlessly transfer data from other devices such as handheld computers.
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XXX COMMENTARY: Based on a recent survey of big electronics retailers, it appears that any sort of Bluetooth-equipped storage device will have some catching up to do. WLAN (802.11b)-based products -- either for networking individual PCs or for setting up home wireless LANs -- seem to have taken over a lot of shelf space. Furthermore, the traditional magneto-optical (MO) drive mass-storage market niche seems to be under assault from Firewire (IEE1394)-based devices. These are basically hard-drive enclosures into which data fanatics (aren't we all?) have stuffed a multigigabyte drive of their choice, and then connected to a PC or notebook via Firewire providing 450-Mbps transfers (for backups, etc.). No matter how great Bluetooth may be, it's still more expensive at retail here, and is not as simple as a good oldfashioned cable.

* Sharp 3D Display
Good lord, what will they think of next? Sharp takes the prize for the most gob-smacking innovation this month, announcing the establishment of a new display consortium and a TV that allows you to view in 3D. Capable of being switched between 2D (planar mode) and 3D (stereo mode -- go figure), the display doesn't require viewers to wear any of those dumb plastic glasses that make you look like an extra in "Honey, I Shrunk the Kids." According to the company, the LCD can be installed "as is" in current display applications, and while it will display such things as spreadsheets in boring old 2D, it can really ramp up the visual delights with games and so forth in 3D mode. But this kind of thing is obviously a lot better if there are dedicated bits and pieces available for it, and to that end Sharp is establishing a kind of consortium of hardware, software and other content providers, which will specially design products for the new system. Sharp apparently achieves the 3D effect by "controlling the path of light" from the display via a "parallax barrier" and into our eyes, which sounds as close to magic as anything I've ever heard. The left and right eyes consequently receive slightly different images, resulting in the 3D wizardry. (Oh, right, hence the "stereo" bit earlier. Sorry.)
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* Fujifilm FinePix M603
It's hard to tell whether the M603 is basically a tiny digital camcorder with still-image capability or the reverse, since this 3.1 megapixel digital camera takes still shots, obviously, but can also record 640x480-dot AVI movies at 30 frames per second. At that speed, the video should be very smooth without any of the horrible, experience-ruining jerkiness of other cameras. The M603 is equipped with a 2x optical zoom (4.4 digital) and is styled to be held upright -- the top half of the camera, when held like this, is taken up with the massive built-in 2.5-inch LCD monitor/viewfinder. Thanks to the M603's other special function, still images up to a maximum of 2,832 x 2,128 can be taken and then edited while still in the camera.

There are a few storage options on the new camera; go for the new, small-format "xD-Picture Card," a Compact Flash card or an immediate download via the USB cable (and cradle). The microdrive can store the most video footage, obviously, slipping into the CF slot and giving owners 15 minutes and 9 seconds' worth of 30fps video with its 1GB capacity. It is priced at JPY88,000.
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* Victor RM-A550V
The RM-A550V is a voice-memo-capable television remote control unit. I love this kind of thing, straddling the line between the "possibly truly useful" and "possibly truly a complete and utter waste of space, time and money" gadget boundary. Worth a punt, surely, for only JPY3,500, the RM-A550V remote can record up to 15 seconds' worth of voice memo.

If you're watching TV and a phone number or address comes up that you really must remember, all you need to do now is hit the record button and speak in the general direction of the handset. Brilliant! The voice-memo remote is compatible with 14 different makes of televisions and will zap your requirements to them from up to 7 meters.
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