Sign of the Times

Back to Contents of Issue: May 2001

A wireless advertising experiment offers shops and restaurants a new way to attract passersby.

by Daniel Scuka

Using a PDA screen and cellphone Net link, Joho Navi downloads a map with both your position and the position of what you're trying to reach (the "goal" at the bottom left of the screen shown.)
WE'VE REPORTED BEFORE on the cold, gothic-and-marble visage of Tokyo's Marunouchi district (see "Urban Refuge," page 6, February 2001), where local bylaws prohibit outdoor advertising and the streets have a featureless, neo-Soviet feel. City planners may have found this architectural style appropriate for a corporate power center, but without prominent signs, pedestrians are lucky to stumble across a dry cleaner's doorway, or sniff out a restaurant buried in one of the stone tombs serving as office buildings. So, what better place to experiment with highly localized wireless Web advertising?

From February through March, the Ohtemachi, Marunouchi, and Yurakucho Area Redevelopment Plan Promotion Association (helped by NTT East and the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport) ran trials of the High-Level City Information Management System. Dubbed Joho Navi, the system consists of a Casio Casseopia E-503 PDA, a DoCoMo cellphone, several satellites, and a database of Marunouchi-specific information (some 90 establishments in all). Trial participants inserted a Compact Flash-format GPS module into the PDA to access their real-time location, and then used the cellphone as a wireless modem. They could then query the database for local restaurants, theaters, shops, services, or company information, filtering results by exact location, or type of food or service, et cetera. A zoomable map showed the destination and how to get to it, and users accessed screenshots of up-to-the-minute area traffic conditions. If the system goes live, train timetables and ATM locations/operating hours will be added to the database.

As trial users, we thought Joho Navi was pretty nifty, if not quite ready for prime time. The screen was tough to see in bright daylight, and the system didn't work at all with one of our Pana-sonic i-mode handsets. (We did receive a fix for the problem by email.) Still, the provided Casio PDA -- equipped with a full-color TFT display, 32 megs of RAM, 28.8-Kbps Net access, and a customized GPS mapping app -- served up requested data in just a few seconds. Pretty convenient.

Details on the business plans weren't disclosed, but a post-trial survey asked how much we'd be willing to pay for the service, so making money isn't out of the question. Presumably, a commercial system would serve up highly targeted mini-ads, too.

Maybe Marunouchi will become just a little friendlier.

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