I recently participated in a podcast with Robert Sanzalone in Nagoya. We’ve talked mostly about MobileinJapan.com, but also a little bit about social media and phones in Japan

It was made via an iPhone with a newest (and great) TalkShoe offering, hence a little technical glitch: please ffwd from 3:45 to 9:13. [Updated: you don’t need that anymore, Robert cleaned the file.]

It’s called Podcast on Demand and it’s on Episode #3.

Today's EarthquakesIf like me you were shaken by this morning’s mini-quake centered 30km below Tokyo, you may be interested in the iPhone app 今日の地震 (‘Today’s Earthquakes’) [Free: iTunes link].

The creators over at www.hakarist.com say that it will provide data on the latest earthquakes in Japan within ten minutes of them occurring – handy if you’re nowhere near a TV or the Internet.

The app is simplicity itself, the first page showing a list of today’s quakes (and a link to a list of yesterday’s); click on an earthqyake and a detailed page shows the epicentre, time, strength (Japanese scale of 1-7), depth, tsunami status, magnitude (richter scale) and latitude / longitude. There’s also a static image of a google map showing the epicentre location.

A must for anyone who is unnerved by the ground shaking beneath their feet!

Hanging around Japan’s tech crowd I noticed that a large number of people using Panasonic notebooks. Panasonic’s Let’s Note business notebooks are renowned for their light weight and long battery life. They are also makers of the Toughbook series of super strong mobile PCs, but the Let’s Note series are also designed to be strong and durable. (The CF-F8 is actually marketed under the Toughbook brand outside Japan). Add to that a good selection of sizes from super-small 10.4″ up to 14.1″ and it’s not surprising Panasonic machines are the choice for many people who depend on a reliable portable computer for their livelihood. As the graph below shows, Panasonic looks carefully at what people want from a notebook. Having nailed most of the other top priorities, they felt there was still room for improvement in the area of portability. This led to the birth of the CF-F8 sporting all the Let’s Note’s regular strengths with the addition of an inbuilt carrying handle.

(Chart roughly translated from Japanese by Mobile in Japan)
CF-F8 (Japanese site)
Toughbook F-8 (US Site)
More links

This innovative move certainly made an impact when I put the CF-F8 to test in my mobile life style. Whether working on train or moving from office to meeting, I found I could grab a little extra time knowing that I didn’t have to worry so much about packing up before moving on. The handle is well made and offers ample finger space even for the largest hands. It’s didn’t come as any surprise to find that at 1630g the CF-F8 is actually the world’s lightest 14.1″ screen laptop. The 2.2.6Ghz Core Duo processor supplies computing power and there’s little missing – wifi, DVD multi-drive, WXGA+ display etc. – in terms of all the other features you’d expect from a top end laptop. Panasonic do have some Tablet PCs in their line-up and it would though be nice to see a touch screen option for the CF-F8.

The CF-F8 (I was using a device designed for the Japanese market) comes with a software add-on to help make the most of the already good battery life, and there is also an ‘Eco’ mode for lower power operation. I hope that Panasonic continue to push the boundaries for battery life. A laptop that can be used for a full day without carrying the power cord is a mobile worker’s dream. But speaking of the power cord, the CF-F8 also came with a power adapter that was well designed for portability.

Panasonic is clearly targeting the business market and the look and feel are a little conservative. For those who like a bit of variety, color variations are available in Japan (Japanese) but I’d like see Panasonic expand the series with some designs that are a little more flashy and edgy.

It’s good to see Panasonic innovating step-by-step based on real users’ needs and I look forward to future advances. I wonder myself about whether a laptop with a removable shoulder strap wouldn’t go down well. After all a handle still requires the use of one hand. When moving around an office with papers and cup of coffee, a “look – no-hands” laptop could certainly be useful. I’ll also be interested to see whether we’ll see the handle added to any of their smaller models.

When Apple announced the introduction of eMoji there was much rejoicing in Japan, as avid users would cease to be confronted by sceptics with the horrendous truth,

“…But it doesn’t have eMoji!”

eMoji on any iPhoneBut, in typical Apple style, the iPhone 2.2 software didn’t quite give us what we wanted – whilst the eMoji were in there, they were only accessible when sending SMS to other Softbank handsets, or when sending emails using an i.softbank email account.

For users such as myself this was pretty useless, as the majority of my friends and family are yet to see the iLight and remain on other networks. Also, I personally don’t use my i.softbank mail address for anything other than alerting me when emails are sent to my dedicated Gmail iPhone account (I have a Gmail filter that forwards a copy to i.softbank).

There was a brief flurry of excitement when, last November, a hack was released showing how eMoji could be enabled for all iPhones – but this required jailbreaking your phone or using an iTunes Backup Editor (which no-one seems to know anything about).

The Hack

However, a hack first published by ipodtouchlab requires nothing but the addition of a special eMojical group of contacts to your Address Book:

The emoji as they appear in the address book1) Download the eMoji Vcard here. It contains 28 contacts, each contact contains approximately 18 emoji in the family name field. They only take on their emoji appearance once on your iPhone.

2) Add the file it to your iPhone address book (either send it by email or on a Mac add it to your Address Book and sync)

3) Enable the Japanese QWERTY keyboard (Settings > Keyboard > Japanese Keyboard. You’re done.

Entering emoji

A single entry in the address bookWhilst the hack is incredibly simple and can be done in seconds (and I can confirm it works), the steps required for using the emoji are a bit long-winded:

In any app, choose the Japanese QWERTY Keyboard, then type “emojia”, “emojii” or “emojiu”. The suggestions pallet then pops up, included in which will be your new emoji.

The thing is of course, you can’t actually select individual emoji – you’re selecting 18 at a time (i.e. the number contained with the single ‘contact’ that you’re choosing). It’s then a case of deleting all but those that you want.

How to make the hack useable

Elephant emojiOf course, as such it’s pretty impractical. However, you can customise the hack to suit your purposes.

For example, I have a thing for elephants, so I’ve simply duplicated the vCard that contains the elephant, and then edited it, replacing えもじうは with ぞう (zou) so that when I type ‘zou’ (elephant) it comes up as a choice.

I’ve included my elephant in the eMoji Vcards set. above so you can see what I’ve done.

emojI in NotesI can’t see myself doing this for all of the emoji, but there’s a few that I can see myself frequently using, so each of these will soon be getting their own entry in my phone book. Of course somebody has probrably already re-done the whole lot giving each character it’s own vCard – if anyone comes across such a set do let us know.

N.b. Although it’s now possible to insert emoji in emails being sent from non-i.softbank. email addresses, there’s a possibility that they won’t display properly on the recipient’s screen.

iShodoIn a bid to cover as much news as possible re. the iPhone in Japan without having to cut down to only 30 minutes sleep per night, I’ve decided to start reposting other people’s iPhone-in-Japan blog posts. Full accreditation will of course be given.

If you would like to share your own iPhone-in-Japan related blogposts, please feel free to submit a link via my contact form.

To kick off then, I’d like to refer you to Chris Gaunt’s blog on iShodo – a calligraphy app now available from the App store.

Splash screenMail Me Angry mushroomsMailMeOne reason cited for the iPhone not taking off in Japan is its lack of an infra-red port, used estensively in Japan to quickly to send contact details / photos etc from one mobile phone to another.

However, thanks to a new QR code generating app released by Sepv Corporation, help is at hand. メールしてね (MailMe) [iTunes ¥115] will take your basic contact details (name, furigana, phone number and email address) and turn them into a QR code, which can then be read and saved as an address book entry by anyone with an AU / DoCoMo / Softbank handset.

At this stage, it’s unclear what the angry mushrooms are all about.

[Update] The app also has a ‘note’ field, allowing one to add a web address, or details of shoe size etc.

[Update] Cailean has kindly pointed out that this app can also create QR codes readable by other iPhones that have the app installed.

The angry mushrooms show that the QR code is DoCoMo freindly, and are replaced by a squirrel and dog for the other two carriers.

…and I can confirm that it works!

If there’s any one company that stands out at the king of Japan’s consumer electronics empire it has to be Sony. A modern, slick, high tech brand and constantly producing products the top ranks in numerous categories. Sony has also pushed the boundaries of innovation in bringing entertainment robots to the consumer market. The Aibo is perhaps the most famous example, but the Rolly “dancing music player” has been Sony’s showcase entertainment robot on the shelves of Japan’s electronic stores for the last year or so. “Dancing music player” really describes the rolly best, but you won’t really get the Rolly until you’ve seen it live or in a video like this …

Ever since envying leading tech toy geek Steve Nagata’s demo at a Shibuya get-together I’ve been wanting to try out a Rolly and was lucky enough to get one for review.

Out of the box the Rolly, strikes you as a very sturdy, weighty, well-built device – no doubt the stamina required for a full time dancing robot. Rolly is easy to use. One click of the main button gets Rolly singing and two clicks gets Rolly singing and dancing to the pre-installed tunes. The real fun comes when using your own music though. There’s two options, either copy music over from your PC or stream music from a Bluetooth device.

When sending music music from your PC you can also opt to program Rolly’s dance moves using the bundled software – an innovative option for true Rolly aficionados. Bluetooth is not as ubiquitous as I would like, but luckily I have a small Bluetooth dongle (similar to the one shown here) that plugs into the headphone jack on any music device. This made it super easy to stream music to Rolly from my home stereo and TV or when out visiting and showing off Rolly to friends. I think it would be good idea for Sony to bundle one of these dongles. When streaming music, Rolly improvises the dance moves amazingly well, although the programmed moves are definitely in a different class.

While a fun device to play with on your own, Rolly makes an exceptional party toy. I was surprised how many people didn’t know about Rolly. Children and adults alike were genuinely fascinated and couldn’t help picking Rolly up to take a closer look. I’ve seen Rolly in impressive display cases in electronics stores, but unfortunately in the display’s I’ve seen Rolly is always standing still. I can’t help thinking Sony would see a boost in sales if Rolly was dancing away in these display cases. I’m sure the crowds would be attracted in the same way as they were to Aibo. Battery life if probably the issue for this type of usage, although Rolly does give a respectible 4 hours dancing time on the USB chargeable battery, which I found fine for my uses.

Rolly comes in white or black from Sony store in the US and different colored arms can also be purchased. In Japan, a Pink Rolly is also available. (The black Rolly is only available at the Sony Style online store). At US$399.99 or 39,800 yen you probably won’t be buying more than one, but it’s an affordable price point and I think great value for what you get. There’s a bunch of other innovative features I’ve not mentioned here such the method for changing tracks and volume using the wheels and the ability to control from your PC and some phones (in Japan).

If I had to find any niggles, I found the drop in volume when the dancing arms where closed to be a bit of an irritation, but programming could get around this. The Rolly also by default stops dancing after one track and there’s no override (other than an unofficial hack) which is a shame. Finally the rubber wheels tend to collect dust so make sure you’ve wiped the dance floor before use.

Overall, Rolly is a fun device to have around. True aficionados can program the Rolly to their heart’s content, and I can envision entertaining Rolly meetups and dance parties. For the more casual user Rolly is a fun talking point at a home party and a way to keep the kids and cat entertained. The thing that left the biggest impression with me though was the way Rolly coreographed it’s own dance moves. This intelligent behaviour from a home entertainment device left me inspired and wondering what creative consumer electronic device we’ll see next from Sony.

Product Page on Sony Style USA: www.sonystyle.com/rolly
Product Page on Sony Japan Site: http://www.sony.jp/products/Consumer/rolly/
Interactive demo

Other Resources
Some good background info on Rolly and Other Sony Robot Products: http://www.sonyaibo.net/aboutrolly.htm
Wikipedia : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rolly_(Sony)

No 3G iTunes downloads for you todayApple’s announcement that iTunes music can now be downloaded direct to the iPhone over the 3G network has seen a lot of excited fingers jumping up and down on computer keyboards around the world.

So exciting was this news that it even provoked me (that’s me that only buys a couple of albums off iTunes per year) to tap the iTunes App button on my home screen and have a look around for the first time.

But alas, there was to be no downloading iTunes songs over 3G for me just yet. Apparently, Softbank are yet to come round to the idea, thus if you do try, you’ll just be faced with the same old message that you need to be on a wifi network.

I popped into the Apple Store (Shibuya) tonight to confirm that this is the case (“yes”), and to find out if they have any idea when the service might arrive in Japan – to the latter they couldn’t say anything but “wakarimasen”.

I’m secretly quite happy about this as I spend enough on my iPhone already (all those premium cigarette-lighter apps), and anything that makes it harder for me to impulse buy can’t be bad.

Speeek, the Japanese - English / Chinese translator

Speeek, the Japanese - English / Chinese translator

Softbank’s software division BBSS have just launch Speeek! for Japanese travellers heading for China [iTunes] and English-speaking countries [iTunes].

It’s a voice-enabled dictionary that contains 1500 phrases commonly used when arriving at an airport, checking in to a hotel, eating out, using local transport, sightseeing and having basic conversations. As well as set phrases for the user, likely responses are also given.

I’m thinking that this could also be useful for those studying Japanese – spend hours practising pronunciation by attempting to ask it questions in Japanese.

Having said that, if it’s anything like Google’s Mobile App it will be of more value for comedic purposes than actually getting a translation of what you want to say.

Japanese mobile phone providers have not been known for their support for non-Japanese speaking customers. However, the last year has seen improvements, with all major carriers now providing English brochures detailing price plans.

Largely as a result of the popularity of the iPhone amongst foreign residents in Japan, Softbank has now added an English page to their website detailing all available price plans.


Basic contract

Their basic phone package is their White plan (¥980 per month) , which gives you free calls to other Softbank users between 1am and 9pm. From 9pm to 1am calls are charged at ¥21 per 30 seconds. Calls to other networks / landlines are ¥21 per 30 seconds 24 hours a day.

Many users upgrade to the Double White plan, which for an additional ¥980 per month gives you a 50% discount on these prices (¥10.5 per 30 seconds).

White Plan

Sample of Softbank charges

Data plans

Whilst you don’t necessarily have to buy a separate data plan (under the white plan data is priced at ¥0.2 per 128bytes), being an iPhone user you’ll be heading for bankruptcy if you don’t. Softbank’s cheapest data package is 12,250 packets for ¥1,029, but if 1 packet is only 128 bytes then 12,250 packets will only give you 1.6mb of monthly downloads. Bearing in mind that the iPhone is all about data (I typically download about 400mb per month), most users choose the unlimited option at ¥5,985 per month.


Prices correct as of January 2009

Softbank data plan (Jan 2009)

Total cost

On top of the (Double) White plan and data charges, you’ll usually be paying for the phone itself (unless you bought it outright when signing up). The amount will depend on the deal you got at the time – mine is subsidised by Softbank (50%) so I’ll be paying about ¥2000 a month for the duration of the two year contract.

Visual voicemail is extra, costing about ¥315 per month.

In total, for someone who doesn’t use the phone much, you could expect to be paying about ¥10,000 a month. A lot of money? Perhaps, but it’s worth it.

English Support for iPhone users in Japan

Telephone support for English speakers http://mb.softbank.jp/mb/en/support/contact/customer/index.html

Softbank shops with English-speaking staff: http://mb.softbank.jp/mb/en/shop/index.html

As reported this evening on Macotakara, the Apple iPhone 1Seg TV Tuner and battery are now available from Softbank outlets here in Japan priced at 9,840 yen (US$109).

As far as the TV function goes, the unit works by converting the incoming TV signal and re-broadcasting it via wifi to the iPhone for display. It’s controlled by the free app Terebi (‘TV’), now available from the Apple App store Japan.

The unit can also be used to power the iPhone 3G. A full charge provides approximately 100 mins of TV viewing on the iPhone – whilst it’s not confirmed yet one would assume that if one wasn’t using the TV app it would give the iPhone a full charge. Charging the TV adapter takes 180 mins via USB port or 120 mins using a USB mains adapter.

The 1Seg TV adapter is a little smaller than the iPhone in terms of surface area, but about 1.5x the thickness.

I’ll be popping out to my local Softbank store tomorrow to take a look, although bearing in mind the amount of rubbish that there is on Japanese TV won’t actually be buying one myself.

Photos: www.macotakara.jp


Steven Agata over at The Western World has posted his first impressions of the iPhone 1 seg adapater / battery pack, confirming much of the above. I get the impression that this product was rushed out of the design room as quickly as possible – let’s hope we see some improvements to the interface at least as a twitchy app might drive you up the wall.