Iphone - a great travelling companion

The iPhone and a Japan Rail IC card - a great combination to improve efficiency

Management and Technology consultants Bearing Point made news late last year when it became Softbank’s first corporate client for the iPhone 3g, equipping 1000 employees with them in a bid to improve the productivity of its consultants by giving them easy access to information. In an interview today with Nikkei Net, Bearing Point are reporting that the iPhone has changed the way that they work.

More efficient use of time

Before the introduction of the iPhone, having arrived at the office employees would spend 30-40 minutes every day checking their emails – time that could have been better spent visiting clients. With the iPhone, consultants and sales staff are now able to connect to the company’s mail server and deal with their inboxes during what are often quite lengthy train journeys around the city – time that previously had been totally unproductive, and boring for the staff involved.

Thus, the average time it takes consultants to acknowledge emails has improved dramatically. Not only this, the company’s internal communication culture has changed, with emails becoming short and to the point – a positive by-product of having such a small keyboard to type on.

Cost benefits of the iPhone

The company also praises Softbank for its fixed-price unlimited data plan, which now allows effective budgeting, something that previously had not been possible. When asked about the costs of voice calls, whilst the company provided no details of any overall saving, it did point out that 47% of internal calls were now made by iPhone (fixed line extensions having been phased out for many staff) – and with Softbank offering free calls between users of its network from 1am to 9pm this naturally has had a big impact.

Security

When it comes to corporate use, the iPhone is often said to be inappropriate due to its relative lack of security. But due to the way in which they use the device (i.e. phone calls / email access / internet access) Bearing Point wouldn’t agree . Having restricted access to the iTunes App Store, and without programs such as MS Word or Powerpoint or any easy way to transfer documents to or from the iPhone, this is not such an issue (consultants also carry laptops and data cards should they need to work with documents when on the move).

Who’s responsible?

With the phones being on loan to staff from the company, there’s just one main rule: don’t lose them! Staff are warned not to leave them out ‘on display’. If they wish to download games, they can, but are required to pay for the cost of the data.

The company has also notes that less time is wasted with faulty phones. With an automatic backup being made of the phone when synched with iTunes on a company PC, should there be a problem, it doesn’t take long to restore lost settings or data. Additionally, specialist staff are not required: the users themselves are able to sort it out.

Bearing Point are now looking into setting up a VPN server for their iPhone-enabled staff.

Overall, the company is delighted with how the iPhone has changed the way its staff work, and find nothing to fault in the device.

(Original article: 「iPhone」1000台で働く形はこう変わった ベリングポイント、導入半年
Nikkei Net, 13th March.

dsc00032[update] The video feed will be available at http://www.qik.com/tamegoeswild

It’s the most epic iPhone challenge yet seen in the world (probably).

Joseph Tame, known for his addiction to his iPhone (a.k.a. ‘my baby’) is going to attempt to complete the Tokyo quarter Marathon in record time whilst carrying 30,603 pairs of eyes on his forehead. This epic feat has been made possible by months of training, an Apple iPhone, Qik.com and a new invention of Joseph’s, which he calls ‘A Modified Hat’.

He will be joined by his trainer, Tom Kobayashi.

35,603 people applied to run this epic race across Tokyo – only 5000 got in: Joseph and Tom were two of the lucky few.

Knowing how disappointed the unlucky unfortunates must be feeling, Joseph vowed to make things right. He decided, he’d let them run with him.

The full story of this epic adventure will be featured on the new podcast that Joseph co-produces – Japan Podshow.

To get live alerts via twitter of Joseph’s progress & broadcasts, be sure to follow him @tamegoeswild.

Exclusive behind-the-scenes footage of this epic challenge is also available on YouTube.

Be there and submit your comments as he runs to make his iPhone vibrate – he’ll know he’s carrying your eyes and your hopes too.

UPDATE! JOSEPH POSTS VIDEO RESPONSE TO CRITICISM

The first MobileinJapan.com event, co-organized with the Tokyo PC Users Group and Digital Eve was a great success on Thursday, March 12, 2009 at the Pink Cow. Thank you for all of those who came and helped us make it a nice event!

For those who followed live online, you know we had to struggle with ustream.tv. Our apologies. We ended up using our Qik.com personal accounts for the live feed (special thanks go to Joseph Tame, who handled those and Michael Reinsch and Kyle Barrow, assistant cameramen on the spot).

As for the event itself, I won’t make a full summary as many topics were mentioned, but will share some key points that stuck in my mind. As I was a panelist, I might not have enough distance to judge, so if a key issue we talked about is missing, feel free to sound off in the comments.

If you’d rather watch the entire event, you can watch the entire video. There are a few glitches due to the experimental stream we undertook:

The iPhone, winner before the battle starts?

As soon as the event started, it appeared that the three panelists, Steve Nagata, Mike Tokue and myself, Paul Papadimitriou, for all gadgets geeks that we are, were all one one phone: Apple’s iPhone. Andrew Shuttleworth, the night’s moderator and a long-time Windows Mobile fan, has also converted (going so far as to wait in line 17 hours to get his on July 11, 2008 when it was released in Japan!).

Was that a recipe for a smartphone crush with one winner? Not exactly.

Smartphone v. Dumbphone

Maybe let’s first agree on a smartphone definition. Steve gave us a great one: a communicator and data aggregator that can be fiddled with, opposite to most “dumb phones”, as he would call them, which are basically locked by operators and manufacturers for a very standard use.

Mike and Steve pointed out that the iPhone might be a phone that should be considered for people wishing for a smartphone without too much hassle. Everything is controlled, you’re on rails and cannot deviate, as per Apple’s wishes.

Corporate use

The Blackberry, on the other hand, was thought for, made for and introduced to corporations first. That’s key in its strength and, for that, it still remains the ultimate business smartphone.

When I remarked that the iPhone was somewhat lagging in security (remote kill, mandatory password protection), Steve announced that Apple was currently introducing a Enterprise Server solution that is allowing for these. While not widely available yet, it is certain to step the iPhone game up.

Where are the others?

Windows Mobile? It’s lagging, no matter how you turn it. However, Andrew and the rest of us were quick to agree on one point: never underestimate Microsoft. It’s still an innovative company and who knows what they could bring next.

As far as Android, Steve wouldn’t bet his money on its success. It’s a tad early to see where it will go, but he’s afraid that it’s a non-finished product that Google hopes the rest of community will polish, as often with their services.

Symbian, the platform empowering Nokia, is still #1 by a large margin, according to the latest Gartner reports on worldwide smartphone sales. However, the company has now exited Japan.

I remarked that companies having full control on both software and hardware had some kind of advantage in respect to the end user experience. You’ve got Apple and RIM on one side, Microsoft and Google (strange association there), on the other.

Smartphones in Japan

Yes, so what about Japan? Why isn’t there a wider use of smartphones in Japan and why no Japanese company is able to produce a real smartphone for its market?

Mike reminded us the curse of the NEC operating system, an OS only used in Japan while the rest of the world was adopting DOS and early versions of Windows. It still goes on and might point out to why no Japanese company is launching a smartphone here.

The fact that keitais already use a form of email and have mobile internet portals for a long time created an entire mobile eco-system which now needs to be completely adapted to a new world of standard email and standard internet, Andrew greatly pointed out.

Being early innovators can also sometimes lead to a delay in further technology adoption, I added, pointing for instance out that the i-mode already had an App Store.

The keyboard is another important aspect that Mike reminded us of. Japanese do not need a full QWERTY keyboard for input. They don’t see why they should use both hands when the current system allows for a very rapid recognition with one hand. A bulkier smartphone seems suddenly less attractive.

To open a real market for smartphones in Japan, according to Steve, one needs to give them to very important CEOs, for then, politicians would want them, then public figures would want them, then, obviously, everyone would want them. That’s how it should be done.

How far have we come?

Mike showed us what devices he would use in the past for GPS, data and calls. All this can hold in one small and reliable device now.

The vast collection of smartphones that Steve accumulated in the past 3 1/2 years demonstrated how competition remained of the utmost importance.

In one year

And talking about competition, the Palm Pre was on some people’s lips. While not certain if it was a good thing, Steve qualified it as a phone that was thought of everything the iPhone was not.

Here’s the video I talked about, taken from a US late night show. You can get an idea of the general user interface. iPhone “killer” or not, the glimpses look promising:

In ten years

To end the debate on a forward-looking note, Rick Kennedy asked us what a smartphone could do for him. Could it offer live interaction with the surroundings, from a city discovery point of view to a conversation tool with anonymous people surrounding him? While the iPhone offers some buildings blocks of this future, as Steve mentioned, I encourage you to look at this video, recently filmed at the TED series of conferences. The future might be there:

…or, to go back at Andrew’s long loyalty for the Seattle-based company, is it Microsoft that holds the key?

If there’s one winner of the night, it was the community. Thank you all again and see you soon for another event!

Everyone wants an iPhone in Japan

In Japan, everyone wants an iPhone. So much so, that the market for small Apple stickers has exploded. Note that only one of them is holding the genuine article. These stickers were kindly provided by Japanese Snack Reviews.

There’s been a lot of talk lately about Japan’s relationship with the iPhone.  Softbank’s decision to give away free iPhones with new two-year contracts has been cited as proof that sales have been disappointing thus far, and that desperate action has to be taken to increase sales.

iPhone - white with a hint of colour Special edition iPhone COLOUR owned by my friend / teacher / ticket manager Nami


Others point out that this is a tactic frequently used by electronics manufacturers to shift stock prior to a new model being released (in June 2009?).

Personally though, I don’t see these online postings as having any bearing on my reality. I doubt Steve is going to pull the iPhone from Japan on the strength of one poorly researched article on Wired, nor do I think that app developers in Japan will stop developing for it as a result of bad press.

And the fact is, the iPhone is an incredible device. I mean, really incredible. I’ve never had the pleasure and the privilege of owning such a powerful, sexy little gadget before now, and six months after I first swiped my finger across its silky smooth touch-sensitive screen I continue to experience ‘Wow!’ moments as I find some new app that makes use of its outstanding native software and futuristic hardware.

It has had a massive meteor-sized positive impact upon my life here in Japan, helping me countless times on a daily basis to keep connected, stay organised, and to get stuff done.

Whilst I’ve reviewed many of these apps on this site in the past, I wanted to draw them all together in one post as a reference for people wondering what apps to download in preparation for the purchase of their precious iPhone.

Here’s a few examples.

GPS & compass

Tracking my routeUntil I bought my iPhone (which I did a mere three hours after touching down at Tokyo’s Narita Airport) I had never thought of GPS navigation as having any use in my life, as I didn’t have a car and had no intention of buying one.

However, back in the big city I was reminded that living in one of the world’s largest metropolitan areas results in ample opportunities to get lost when trying to reach a previously unvisited destination by train, bus or on foot.

The iPhone’s GPS capabilities, coupled with the built-in compass and Google Maps, make for the most amazing anti-get-lost tool yet to be invented (probably). Before heading somewhere I’ve not been before, I will quickly google the place and add it to my iPhone’s Google Map bookmarks (or the person’s address book card) – no need to devote further thought to figuring out the route. Providing I get off at the right railway station, I’ll be fine. Just walk so that the pulsing blue dot that is me gets closer to the red pin that is my destination.

Real-Time bus route

This also means I can now take buses too. I used to avoid taking city buses  in Japan as I would soon lose track of where we were, and would find it hard to figure out what the driver was saying. Now I can just follow the bus as it trundles across the map, and get off at the correct stop. Amazing! Google Maps also incorporates some bus routes too, although it’s not comprehensive.

The GPS has also saved me from a lot of grief on the trains. Sometimes, when going somewhere new, I get on the wrong train. For example, I’m no stranger to the getting-on-the-express-train-when-I-need-a-local-train scenario, which results in my bombing past my stop and on into the unknown inaka. If the train’s crowded it can be tricky to see the map above the doors / the signs at the stations whizzing by. In that situation, I now just open Google Maps, and see exactly how much of an idiot I am. Oh yes, I really am going north when I should be going south.

Train timetable app: Ekitan

EkitanNow at a station whose name I can’t pronounce, I open Ekitan Express [iTunes], the railway timetable for the whole of Japan, and ask it to show me the stations nearest me using GPS – match the kanji in the list of results with those on the platform sign and moments later I have the timetable back to where I was meant to be going. Ekitan is a phenomenal app, with its bookmarks, history and fantastically easy-to-use (and sexy) interface. (It should be noted that whilst although it does have a romaji input option, a basic ability to recognise station names written in kanji is necessary)

Ekitan also provides you with information about major delays on the majority of train lines in Japan (Japanese only). You can choose which lines it provides info for, so there’s no scrolling through endless pages detailing trains that are 3 seconds late.

(Ekitan’s other seasonal apps featuring Christmas lights and cherry blossom can be given a miss).

Dictionary app: ‘Japanese’

The next Japan-related app I rely upon is ‘Japanese’ [iTunes 2300yen]. I’ve reviewed this app before – thus here I’ll just say it’s blooming marvellous. In particular, I find the ability to easily add words I look up to its word lists immensely useful – when I get home I manually transfer these to Anki and flash cards (the fact that this has to be done manually is a bonus as it’s in doing so that one starts learning). Note that at 2300yen it’s not cheap – you may want to check out some of the other free or cheaper dictionaries in the appstore first.

iAnki

Anki

Speaking of AnkiiAnki is another of my first-page apps (not to be confused with the web-version of Anki, which you can of course also view on Mobile Safari). You can easily sync your word decks via a wifi network (once you’ve set it up once it’s very easy to do), then study your words regardless of whether or not you have an internet connection. I use it a lot on the Subway.

(note that iAnki is not a typical app and is not available form the iTunes store. It simply runs locally on Mobile Safari – no jailbreaking required)

Currency

Being a recent returnee to Japan, I still sometimes find myself wanting to know what something costs in British Pounds, and thus have currency [iTunes, free] on page two. Thinking about it though, recently I’ve used it more on payday to see just how many millions of pounds my monthly salary is now worth (as opposed to seeing how many millions of pounds our 32sqm apartment is costing).

Gengou Free

Gengou free [iTunes] is another handy app for people living in Japan – I reviewed that here: essentially it converts the non-Japanese calendar into the Japanese calendar (and vice-versa) – handy when form filling.

Today’s Earthquakes

今日の地震+ (Today’s Earthquakes) [iTunes, free] is another must-have for Japan-residents. Having used it following a few recent earthquakes I must say I’m mightily impressed with how quickly it updates following a shake. I did find that the server went down in the first few minutes following a fairly long shake a few weeks ago, but it was soon back up and running and delivered the results within the promised ten minutes.

The developer did launch a Push service for this app, but the demand meant that the servers went down whenever there was an earthquake, and so for now Push has been tunred off.

Yahoo Weather

Yahoo Weather

Another 1st page ‘app’ I use is not actually an app at all, it’s a Safari short cut to Yahoo Weather. I found the native iPhone weather app to be a pile of pants, and so instead use Yahoo Weather which can provide a very localised forecast using your Japanese post code. Just search once then bookmark the results page – this puts you just one tap away from a detailed 72-hour forecast.

Twittelator Pro

There are a few other apps which, whilst not exactly Japan-specific, do play an important role in my efforts to feel thoroughly at home here. Mail aside, Twittalator Pro for  Twitter is King. There exists a very active Twitter community here in Japan, and I’ve found this to be a great support.

Whilst I now have the beginnings of a family here in Japan and thus am not so prone to isolation, it was not always the case. I can imagine that had I had twitter access when I first lived here in 2001 I would not have felt half as isolated as I did then. I also really enjoy being given glimpses into the lives of other Tokyoites. More than that though, it’s really useful, with news and links to other useful / entertaining resources constantly being exchanged.

If you want to find more people on Twitter near you that speak your language, you can use Twitter’s advanced search)

Everytrail

My final ‘favourite’ (totally non Japan-related) app is Everytrail, which uses the iPhone’s GPS to track where you are – and uploads your route to a Google Map, complete with stats re. speed / elevation etc. I’ve been using it for training for the Tokyo Quarter Marathon (which on Sunday saw us run from Shibuya to near Shinuku via the other side of the Imperial Palace). Having a visual reference / record of my interactions with the city helps develop my sense of where I am, my relationship with the place. Like my trip by train back to the UK from Japan in 2007, this kind of experience of overland travel (which I probably wouldn’t do if I didn’t have a GPS tracking device) is immensely valuable, giving me a real sense of place that excessive use of the underground robs me of.

Incidentally, the actual marathon is taking place on the 22nd of March 2009, and I’ll be attempting to live stream video [to our sister channel Pokya on uStream.tv] from the iPhone whilst I’m running from Shinjuku to the Imperial Palace. An alert will also be sent via Twitter to remind you to tune in to the action – and you’ll also be able to urge me onwards via the live comment box.

Whilst I now have over 100 apps on my iPhone, these are the ones I turn to again and again, and are what I consider to be a part of one’s essential toolkit for a fulfilling life in Japan.

So that’s me – how about you?

How does your iPhone light up your life?

(I so should be paid to blog by Apple)

Japan PhrasesHeads up to www.JapanNewbie.com who yesterday posted a brief story about Japanese Phrases iPhone app [iTunes] from www.TheJapanesePage.com.

If you’re interested in that, you might want to do a search for ‘Japanese’ in the iTunes store – it brings up a lot of results, including audio flash cards, dictionaries, travel phrase apps etc.

If you have any to recommend, let us know – you can reach us here or reply to us on Twitter!

New iPhone data plan
Softbank today confirmed for iPhoningJapan that the new discounted unlimited iPhone data plan (4,410JPY down from the current 5,985JPY) will be made available to existing iPhone users – from April 1st 2009.

There will be no change to the existing data plan, so iPhoners wishing to pay less for unlimited data will need to manually apply for a change in contract.

Doing so will result in the standard 2-year contract being renewed, thus if you change your plan on the 1st April 2009, the contract will be extended until 30th March 2011 (but can be cancelled at any time in exchange for a 9,960 yen fee).

EvangelionAppliya, a Tokyo-based iPhone application publisher has just released a new app for fans of the hit anime movie Evangelion 1.0: You Are Not Alone. [App website More info] [iTunes, 230yen]

“We’ve taken scenes from the movie and created a cutout area that you can place over portraits in your Camera Roll. You can even put your face onto Gendo Ikari’s body, including his signature sunglasses. When you’re done, save the new picture and send it to your friends, or make it your new wallpaper!”

Appliya state on their website that you can follow them on Twitter for a free promo code.

iPhone failure in Japan? You’ve probably heard about it, it’s all over the news.

Misconceptions

It all started when Wired’s Brian X Chen wrote an article about how the new SoftBank pricing plan, basically offering the iPhone for free with a two-year contract, was a sign on how the Apple handset was a failure here.

The author used well-known Japan tech specialist Nobi Hayashi‘s insights wrongly to actually demonstrate his thesis. It led to a full array of articles demonstrating the extent of Wired faulty misinterpretation of the actual facts.

Obstacles

While the iPhone certainly has had a slower start than in other countries, calling it a failure in Japan is more than far-fetched. The handset remains a very high-end tool even in Japanese standards, doubled with a fashion statement that doesn’t get lost in the country.

Let’s go into some of the reasons explaining a slower start.

Law. Japan has changed mobile sales regulations in 2008. Handsets subsidies by Japanese operators is handled differently and this happened just prior of the iPhone arrival. Customers of this mature market now learn the price they will end up paying. The result? Sales have been slower across the board, moreso with expensive smartphones like the iPhone.

Conservatism. SoftBank is not the number 1 operator in Japan. Does it matter? To a certain extent it does. In a country where people are quite conservative when it comes to switching operators, the iPhone being on one underdog operator did contribute to earlier relatively slower sales in international comparison. This is maybe why the rumor of a future Apple deal with DoCoMo, the leading operator, has been floating for months.

Mobile internet. In Japan, the internet is mostly mobile. While the iPhone allows for a very fresh, almost desktop-like, browsing experience, it is not the way users know the internet on their keitais. Operator portals and mobile-centric pages are the norm. Some even think the addition of a Yahoo! Mobile portal should have been made from the start.

Language. Bear also in mind that Japan is not exactly a English-speaking country. The absence of Japanese apps at the inception was a big barrier, much lowered since then with a burgeoning Japanese for Japanese application galore, from train routes to dictionaries, from Yahoo! to Uniqlo.

Keyboard. If you thought the only complaint about the keyboard was the absence of real keys, think again. The Japanese input inputis somewhat different from what most customers are used in Japan. While it’s mostly just an habit, it still puts some people off.

Email. Email is what SMS is in the rest of the world. Instead of going the usual route and offering the well-known @softbank.ne.jp, SoftBank offered the new @i.softbank.jp address to all its iPhone customers. To this day, it has yet to be widely introduced in mobile services, ranging from weather updates to Polikura (the famous fun instant-photo booths that are all the rage with teenagers and allow for photo forwarding to Japanese mobile emails).
More to the point, emails sent to other operators appeared garbled to many, if not impossible to read at all.

Future

SoftBank and Apple have been willing to do their best for the Japanese market, as efforts like the introduction of e-mail emoticons or the 1-Seg TV adapter have shown.

SoftBank has revised its iPhone pricing twice, adjusting to the needs of the market. This can be seen positively and not obligatorily as a sign of failure. After all, who said AT&T’s price revisions were a sign of failure in the US?

Then again, pricing reduction is the norm in product cycles. With a new iPhone possibly appearing in the summer, the SoftBank offer makes even more sense.

Nationwide estimates put the sales of the iPhones between 300,000 and 400,000 since its July 11 introduction. I don’t call that a failure.