Tonight, from 7:00 pm to 10:00 JST (Japan standard time), was held the new entry to Tokyo 2.0 series of events in collaboration with Mobile in Japan. Tokyo’s Next Mobile Application Star was discovered after great presentations of four participants in front of a passionate audience & special judges.

Steven Nagata did a great job organizing this wonderful event, in which some celebrities took part. Danny Choo, Noboyuki (Nobi) Hayashi, Hareo Shiiya and Hiroko Tabuchi were the celebrity judges, Hideki Francis Onda was the Moderator of this imposing quest to discover Tokyo’s Next Mobile Application —more information about the panelists.

Tokyo2.0/Mobile in Japan Event: TOKYO’S NEXT MOBILE APP STAR Tokyo2.0/Mobile in Japan Event: TOKYO’S NEXT MOBILE APP STAR

While lots of people were filling the place, the virtual public from around the world did join the event through various channels, from Twitter (hashtags #MiJ and #t2p0). Presentations were kept under 5 minutes each. The goal for the participant was obviously to be able to explain his application and convince the public and the judges of its greatness.

Tokyo2.0/Mobile in Japan Event: TOKYO’S NEXT MOBILE APP STAR

The first application was ふきだしツクール (manga balloon maker) [iTunes link] from Pool Inc., presented by Tomoya Nakamura.
With Manga Balloon Maker, you can add manga-like text balloons to your photographs.

Tokyo2.0/Mobile in Japan Event: TOKYO’S NEXT MOBILE APP STAR

The second application was iPoseable [iTunes link] from Ryuuguu & presented by Grant Morgan.
This application lets you play with 3D articulated models.

Tokyo2.0/Mobile in Japan Event: TOKYO’S NEXT MOBILE APP STAR

The third application, presented by Yoski Akamatsu, was Twitcasting [iTunes] by sidefeed.
TwitCasting Live is a Twitter client which adds a live broadcasting service (both visual and sound streaming).

Tokyo2.0/Mobile in Japan Event: TOKYO’S NEXT MOBILE APP STAR

The fourth & last application was フーフーミントン (Huff Puff Volley) [iTunes link] from ConIT, presented by Tetsuya Imamura
It’s a comical 3d sports game for iPhone. It’s a multiplayer game via bluetooth where you can interact with your character, blowing directly on your iPhone

At the end of the presentations, the public had around 15 minutes to vote for its favorite application, while the online audience was able to cast its poll using twitter.
When the time ran out, votes were counted and Tokyo’s Next Mobile Application Star was finally discovered! Two different prizes were given: the public’s and the judges’. Twitcasting got prize of the public (getting a mysterious prize the name of which cannot be revealed for legal reasons) and Huff Puff Volley got second prize. The first prize granted by the judges, though, went to Huff Puff Volley while the second went to Twitcasting. Funny, isn’t it??

Tokyo2.0/Mobile in Japan Event: TOKYO’S NEXT MOBILE APP STAR

Hiroko Tabuchi, New York Times Tokyo journalist, announcing the winner.

Tokyo2.0/Mobile in Japan Event: TOKYO’S NEXT MOBILE APP STAR

The night ended with a glamorous background and a great feeling of achievement for all participants. Not only tech people attended the event, but also journalists, photographers, artists, etc. all coming to discover the Star of the night. Not to forget the cute girls who were cheering up the party.

Tokyo2.0/Mobile in Japan Event: TOKYO’S NEXT MOBILE APP STAR

Special thanks to all the participants who made this event a reality and kudos to all the volunteers.
First and foremost, thanks to Steve Nagata without whom this would have not been possible! Thanks also go to Joseph Tame and his funny D. App videos, Pepi Valderrama for helping to prepare the set, Satoka F for her technical support, Paul Papadimitriou for his transcontinental support from the old continent, and many others that made this a success.

Check for more pictures at Mobile in Japan Flickr group (join and add yours, don’t forget to tag with MiJ)

UPDATE: watch Dr. Appleton’s videos that ran throughout the event.

The newly elected government seems to have some iPad envy. Well, maybe not, but the upcoming arrival of the Apple device in Japan is having some unforeseen consequences -or at least, I’d say, some correlative coincidence.

Mainichi reports that the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry is reviewing the possibility of asking all Japanese mobile carrier to deactivate the SIM locks that tie their handset to their network.

Traditionally, handset manufacturers develop carrier-specific devices in Japan, making it more difficult for customers to switch operators during contract.

Notwithstanding the relatively historical high level of loyalty of users to their operator, the situation was also one factor often cited for the initial slow iPhone sales.

I don’t know if anyone of you tried unlocking a Japanese phone, but, trust me, I’ve tried asking: the blank stare of the official customer representative when asked about it was priceless. While official software doesn’t exist, a lot of shops offer that service across South East Asia -a secondary market for used Japanese phones (I’ve personally tested one in Manila for my old keitai, worked like a charm, except internet browsing obviously).
The official unlock for iPhones that Apple has to provide in countries where the law forces them to (France comes to mind) would also be welcomed.

It’s actually not the first time that such a change has been considered in Japan. In 2007 already, the same Ministry shelved such plans, officially because internet browsing capabilities were deemed not compatible between operators and would have left users without it when switching SIM cards.

The ministry hearing is due to take place next week, on April 2, and, notwithstanding potential heavy lobbying, the law could become concrete in late 2010 -the policy being mandatory for new cell phones only (i.e. not existing ones).

It will be interesting to see if such policy will actually be able to change the mainstream landscape of the Japanese mobile phone industry.

Will it shake the industry and the operators?

Will the switch practice become mainstream among users?

Yesterday was Softbank Open Day, a celebratory event held for Softbank’s 30th Anniversary and over a thousand lucky lottery winners got to have lunch at the corporate HQ along with President Masayoshi Son and a ton of celebrities. Somehow, my invitation got lost in the mail, but I’m not bitter.

Nope, not bitter at all.

Stupid event, didn’t want to go anyway.

Especially since they announced some pretty big stuff. A partnership with UStream for a broadcast studio and Femto cell products are pretty neat, but the big announcement was the HTC Desire coming to Japan as Softbank’s first Android phone as the X06HT.

Glad to see that they went with this souped up version of the Nexus One.  Almost identical in specs. The Desire swaps the trackball for an optical trackpad, adds the HTC Sense UI and drops the annoying capacitive resistance buttons in lieu of physical buttons.

There is certainly a lot to be optimistic about, but that doesn’t mean Softbank won’t be able to mess it up.  By my count, there has only been one successful smartphone launch in Japan, and while Softbank owns that record, it did so with another company calling all the shots.  It truth, high end products continue to be a weakness for all Japanese telcos and it’s less of a competition than a Three Stooges flick.

The HTC Desire X06HT will be available from Softbank at the end of April.  More details to come.

Photos and info from Impress Keitai Watch (who’s invitation did not get lost it seems)

http://k-tai.impress.co.jp/docs/news/20100328_357645.html?ref=rss

With the iPad about the rock the e-publishing world, Japan again shows that it can do things a bit differently.

Later this month, Manga no Shinbun 漫画の新聞 or Comic Newspaper will hit all three major cellphone networks.  A subscription based service, Manga no Shinbun will translate the news into the more popular comic format.  While Japan enjoys one of the highest literacy rates in the world, Manga, Japanese comics dominate the market of printed media consumed.  And while ebook readers have been exiled from the shores of Japan since the epic failure of Sony’s Librie, comics via cellphone have been a steadily growing market for the last couple of years.

While Natsume Soseki might object, Keitai Manga may indeed be the future of Japanese literature for the busy, urban workers of Tokyo.  Increws K.K. is set up to make sure this market will stay informed with all the top news and up to date stories.  Utilizing what I must assume are the fastest artists in the world, Manga no Shinbun transforms front page stories to comic narrative.  Ok, so maybe it will take more than a few minutes, and the storytelling might be a bit shallow.  The press release included a page from a story covering Brazil winning the 2012 Olympic bid and it’s basically a comic of a TV newscaster reading the story.

Still if it helps inform the subway dwelling keitai-zoku of Japan about the world beyond a 2.1inch screen, I’m all for it.

Manga no Shinbun will be available on Softbank, Docomo, and Au networks this week and will cost 210 yen a month.  No word yet about localization of Barack Obama’s Spiderman.

For more info, check out http://newsmanga.jp/

So it’s been a couple of months since the Nexus One was released to select markets.  Of course I am getting used to “select” markets not including Japan.

So far, Android based phones in Japan have been pretty much a dud.  Currently only one official Android phone is on the market here, the “Hero” based HT-03A from Docomo.  An interesting move by Google considering Docomo’s established history of hating everything smartphone.  True to form, Docomo launched the HT-03A without paid app support in the marketplace and a confusing marketing campaign that punished anyone foolish enough to express interest to a salesperson.

So the absence of the Nexus One in Japan is not by any means a shock.  Still, that doesn’t mean there aren’t fans here.  In fact, the development community behind Android is very active and Japanese developed applications are a substantial presence on the Android marketplace.  So it goes without saying that there are many in Japan who would like to get their hands on the flagship Google phone.  Google’s direct sales model does make this difficult of course.  Still there are plenty of Ebay resellers and other more creative methods to get a Nexus One smuggled over the border.

In spite of the danger, Mobile in Japan contracted a brave soul to sneak in some contraband so we could goof off playing with yet another toy evaluate the handset for our readers.  We will be posting reviews of the phone as well as more Android apps in the future, but first things first, we needed to bling up the phone.

In spite of it’s illegal alien status here in Japan, many have braved the world of gray market importing, and for those who have, there is one destination. Mobile Plaza.  This shop in the outskirts of Akihabara is the hook up spot for everything mobile and import.  Here you can find phones and accessories most Japanese consumers have heard of only in legend.  Need a battery for a Nokia E71? or a replacement battery door for your Blackberry 9700?  This is your one-stop shop.

I swung by to see what was available in Nexus One and was not disappointed.  Nexus One is definitely hot now, as there were whole sections devoted to cases, screen protectors and other accessories.  Not only that, but right next to the Motorola Milestone (Droid) in the showcase beneath the register was a small placard with “Nexus One” scribbled on it.  For the faint of heart not wanting to risk shady Ebay dealers, you can buy one here special order (usually requires about 2 weeks).

Once my Nexus One was all protected, I could play around freely.  Well, not really freely.  We still had to work out how to get it on a network.

The easiest way of course is just to pop in a Docomo SIM card.  Preferably one set up with a high data plan.  After that, the setup is basically the same as the HT-03A.  I gave up my last Docomo SIM card last year however, and am in no hurry to get another one.  So in goes my Softbank iPhone (Black) SIM.  Here things get a bit dicey.  There are plenty of resources on the internet guiding you to the network setting to get an unlocked phone working on SoftBank’s iPhone network.  While I won’t spill it here, a resourceful Google search will get you there.  But be warned, there are no guarantees this will work, and if it does, it puts you in violation of your user agreement.  This means that SoftBank does not have to apply the unlimited data discount on your plan which could lead to significant (as in astronomical) data charges.  Some users seem to be getting by fine, but just remember, you do this at your own risk.

One significant development has been that when we first got the Nexus One, there were of course no paid apps in the Marketplace.  While Docomo finally got around to opening up the service in Japan late last year, this appears to be a carrier based configuration, so the only way to access the paid apps was to pop in a Docomo SIM card, even when downloading over wifi.  But all that changed a couple of weeks ago.  All of a sudden, paid apps were visible in spite of the SoftBank SIM in the phone.  Does this tease a possible Android phone heading to Softbank in the near future?  Maybe. (well, not maybe. Definitely. Softbank has already announced plans to release an Android phone in Japan, but this move might mean we will see it very soon indeed).

So now we are (for the most part) happily playing around with the Nexus One.  How many of you are interested in Android in Japan?  Let us know in the comments if you have any questions or would like us to test out anything on the phone here and we’ll follow in up in future posts.

After what seems like an eternity, Softbank returns to mobile data with the C01HW PocketWifi portable internet router.

Yeah, looks kind of familiar doesn’t it?  It is in fact basically the same as the Huawei D25HW released several months ago by EMobile.

I’m quite happy to see a new offering from Softbank in the data only range, particularly as this may give hints to pricing plans of other data only devices *cough* *iPad* *cough*

Pricing also looks attractive with a minimum monthly charge of 1,000 yen and a maximum of 4,980 yen.  EMobile’s current unlimited data plan tops out at a maximum charge of 5,380 yen.

No info yet on actual device pricing, but I can hope that it is cheaper than EMobile’s extremely high price (The same device is available in Europe for about half the cost).  The C01HW Pocket Wifi will be available in late March.

Press Release: http://www.softbankmobile.co.jp/ja/news/press/2010/20100318_01/

When I first heard that Domino’s Pizza in Japan had released an iPhone app, to be honest I wasn’t tremendously excited.  After all, such apps have been available in the US App store since it opened up.  But after a quick review of the announcement, I had to admit I was dying to try it out.

Dominos’ highlight three points for this app.  Easy, GPS, and Coupon, and they hit each point right on the head.

Easy: The app is quite well designed and very comfortable to use.  After logging into your Domino’s Pizza web account (you must create the account on a PC. There is a reason for this), you can place an order for anything on the Domino’s online menu.  The menu looks nice and is fast, offering all the options you would expect like half/half pizza’s, custom toppings, side dishes, and size and crust selection.

The interface is pretty intuitive and I was easily able to load up my order into the cart and confirm my order.  The whole thing took just about 5 minutes, and most of that was deciding what to order.

GPS: Here is the big surprise.  You are prompted to pick your delivery location.  The quick option is to select your preregistered address, but you can also use the GPS function of the iPhone to automatically pick up your location.  Once your location comes up on the map, you can move it around to correct the fix or pinpoint a better location for a pickup.

You can even select a non-fixed address like a park or public building.  With Cherry Blossom season about to hit Japan, this is a killer function.  In a few weeks, parties will flood public parks across the country and anyone with an iPhone will be able to easily summon extra food directly to the spot they are staked out.  You can also enter a street address as a backup in case they miss you, and of course the drivers can call the phone number you registered on your account (best to use your iPhone number I would assume).

When I tested this out, I picked a street corner down the block from my apartment.  My plan was to head out and wait at the corner to see if the delivery guys would give me my pie right there.  Ironically this didn’t work out because the food came early.  So just as I was getting ready to head downstairs, the doorbell rang and there was my food!  Well, can’t really complain about that right?  I did confirm with the delivery guy that he would have been ok delivering on the street, but since I wasn’t there and my registered address was just down the block he decided to try my apartment before calling my cell.

Coupon: Actually had a lot of fun with this.  The app also includes a simple game where you try to slice a pizza into evenly sized slices.  with the points you win from the game, you can buy coupons.

There are currently three coupons you can win that will get you a free 1 liter bottle of Coke, an order of cheezy fries, and a dried potato/chicken nugget pack.  You can even use all three coupons on the same order, but it took me around half an hour to get enough points to buy all three coupons.  Still it’s a fun way to add free stuff to your order.

I have to say I am very impressed with the app.  It’s useful, fun and adds something new.  Also the timing is perfect and I can image I will be using this this spring as the weather gets better.

Now if only Starbucks would offer a similar app for GPS based coffee delivery!

Domino’s App is free and available only on the Japan iTunes App Store.  Click here to go to the download page.

Thanks to @jonnyli @kylehase @drzuco @cloneofsnake and @gohsuket who helped me “research” for this article (and get rid of the evidence).


TOKYO’S NEXT MOBILE APP STAR
Date: Tuesday, March 30, 2010,  7PM – 10PM
Venue: Super Deluxe, Roppongi.  http://www.super-deluxe.com/

Entrance: 2,000 yen (includes 2 drink tickets)
http://plancast.com/a/1fun

Who will be the Star of Japan’s Mobile App scene? Join Tokyo 2.0 as we see the best that Tokyo has to offer!  This event will pit new, unknown developers against each other and against our panel of expert judges to claim the ultimate prize, the title of Tokyo’s Next Mobile App Star!

Four untested but talented developers will each be presenting a new mobile application for considerations.  Each contestant will give a five minute presentation and practical demonstration of their application.  Following each presentation, our panel of celebrity judges will critique each presenter looking at originality, technique, and appeal of the application as well as the quality and effectiveness of the sales pitch/presentation.  Following the presentations, all attendees of the event will be able to vote for the title of Tokyo’s Next Mobile App Star.  Prizes provided by event sponsors will be awarded to the overall winner and the Judges will also award additional prizes for their favorite presenters.

If you are interested in applying, check our application guidelines. Applications

Tokyo2.0 Event: 東京の次のモバイルアプリスター

日時:2010年3月30日(火)19:00~22:00
場所:スーパー・デラックス http://www.super-deluxe.com/

会費: 2,000円 (ドリンク券2枚付き)
http://plancast.com/a/1fun

日本のモバイルアプリシーンのスターは誰だ?Tokyo 2.0に来て、一緒に東京のベストを見よ う!このイベントでは、新人無名の開発者たちが互いに闘い、エキスパート審判団とも闘う。目指すは、究極の褒賞、 「東京の次のモバイルアプリスター」の称号だ!

表には出ていないが才能ある4人のディベロッパーがそれぞれ新モバイルアプリケーション を紹介、それらの可能性を探ります。各出場者は5分間のプレゼンを 行うほか、実際にアプリケーションのデモを行います。各プレゼンに続き、アプリケーションのオリジナリ ティー、技術面、アピール度に加え、売り込み方やプ レゼンテーションの質や効果的だったかどうかといった観点から著名な審査員の方々による各プレゼンターの論評が行われま す。また、本イベントの参加者全員 が東京の次世代モバイルアプリケーションの星を決定する投票に参加できます。イベントスポンサー提供の賞が優勝者に贈られるほか、審査員の興 味を引いた出 場者にはその他の賞も贈られます。

ディベロッパー参加の申し込みはお願いいたします。申し込み方法

UPDATE: read the write-up of the successful event

Japan is one of the safest countries in the world. You can go to a coffee shop, leave your belongings in a table, go to the toilet and when you come back, everything is right there. Nobody will touch it. Anyway, Japanese do worry about security. There are tons of gadgets and even books to help people increase “security” in their lives. Of course, iPhone applications are not an exception. In fact, just think about it. Do you think that it’s easier to loose your wallet or your iPhone?
Usually you will keep your iPhone in your pocket or in your hands. You will always think about it to check emails, browse the web or you’ll just try to keep it right away in your hands to play some game in spare moments. How many times do you think about your wallet? Usually people think about it, only when they have to use it.

Japan Mobile Inc created an application to keep the content of your wallet safe in your iPhone.
The idea is simple. As soon as you realize that you lost your wallet or think it got robbed, the first thing to do is to block the credit cards, and inform the police about the loss. In that case you will need the following information: credit card number, expiration date, driver’s license number and so forth. Usually nobody remembers this information.

Wallet Guide uses the camera and it has many options to edit the picture. It also organizes the image from the front and back and it has a table to choose what kind of document you want to store.

The application protects this information with a security code, so in case your iPhone gets lost, nobody will be able to get the content.
Link to iTunes Store

It has been reported by Japanese tech media outlets Impress and CNet Japan that Apple has removed top downloaded app Sekai Camera and several other applications from the iTunes App Store.

Sekai Camera, created by TonchiDot,  was one of the first AR (Augmented Reality) apps available for the iPhone and quickly gained popularity not only in Japan, but abroad as well.  The application makes us of Place Engine, a service similar to Skyhook Wireless that uses known wi-fi hotspot signals to enhance GPS location readings.  Yahoo!地図 published by Yahoo Japan and a number of applications released by Koozyt, another application developer using PlaceEngine have also been pulled.

TonchiDot CEO Takahito Iguchi has responded by confirming the removal was due to the Apple App review process and that an update to the software will be released soon.

At this time it is unclear if PlaceEngine is indeed the reason that these apps were pulled, and why the system may be a problem for Apple. We will continue to monitor and post updates as they are made public.
For real-time updates on mobile news from Japan, follow us on twitter!

Update 6.3.10 11:00: Techcruch has received a message from Tonchidot regarding the removal. Including the excerpt below.

Update with Tonchidot’s response (edited):

We have also received sympathetic words from many people across the
world, and really appreciate everyone’s support.

We always strive to comply with Apple’s policies, and will fix and
resubmit a version that satisfies their current requirements.  We do
not know what the exact reason is for their recent decision, but
Koozyt, among others, have been extremely helpful in helping us
identify the potential cause.

No worries, will will have a new and better version back up on App
Store very soon, so please look forward to it ! :)

Go Koozyt! Go Sekai Camera!

Update 5.3.10 06:30:

More information on this removal is coming in from around the globe.  Serkan Toto has covered the story for TechCruch and mentions this article in the Register noting similar apps around the world have also been pulled.

The iPhone Blog speculates that the mass rejection has to do with enhanced scrutiny over use of private API’s in Apple’s review process.  Not a new policy, but sudden enforcement of existing developer agreements. Please note that there has been no official statement by Apple at this point.

Update 4.3.10 21:20: Added Yahoo!地図 app removal.