This is a guest post contributed by Top 10 Mobile Phones, a UK mobile phone comparison website

The UK and Japan both have huge mobile phone markets which belie the relatively small physical size of both isolated island nations. The UK currently has around 70 million mobile phones in use, which means that there are more than enough for each and every member of the 61 million citizens. Japan has closer to 110 million mobiles in their market, but with a population of nearly 130 million the UK has it beat in terms of market saturation.

Japan`s Key Companies and Money Matters
Japan`s telecommunications industry is worth over £1.5 billion every year and mobile phones makes up a large chunk of that. Japan is also home to some of the most innovative mobile phones and the latest mobile phone networking technology. They were the first country to give consumers access to the internet on their mobiles a decade ago and they continue to innovate on the technology side of things. A majority of mobile phones sold in Japan use the latest 3G technology to offer fast mobile internet and close to 50 million new phones are sold every year. This is because like the UK there is an upgrade culture which sees most people replacing their mobile phone handset every 12 to 18 months. Japan has several major companies producing mobile phones including Toshiba, Mitsubishi, NEC and Panasonic. In 2006 many of these providers suffered from over saturated foreign markets. As a result many withdrew their offerings from countries like China in order to focus their efforts on the domestic Japanese market. This is why many phones which are produced in Japan never get sold overseas. The largest mobile phone network in Japan is NTT DoCoMo and a third of its parent company is owned by the Japanese government, partially explaining its incumbent dominance of the market.

UK`s Key Companies and Money Matters
The UK does not have any of the major manufacturing companies like Japan, but it does have a public with a hunger for the latest gadgetry and some of the most powerful mobile phone networks in the world. Vodafone is an exemplar of this model and is currently the largest mobile telecommunications company in the world, estimated to be worth in excess of £75 billion. Britain has also been the birthplace for other telecommunications giants like Telefonica who operate under the O2 brand in the UK and who were developed by British Telecom in the 1990s. Unlike Japan there are five major mobile phone providers and with the recent merger of T-Mobile and Orange the market has become both more consolidated and as some argue more competitive, meaning better value for the consumer.

Mobile Phone Technologies
In both the UK and Japan mobile phones are evolving on what seems like a daily basis. Japan has been the hub for mobile developments in recent years, with mobile phones becoming more and more versatile within everyday life. The use of mobile phones not just to communicate but to pay for goods and services like a virtual wallet has been recently trialled in Japan.

iPubTogether Virtual Socializing Application Announced (1 April 2009, Tokyo Japan)

As you know the team at Mobile in Japan are huge fans of technology and are always looking for ways to apply technology to better our lives. A few years ago we started getting bored of going to the pub to drink with friends. It took too much time to go out and meet people. But we still enjoyed the pub atmosphere and wanted to come up with a way to create the same social opportunity using mobile technology.

After 2 years of research and development Mobile in Japan is excited to announce the release our first iPhone application iPubTogether.

iPubTogether helps you get together with friends in a genuine pub-like experience, without the need to physically be in the same space. Benefits include:
• Save travel time, money and energy
• Everyone can choose their own favorite location
• Everyone buys their own drinks. No more cheapskates who drink other people’s beer and eat their chips but never buy.

iPubTogether is currently in hyper Alpha mode running on the iPhone 4.0 OS with hidden front end camera. In our early tests below you can see how two people can enjoy a true pub experience.

We are planning to launch the final version on April 1 2010. Each purchase will come with a free voucher for Apple Beer at your local establishment. We look forward to your feedback and changing the way the world socializes with iPubTogether.

It’s all over the web already, but in case you didn’t see it Softbank have announced they are going to offering 8GB iPhones for 0 yen (around $100 for a 16GB) for purchases between 27 Feb. and 31 May.

Not only that, but they are cutting their flat rate pricing from around $60 to $45 a month. (Existing subscribers have to apply for this discount from 1 Apr. to 31 May).

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.

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)

The range of Windows Mobile devices continues to expand in Japan with the announcement of the HTC Dual Diamond S22H from Emobile.

It comes of course with wifi, bluetooth, camera, SDHC card slot and black or white flashy design characteristic of the latest HTC devices.

The real differentitor of this device is the addition of a 10-key keyboard in addition to the slide out QWERTY keyboard. It’s a non-touch screen device running Windows Mobile Standard 6.1.

Input options on mobile devices including soft 10-key, hard 10-key, Blackberry style front face hard QWERTY, slide out QWERTY and soft QWERTY. No one configuration or combination of configurations suit everyone, so it’s great to see users having choice.

As an aside, I’m currently testing out a X05HT HTC Touch Professional due out from Softbank soon and will send out a review in the not too distant future.

Press release: Japanese. Hopefully they’ll have the English up here soon.

The ‘mini-PC’ craze over the last year or so made me hungry for a taste. Being a mobile worker I really rely on my laptop, but constantly lugging around my current A4 can be a drag. Having said that, even though I’m doing more and more work in the browser I still find that I need a number of power hungry desktop applications and I was worried about moving to the opposite extreme and sacrificing power for size. I was lucky enough to be loaned a HTC Shift for a few weeks giving me chance to take it for a thorough test drive. Here’s a report on my experience.

Size
Moving from my large A4 laptop, was at first a shock, but I’ve got to say it only lasted about a day. I was surprised how soon I got used to the change. The real proof was that even though I had the option to move back to my regular PC to get work done – I didn’t.

I don’t have problems with my eyes so the 1024×600 resolution on the small screen wasn’t an issue (other than for a few browser pop-ups that exceeded the height of the screen and couldn’t be moved). There’s a handy harware button to the right of the screen for switching to 800×480, but I doubt anyone could really get much done at this resolution. The keyboard was very useable (yes – I’m using it to write this review), although I realized how often I use the F11 and F12 keys which are missing on the Shift.

Portability
The tiny form factor really was a revelation. I ended up downsizing my work bag and even carried the Shift around in a small sholder bag on weekends (see picture below). Even though it doesn’t take much longer to pull a larger laptop out from a bag, I found that the lower bulk factor and the sliding touch screen led to me grabbing the PC more often than in the past. It’s just a shame that the battery life is only 2 hours which means that I always had to travel with the charging cable.

A Tablet PC
It’s a real shame that Tablet PCs never took off. I had a Tablet in the past and have made a vow to myself that I’ll never purchase another laptop unless it’s a Tablet. Interacting with a computer through the screen is so much more natural and relaxing. There are two types of Tablet PC screen – those that require a special pen and those that don’t. The advantage of the latter is that you can also use your finger, but these have the disadvantage that you can’t rest your hand on the screen while writing, something that irritates occasionally. The slide away keyboard, means the Shift can easily be used in Tablet only mode – this is nice when standing or when taking notes at meetings (to minimize the communication barrier effect that a screen can have).

If you do get a HTC Shift or other tablet, I would suggest investing in Microsoft OneNote, which although not as intuitive as it could be, does do a great job of migrating the function of a paper notebook to a PC. In fact, easy navigation between pages, searchable archives, easy text erase and audio notes sync’d with the text you were writing at the time make it a big improvement over paper. For the first time since I last had a Tablet PC I retired my paper notebook. This really is the future, although as with the iPhone in the smartphone market, it may take a release from Apple for touch PC computing to really take off.

Computing Muscle
Looking at the stats, there’s 1GB of RAM and an 800Mhz processor powering Vista. Unlike many others I’ve largely had good experiences with Vista and the Shift was no exception. I did make an effort to keep Skype off while not being used and downloaded Chrome for web surfing. The Shift performed fine simultaneously running Chrome, OneNote, MindManager and a few small task tray apps. On another occasion I was livestreaming using Ustream while chatting on Skype and other apps and didn’t have any issues.

The hard drive options are 40GB or 60GB. This means you do have to think twice about using it for activities that eat up large chunks of space like photos, music, iPhone sync, Google Desktop, and also be careful how many applications and add-ons you install. Still 60GB is a nice size and differentiates the Shift from the early eeePC netbooks which worryingly had less than 10!

Hardware Buttons
In addition to the resolution switcher mentioned above, there’s also a button for launching a Communications Manager, which makes turning the wifi or Bluetooth on/off just a couple of clicks. The Touch Pad in combination with the left/right click buttons as an alternative control for the mouse were at times useful. There’s also a finger print reader which I didn’t use much other than when logging in in Tablet mode.

Mobile Data
The Shift really differentiates itself from others in the UMPC category with the addition of a USIM slot for 3G data connectivity. Potentially this is very useful, except that there are no reasonable flat rate data plans in Japan with the carriers using USIMs. This will change over time and so hopefully we’ll see HTC keep this feature in future devices.

SnapVUE
The Shift also comes with SnapVUE, which is a bit like a second low power, instant–on OS, that runs in addition to Vista. Clicking the SnapVUE button switches instantly for access to email (and other PIM data if you are synchronizing with MS Exchange). The downside is that SnapVUE can only use the cellular connection and not wifi, so it’s not much use unless you have the cellular connection set up.

Origami
Also included is Origami – Microsoft’s attempt at a new interface for interacting with a touch screen device. It runs as a separate application mainly for accessing media and internet. I tried the app a few times, but abandoned it in seconds. Maybe I need to go through the learning curve, or maybe it’s just not well done. All I can say it that I had a much different experience when I picked up an iPhone.

Interfaces
A VGA display adapter, SD card slot, USB 2.0 and earphone jack were all well used. I did miss the LAN port occasionally but if I was to use the Shift permanently I’d by some adapter rather than sacrifice additional size or cost.

Price
At around 164,800 yen (e.g. at BIC Camera) in Japan ($1899 at Amazon) the Shift is certainly a bigger investment than a netbook, but if you are looking for good computing power in a super portable device it’s a fair price.

Overall
Very impressed. I actually think I could use this as my main PC. It certainly attracted a lot of attention and questions when I was using it out and about. It’s impressive computing power in a small package.

For future updates the thing I’d most like to see is a big increase in battery life. In terms of supporting services, I think the mobile carriers should be looking to add the option of reasonably priced additional flat rate contracts so that mobile workers can have multiple connected devices without breaking the bank. I’d be prepared to pay 2-3,000 yen ($20-$30) a month for an additional flat rate contract, but another 6-7,000 is too much.

Looks like this was more of a leak than an announcement, about Nokia’s plans for the Japanese market in 2009. The news is below and you can read more about the Vertu handsets available overseas here: www.vertu.com

http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601101&sid=aZ6r4rNyPuJ…

Nokia to Offer Mobile-Phone Services in Japan, Yomiuri Reports
By Finbarr Flynn

Nov. 22 (Bloomberg) — Nokia Oyj, the world’s largest maker of mobile phones, plans to start offering luxury cell-phone services in Japan from March, the Yomiuri newspaper reported.

Espoo, Finland-based Nokia intends to start selling its high-end Vertu handsets in Japan from February, and may roll out its mobile-phone services from March, the newspaper reported, without saying where it got the information.

Nokia will rent telecommunication lines from NTT DoCoMo Inc., Japan’s largest mobile-phone operator, and may announce details of the service by the end of this month, Yomiuri said.

Nokia’s entry will be the first time an overseas phone maker has competed in Japan’s mobile-phone services market, the newspaper said. The Finnish company will target high-income customers by offering 24-hour concierge services that allow customers to contact customer services representatives to book plane and hotel reservations, the Yomiuri said.