I’m a bit wishy washy about the title of this article as the iPad has had it’s US launch, but it hasn’t launched in Japan (or anywhere else in the world) yet, and we are still a weeks away from Apple’s “magic” device arriving on our shores officially.

Through the efforts of great friends at Rinkya (a must use service for non-Japan based people to purchase hard to find Japanese goods), I was able to procure a 16GB wi-fi iPad just a couple days after the US launch.  I’ve had it for several weeks now and have been trying to figure out what the iPad is and what it isn’t, and most importantly, is it worth getting one.  After spending many hours with the device (it has hardly left my sight since I first got my hands on it), I can confidently say “maybe”.

What the iPad is:

The iPad of course is the new tablet device released by Apple to fill the void between the mobile devices such as the iPhone and iPod Touch, and the laptop Macbook line.  With a 9.7 inch capacitive resistant, LED backlit screen, the iPad is much more than just a “big iPod touch”.
While it runs a similar OS to the iPhone and iPod Touch, the iPad’s larger screen makes a world of difference to the overall experience.  Remember, the iPhone’s OS has been  billed by Apple as a full (albeit customized) version of OSX, so the new 3.2 OS adds support for 1024×768 pixel screens, a Safari browser much closer to the desktop version with support for html5, and a new category of iPad only applications which are optimized for the larger screen and more powerful device.
For over a year I have dragged a MacBook Air around with me as my mobile office solution.  It’s been great and I love the design and slim design of the Air, but with the iPad I have been able to knock off about half of the weight.  For a setup that I usually just carry around with me in case I want to get some productivity out of a hour in-between appointments, this has been great on my shoulder.  Throw in a small stand and an Apple bluetooth keyboard and I have pretty much everything I need while on the run.  A powerful web browser, word processor (I am using the iPad only Pages app to write this), and apps that cover my major productivity needs, NewsRack for Google Reader RSS feeds, Twittelator for iPad for twitter, and LogMeIn Ignition for when I need to access my more powerful system at home.  Note that I do more complicated work at home on a full desktop system, such as anything multi-media related or data management tasks.
In particular, I really like using the Safari browser and am starting to feel that touch is the killer app for browsing.  The in-line video support is very impressive and the A4 processor of the iPad seems to handle high quality video without even breaking a sweat.  I now feel pity for anyone watching TV on the sofa who does not have an iPad within reach.

What the iPad is not:

Well, for starters, the iPad is not small or light.  While it is quite thin, the iPad is still about as large and heavy as a hardback book.  This is not a mobile device that you carry with you all the time, but instead is more of a ultralight laptop or netbook.  In fact I often find myself typing on the iPad at the same time as I am checking up on things with my iPhone.  It’s a bit too heavy to pull out while I am walking around the streets of Tokyo and feels quite unwieldy when I try to use it while standing on the subway.
But it’s not quite a computer either.  It’s certainly more limited than a laptop computer.  No open file area I can use freely, means I have to rely on apps to take care of any complicated tasks I want to do via the iPad.  I like how it takes up much less table space when I want to work in a Starbucks, however, even with an external keyboard.  And the 10 hours of battery life (about what I have experienced even with wi-fi on) is miles better than my Air was capable of.

What about eBooks?

When I first saw the demo of the ipad I declared Amazon was doomed.  I now feel that sentiment was very premature.  Comparing the iPad to a Kindle2 is pretty much impossible.  The iPad looks gorgeous and offers color, backlit screen, animation, and tons of other features to boot.  But compared to the Kindle it weighs a ton.  The backlit screen is hard on the eyes in completely dark room and I just can’t see that reading on the iPad for hours on end will be either comfortable or good for your optical health.
The Kindle on the other hand has a much smaller screen, relies completely on available light, has  limited expandability and a prehistoric interface when compared to the iPad.  However with a weight only a fraction of the iPad it’s much easier to sit by the pool for a few hours catching up on a good trashy novel (yeah, I know. I never do this either, but I think I read a book where people do it).  The e-Ink technology, while still very limited compared to full displays, still gives the Kindle a battery life that makes even the iPad green with envy.  Simply put, the Kindle is a great single purpose ebook reader, the iPad is a much more powerful, and complicated computing device.

My suggestion, get both :)
If anything, I think that Amazon will come out a big winner here.  The Kindle App for iPad is great and in fact has some features that even the iBook app can’t match such as whipersync, allowing me to read one book on my Kindle, iPad, iPhone, Mac, and PC and have them all stay in sync so I never lose my place even when I swap devices.  While Kindle may lose some hardware sales to people who will stick to just the iPad, I think Amazon should see even better book sales (the Kindle store has much better selection) and I can see some people buying from the Kindle store now without even owning a Kindle.


To 3G or not to 3G

The US has just seen the launch of the 3G version of the iPad, and so far, the reviews are not stellar.  Basically, the 3G version only adds cellular wireless capability, giving the iPad the same data capability as the iPhone.  I am very amused by all the people who expected that the somehow the iPad would be exempted from all the restrictions.
When using the iPhone over 3G network, there are download caps, streaming video is restricted to low bandwidth resolutions and VOIP applications are for the most part unavailable.  Of course the iPad suffers the same limitations, and while high resolution video from YouTube on the iPad over wi-fi networks is amazing, I can imagine the disappointment of the blocky, rough 3G throttled version.
I have been using my iPad with an EMobile Pocket Wifi portable router, which has for the most part performed like a champ.  I can get data access for my iPad wherever I go, giving me pretty much the exact same functionality as a 3G version, with the bonus of a faster upload speed and ability to connect the internet to another four devices.  One problem I have noticed is that the iPad drains the battery on my portable router much faster that I have experienced in the past.  I think this may be due to the iPad forcing the connection to stay active, even when the device is in sleep mode, but need to do a bit more testing to confirm.  As such I had to pick up a spare battery for the Pocket Wifi to ensure I can keep the iPad properly fed and happy.
I can see the benefit of the 3G connection, but am not convinced that the additional monthly bill will be worth it for me as I have no plans to drop the EMobile.  And with still no official launch date in Japan (announcement expected on May 10), and no idea what kind of pricing plans we will see here, It’s still a very big question mark.  Also i am not in love with the big black plastic bar across the top side of the iPad 3G.  Love the clean back of the wi-fi version.

So is the iPad for you?

Well, for now, if you have to ask the question, probably not.  The people getting iPads right now are die-hard Apple fans, developers, journalists, and people with too much money (no comment on which categorie(s) might apply to me).
The iPad will continue to develop it’s own ecosystem, and soon we’ll see a pattern of what type of people get what kind of benefits from this new device.  But for the most part, the iPad does not replace any mainstream device.  And since it does not rely replace anything, it’s hard to make the case that it is necessary for anyone.  What we need to see is for the iPad to develop a new niche for casual computing hereto unseen similar to the iPhone revolution.  Judging from the response I have seen from Japanese consumers getting their first touch experience with the iPad, I think there are a lot of reasons for Apple to be optimistic about their chances here.

Follow our complete iPad landing in Japan coverage

Not to be outdone by other table offerings that seem all the rage these days (and by that I mean totally outdone), Sharp has announced a new model in thier Ubuntu powered nettop computer range with a release date for Japan sometime in May.

The PC-T1 sports a 5-inch touchscreen, wi-fi, bluetooth, and 8GB of flash memory (but with a measly 1.5 leftover after preloaded system and software).

Slimming down a bit by dropping the keyboard from previous models, the PC-T1 weighs a respectable 280 grams (down from 400 grams from the previous model) and has an impressive 6 hour battery life.  Considering this is a Sharp device, we can expect a nice screen and the 1024×600 resolution is something to look forward to. Throw in a USB port and you have a pretty neat little device.

That said, I can’t imagine it will be worth the price.  Expected to be around 47,000 yen (around $500 USD), this device looks straight across the table at the iPad and tops most entry level netbooks with only average specs.  If your dream in life is to have a small, lightweight Linux based tablet netbook, this could be your lucky day, but at that price you are paying a premium for obscurity.  You might be better off with a Nintendo DS LL/XL if you just want a lightweight nettop.

Still, it is nice to see Japanese makers testing out the tablet waters and with a release before the Japan release of the iPad Sharp should capitalize a bit on the tablet buzz.

SHARP Netwalker PC-T1

As reported by other news sources, the international launch of the iPad has been postponed until the end of May.

A quick (and somewhat panicked) check of the Apple Japan website confirmed that Japan will not see the local launch of the iPad until “the end of May”. Not happy news here by any means.

Apple fans across Japan will be waking to the news that instead of just a couple of weeks until the arrival of the much anticipated new product, we still have well over a month to go. Apple is blaming the huge US sales numbers for a shortage, and reports are starting to come in that stores have been selling out in the United States.

That comes as little comfort to the faithful here in Japan and I expect the flames to burn brightly on 2ch today.

http://www.apple.com/pr/library/2010/04/14advisory_ipad.html

For those in Japan, How do you feel about the delay? Feel free to add your thoughts in the comments.

Follow our complete iPad landing in Japan coverage

Both Softbank and NTT Docomo are fighting for dominance over the newest trend in the Japanese mobile market: edible cellphones.

Docomo started the ball off with the SH-04B model.  This chocolate based flip phone comes in two flavors (chocolate and strawberry) and includes features such as GPS, custom ringtones, and choice of milk chocolate or dark chocolate center.

Softbank of course had to join this lucrative new market with their Jelly Beans 840SH line.  Taking a hint from Harry Potter, these confection phones come in a wide variety of flavors and come with a soft case to keep the candy shell from making your hands too sticky while you take calls.  The phone also come with an OLED eternal sub display and Adobe flash compatible browser.

There will certainly be more to come in the brave new market and it will be interesting to see how long it will take for other markets to catch on.  Still, after the disaster of the Nokia Herring phone, it could be a while before other manufacturers dive into the mix.

The mobile technology scene was rocked today by the announcement that NTT Docomo and Sony Corporation will be merging into the new company OyaG.

Both companies have suffered greatly in recent years due to outdated business practices and failure to motivate Japanese consumers, and high level talks between these two like minded corporations have resulted in what has been referred to as a “Donner Party” solution.

According to OyaG spokesman Uso Bakari, the merger will take a year to finalize and will be complete sometime in early April of 2011.  “We are pleased to announce that there are no plans for layoffs as a result of the merger” reported at a press conference early today. “In fact, we will be needing to hire an additional 2,000 staff to fill a new department tasked with managing all the duplicate departments from both companies.”  In addition, OyaG has released plans for their new 5 trillion yen headquarters building that will start construction in the center of Tokyo Bay on December 21 of this year.

According to Docomo senior vice president Oyaji Kusai, this merger should be a big boost to company morale.  “I am very frustrated with all this talk of new technology.  Every day I get hundreds of emails, and it takes hours for my secretary to print them all out and fax them to my office upstairs.” He laments “How am I supposed to get any meetings done? And this stupid cell phone rings all the time! How do you make it stop ringing? It’s so annoying!”.  There is renewed hope that the joining of like-minded executives from both companies will lead to new plans on how to prevent the spread of new ideas infecting the company.

The challenges of  keeping up with consumer demand have certainly taken their toll on both companies in recent years.  “We are tired of customers telling us what they like.” says a Sony marketing executive who preferred to remain unnamed for this article. “We gave the world the Walkman and Spider Man movies. What more can they expect from us?  People should just buy our products because of loyalty”.

This merger will create one of the largest mobile communications companies in the world and is reminiscent of the bank merger that created Mizuho Bank in Japan in 2002.  At the time the largest financial merger in the history, Mizuho was created with a market cap of 1.3 trillion dollars (currently worth 29 billion).  OyaG will have a market cap of over 100 billion dollars. “I am confident” says Bakari, “we will be able to keep our share value from losing more than 95% in our first three years of operation.”

For the full text of the press release, please check this link.  http://bit.ly/d6siij

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

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.

Japan based 30min Inc. has just updated their local navigation app with foursquare check-in features and twitter integration.

Just over a month ago, the Foursquare phenomenon reached Japan and the growth has been explosive with weekly check-ins likely to soon hit six figures.  It was only a matter of time before we started to see similar functionality from local Japanese applications.

First was iButterfly. An Augmented reality game from Dentsu, offering twitter integration a coupons for catching location tagged virtual butterflies.  I am more interested however in the response to this new update from 30min, a popular local assistant app.

The concept behind 30min is things you can do within 30 minutes of your current location.  This service offers restaurant listings, reviews, and photographs, as well as local services and businesses, attractions and events.

30min 2
This new update adds a check-in function similar to foursquare and twitter interaction so your followers can track your mealtime check-ins. You will be able to look back at your previous activities log and track check-ins of other users by location.  Particularly in dense cities like Tokyo, these social based recommendation systems are gaining popularity as population of information can outpace more tradition forms of advertisement.

30min 3

It should be interesting to see if other services and applications will turn this into a trend of geo-location based social applications.

30min is an iPhone application and you can download it for free from this link. Unfortunately it appears to only be available on the Japan iTunes store and the application catalogs only information on locations in Japan.  There is also an Android app, however these new features have not been added at this time.

So Fast Company has released their list of most innovative companies in 2010.
Fast Company: The World’s Most Innovative Companies 2010
Hardly surprising is that Japan is hardly present on the list.  In fact, only one Japanese company made the list.

In fact, in recent years only two other Japanese companies have made this list; Nintendo (#21 in ’09, #10 in ’08) and Toyota (#39 in ’09, #48 in ’08).  What’s most concerning is that this year’s Fast Retailing (The parent company that runs the clothing chain/brand Uni-Qlo) was certainly not brought in for technology.
Meanwhile, mobile and technology companies littered the list, with Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Google, and Huawei taking the top five slots, well over half the list has strong ties to mobile technology, mobile services and media.

So is Japan completely out of the loop?

Well, yes, and no.

In a global sense, Japan is a non entity.  Language being one of the major factors has kept a wall keeping Japanese customers and trends from participating with the global market.  As much as has been commented on regarding the difficulties involved with foreign businesses operating on the ground in Japan, it’s equally difficult for Japanese companies to operate abroad. (Ironic that one of the only Japanese companies from Fast Company’s lists is experiencing that right now).

But at the same time, we are seeing great innovation in Japan, particularly in mobile technology and services.

This year’s #5 is Huawei, who has been doing gangbuster business in Japan’s new high speed mobile network as the largest manufacturer of 3G data cards and adapters.  The whole 0yen netbook Emobile revolution has created a cheap laptops market that is the envy of both hardware manufacturers and data network carries across the globe.

And what about Gree?  The mobile based social network has seen enough growth in this down market to make the President Yoshikazu Tanaka the youngest billionaire in Asia.  This game based social network has achieved domestic success that makes global SNS’s like facebook green with envy. Most of that growth taking place in just the last two years.

So why the shun?  The tech isolation of Japan has to end. For Japan and to benefit the rest of the world.  Until we demystify and bring both Japanese companies and Japanese consumers into the global market, a place for this country in the most important technology field of the next decade is in doubt.

This is my first post in out newly redesigned Mobile in Japan.  It’s my hope that this website and community will be a strong positive influence on the communication between Japan and the rest of the world.  Would be great if we can make a difference and maybe see more Japanese influence in the mobile market.

It’s finally here. The iPad, the legendary tablet that has been rumored for over a decade. So what to make of it now?

iPad

While the announcement event is set at 10am PST to maximize the impact to US based media, the round world conspiracy placed the event at 3am JST. What is it about Apple and sleep deprivation for fans in Japan?
But it’s a testament to Apple’s popularity in Japan that I and around 50 other Apple Enthusiasts gathered in a basement pub in Harajuku to wait for the fabled announcement. Huge thanks to KNN Kanda and Hideki Francis Onda for arranging this event and I should note that not only was there another similarly sized even on the other side of town, but the livestream traffic covering this event alone included over 16,000 viewers (and of course a few dozen die-hard MiJ members).

iPad Greeky Crew

What a geeky crew! So many computers and smartphones in the room, after the announcement we decoded the human genome for fun

From Midnight Kanda-san led the discussion with a number of interviews with the tech pundits in the room (including yours truly) and it was clear that the expectations were very high for the announcement. Amazingly the energy just seemed to build as we approached 3am and by the time Steve Jobs hit the stage everyone was out of their seats and the room was buzzing with conversations and comments. Of course this led to my big fail of the evening. My plan for a livestream went far under expectations as dozens of computers in the room choked our network to a trickle. Streaming video from the event in San Fan was out completely and my outgoing stream was choppy and frequently dropped off. Sorry guys. :(

Luckily, the event is already up on Apple’s webpage and you can view it here if you haven’t seen it.

So how did things go? Well, even without live video we had a room full of geeks scanning webpages and chat/twitter streams to glean every bit of information as soon as it was posted. So we were able to keep up with each point in near real-time. I was amazed how fast each powerpoint slide was deconstructed. Almost instantly the call came out. “Where’s the camera?” then we noticed there was no Phone option. This was not what people were expecting, but so far no one seemed too upset.

Overall in fact, the device specs were well received. Size and weight seemed to be right on, with the comparison made that it weighs about the same as two large cans of beer (yes we were in a bar at around 3:30am at this point). Screenshots were analyzed for information on ports and potential for accessories. This of course is VERY important here in Japan. The interface drew a less animated response. I guess it fell right in the middle of most people’s expectations. No one seemed particularly excited or disappointing by the new multi-touch interface. Even more than games (which totally excited me), it was the iWork announcement that drew the biggest response. Quick confirmation came down that Japanese language input would be in place as this is a simple ported OS from a multi-lingual OS.

The eBook announcement met with generally positive response. Helped by the presenters, the Amazon Kindle comparisons were thoroughly explored and as a happy Kindle International version owner I have to admit that now I think my Kindle is kind of crappy. In my opinion, the iPad is the ebook that people have been waiting for. A transitional interface that is natural to a paperlover, but powerful for the savvy user. It’s high time that we start the move away from paper guys. It’s bad for the environment, it’s wasteful in terms of distribution and storage, and it does nothing but create waste in the retail arena. Someday, books will be rare things. something you can give to someone as a graduation gift or something. Not a regular part of your day-to-day.

iPad Geeky Crew 2

Now for the big downer of the evening. Well, first there was some happy. Costs were well received here. Steve Jobs made good his attacks on netbooks when he placed the starting cost for a 16GB wi-fi only iPad at $499. I think we can expect to see that translate into around a 55,000 yen pricetag in Japan. Of course the 64GB 3G enabled model will run more than two times that amount, but for similar capabilities, the iPad will certainly give netbooks much to fear. Still, it’s going to be a hard task for Apple to woo Japanese consumers away from “safe” options. The lack of a built in keyboard alone will frighten the typical Japanese customer all the way to a nice safe Toshiba. The Keyboard dock looks good and did get a favorable response in the room, but we will have to see how that holds up in the real world. I am sure however we will see cases with built in keyboards coming out of the woodworks in no time.

Now the bad news was the release schedule. While not explicitly stated, the expectation is that Japan will get the devices very close to the official US launch of “some undisclosed day in March”. But then chaos reigned when it came to the 3G enabled version. The AT&T price plans started off the confusion. Will we see similar plans in Japan? From Softbank (probably)? What’s a micro-SIM? (This is a micro-Sim).
The newly announced format has yet to be seen or connected with any domestic Japanese carriers. This could potentially delay the launch past the initial international launches in June. The modem of course is an HSDPA tri-band (850, 1900, 2100) compatible device eliminating both HSUPA upload speeds and eMobile network compatibility from the mix. The unsubsidized price model may not work well with both Japanese customers and carriers, so we here in Japan have a lot of question marks left following the announcement.

And then it was over. Certainly the room was wanting more. What about iPhone 4.0? No Flash (I’ve been saying for a while it is unlikely)? Murmurs of “One more thing” echoed through the room, but for naught.

Instead, Kanda-san and Onda-san placated us with giveaways galore including restaurant vouchers, tunewear iPhone cases (some even covered with Swarovski crystals), real Apple products (like applesauce) and even a very elite pair of Atomic Floyd headphones. And everyone even got a free iPhone/iPod FM transmitter.

iPad Giveaway

Giveaway loot thanks to Onda-san and Focal Point Computers/Tunewear

So how do I feel about the iPad in Japan?

A bit conflicted to be honest. I think the device is a great hardware platform. Personally I am disappointing that Apple hasn’t figured out how to do multi-tasking on a mobile device yet. I understand why we won’t see it until it’s perfect and agree with the philosophy, but still would have loved to see that one solved.

Obviously this is not a personal communicator tool. The iPhone fill that niche, so the lack of cameras is understandable. But I still think Apple may regret that decision down the road. It may not fit with Steve Job’s image of what the iPad will be, but the future lies heavily on the backs of the individual developers of 3rd party apps and I can’t help but wonder what they might have been able to do with the extra tools.

I do see this as the biggest threat ever to old ways of publication and distribution of media, particularly written media. But it’s still just a threat, not the silver bullet. Now we have to see how the more conservative side of the equation responds.

I’m calling this as Apples next AppleTV. It’s a gamble. However Like the AppleTV, this is not a guarantee win or lose. It will depend on how Apple handles the ball from here. Best case, iPad becomes the new mobile platform to beat/imitate/and berate, worst case, it flounders and Apple will scavenge the corpse for the next generation of Macbooks.

So ask me again in a few months. I’m sure I’ll have a better idea then since I’ll be getting one just for the new MLB Live app.

Follow our complete iPad landing in Japan coverage