Remember that scene in Lost In Translation where Bill Murray randomly orders food from a menu he’s at loss understanding?

DoCoMo is making this a thing of the past.

The Japanese telco giant has released an Android app that translates restaurants menus on the fly: 料理メニュー翻訳. Japanese, English, Korean and Chinese.

You just have to take a photo with the camera and the text gets translated in less than a fifth of a second.

This reminds me a bit of WordLens, the iPhone app that grabbed some headlines at the end of last year. It allows live translations of text through the Google Translate API (video). But maybe because that API is being deprecated, the app never went further than English to Spanish and reverse.

DoCoMo probably uses its own custom set of translation technologies, maybe based on the same roots than the simultaneous interpretation system that it displayed this spring at Wireless Japan 2011 —I mean, just look at this video, that was quite impressive.

The Android app can be downloaded for free, but only on 2.1+ systems. Its use will remain free of charge until mid-January, during which time the company will use consumers’ feedback to iterate it.

DoCoMo is already working on expanding the thesaurus besides restaurant menus.

Well…「そのためのアプリケーションがあります」

 

[nohang foo="bar"]Update: For our foreign friends, DoCoMo notes that a subscriber account is needed —i.e. a DoCoMo SIM card inserted in the compatible phone. It might well just be a case of not offering support if you’re roaming from your national carrier. Starting January 2012 though, you might be locked out by not having the possibility to pay for the service (thanks to my fellow Pietro Zuco for the help understanding the small prints). Don’t hesitate to share your experiences in the comments below.[/nohang]

The 4 year-old company and strong Google competitor in mobile advertising, InMobi, has just received USD 200m from SoftBank.

The funding will take place in two tranches, 100m this month and another guaranteed 100m in April 2012. If you take into account that inMobi is from India, this could very well be one of the largest round of investment ever for this area of the world.

Google had purchased AdMob almost two years ago, cementing its leader position in the market. InMobi just bought Sprout, a US-based startup that facillitates the serving of HTML5 ads. Both have offices in Tokyo.

Asia’s number 1?

Masayoshi Son, SoftBank CEO, has an interesting justification on this funding decision:

We believe this partnership will help softBank become the number one Internet company in Asia

That’s bold. Very Son-like.

SoftBank already invested in Yahoo! Japan, a separate company from the rest of the world more than 15 years ago, around which it will release an Android smartphone —for now called the Yahoo! Phone (I wonder, why not the YPhone?).

It recently partnered with DropBox for its Asian expansion, but also invested in the luxury travel specialist Gilt Group, the social gaming mammoth Zynga or the live streaming service UStream.

By all accounts, SoftBank can already be named as a big player in the online space in Japan.

The goal of becoming number 1 in Asia is still a long shot. It reminds me a bit of the pledge of many other japanese web companies willing to internationalize, using their massive cash reserves.

Now, the recent row with Alibaba about its payment system Alipay proves that money isn’t enough a strategy.

But if one man can do it from Japan, it might very well be Son.

The top carrier in Japan, NTT DoCoMo, is set to announce a big licensing deal with Twitter in the coming hours.

Data, data, data

The telecom mammoth is partnering with Twitter in order to release various types of applications based on Twitter’s massive amount of data.

The first service would be a new type of location-based service in Japan, set to launch in Q4.

The trick? Instead of using the traditional “follow” command on Twitter directly, users equipped with near-field-communication (NFC) devices will just have to touch each other’s phone to establish a mutual follow relationship.

The point? Alerting users about local information (events for instance) through the firehose of information, using the current location.

The uptake? DoCoMo will be able to survey users’ behaviors with ultra-local precision. Data that it will use to enhance its offering but that it also could sell to marketers.

DoCoMo also envisions to add Twitter results in its i-mode portal (the ancestor to today’s app stores and such) this summer already. Other applications will be announced at a later stage.

Twitter in Japan?

In Japan, Twitter has been a huge success, to the point that Katie Jacob Stanton, VP International Strategy, recently admitted that roughly 25% of tweets are now coming from here.

Until now, Twitter had only directly dealt with SoftBank, the #3 mobile operator in Japan having installed a Twitter button on some of its phones (think of it as a shortcut).

SoftBank is also rumored to develop its own Twitter client for both feature- and smart- phones, although not much is known at this stage.

Privacy

The deal obviously raises some privacy concerns. Nikkei affirms that all data will be anonymized. And, let’s be clear, Twitter’s updates are already in the open anyway —unless one has set the account on private. Still, I’m rather certain that there will be some reaction in a country that had so many concerns about Google Street View —again a case of public data, just suddenly gathered in one place.

Future

The actual use of NFC seems a bit limited at this point —maybe a way to lure users to have fun with their groups of known friends around them—, but I wouldn’t exclude some further developments with ultra-local deals down the line.

Now, learning that the biggest mobile telco in the world partnering with Twitter remains very interesting.

Will DoCoMo be able to correctly channel the amount of data in order to offer both added-value for its customers and its ad partners? Will this further establish Twitter’s presence in Japan —the news coming roughly a month after the first ever country manager was announced in the country— ?

On the other side of the ocean, I’m sure Twitter is listening carefully. If this proves successful, don’t be surprised to see the model replicated elsewhere.

 

Our sources were right. The iPad 2 is arriving in Japan tomorrow, April 28.

And, you know what? The elusive white iPhone 4 will be in stores as well.

The official confirmation comes from no other than SoftBank. A few minutes ago, they added this update on their Twitter account:

It confirms both the iPad 2 …and the white version of Apple’s iPhone. Thanks for waiting!

Pricing

The second Twitter update, a few seconds later, confirms the iPad 2 pricing.

  • Wi-Fi 16GB JPY 44,800
  • Wi-Fi 32GB JPY 52,300
  • Wi-Fi 64GB JPY 60,800
  • Wi-Fi + 3G 16GB JPY 56,640
  • Wi-Fi + 3G 32GB JPY 64,800
  • Wi-Fi + 3G 64GB JPY 72,720

The prices are very close to those of the first version of the iPad when it was released.

What about the data plans for the 3G versions ? iPad 2 for everybody it is [Ja, PDF]. It’s again similar to what SoftBank offered to iPad 1 owners.

Since it’s SoftBank that went ahead and confirmed all the info without Apple having updated anything -yet-, we can pretty much be certain that the SIM lock –unseen in the rest of the world– stays in place for the moment.

Enough supplies?

One thing is certain. Apple is very confident it will be able to supply enough tablets to this very important market, all the while expanding into Singapore, Hong Kong, Korea, eight other countries on April 29 and China on May 6 (Wi-Fi model only). The company announced very strong numbers for its last quarter, although some analysts were disappointed. All inventory was sold but the earthquake that hit us left scars in the local supply chain essential for Cupertino. Tim Cook admitted some disruption last week while stressing that employees worked “around the clock” to mitigate the issues.

Will there be enough iPad 2 for Japan? The staggering USD 11bn purchase commitment should help.

PR Chaos?

On the communication front, only SoftBank is communicating. Nothing from Apple yet. The roll-out is unusual for Apple, to say the least. We just know that the Genius Bar are not accepting appointments until Saturday, certainly to cope with the sales.

No pre-order period –a great revenue maker for both Apple and Softbank via the anticipation build-up. Did they want to avoid hurting those iPad 1 sales? Maybe. Word is that if you’re getting a -discounted- iPad 1, you won’t have an exchange offer for the iPad 2. Ouch!

No real free publicity period this time around either –no posters in electronic stores announcing the new date, but then again, they had already printed the original ones with “March 25″.

Unprecedented. Unusual. Some hardcore fans might dislike how this plays out. Let’s wait and see. And let’s see the queues building up in front of stores tomorrow!

 

Oh… as I’m about to hit the publish button, SoftBank official press release [Ja] comes up. 20 minutes later. It’s honestly a bit chaotic. You gotta love the real-time news, right?

 

 

Help Japan

Whether or not you care about the iPad 2 or the white iPhone, you should continue to help Japan.

Mobile in Japan supports our amazing friends at #quakebook who created the beautiful 2:46: Aftershocks: Stories from the Japan Earthquake. Buy it on Amazon (US store: http://amzn.to/quakebook & UK store: http://amzn.to/qbuk). 100% of your money goes to the Japan Red Cross society.

 

Turns out I was wrong.

I had placed my bets for a mid-May release, but the second iteration of the iPad will hit Japan’s shores on April 28. That’s tomorrow, folks. You read that right.

Our various sources confirm it.

April 28 in all stores

As the Nikkei correctly reports, the tablet will debut Thursday in Apple stores, retailers and Softbank Mobile outlets. That last part seems could confirm that the iPad might very well still be SIM locked in Japan, i.e. no way to slip another micro-SIM than the official carrier (but free to put international chips in).

Apple sold all the iPad 2 it had on its inventory last quarter, but some analysts called the numbers a bit disappointing. The recent disaster in Japan and its related components shortage –Japanese suppliers being responsible from flash memory chips to screen overlays– didn’t allow the company to muster production further. Apple’s acting CEO admitted some supply chain disruption last week but stayed silent on a release date in Japan. Since then, the company committed to a staggering USD 11bn purchase commitment, concomitant with the tablet expansion into new countries in Asia.

A release in Japan shows Cupertino is very confident in its ability to widely deliver the product.

The re-opening of the Apple store in Sendai last Thursday showed a relative return to normalcy for Apple Japan. The city and its one million resident were the closest to the massive earthquake and its following tsunami. Some unconfirmed rumors mention a symbolic launch of the iPad 2 in that shop, but I wouldn’t bet on it at this hour.

Geniuses to the rescue

Our own Joseph Tame indicates that there’s a sudden lack of Genius bar availability starting tomorrow until Saturday. Ressources are being redirected for an influx of customers, as the iPad 2 will undoubtedly lead to lots and lots of people queueing in front of the major stores.

White iPhone

Some of our sources are mentioning that the elusive white version of the iPhone might also arrive tomorrow. This is all very muddy to me. It is supposedly arriving in the US today, although the official online store still only displays the black version.

In any case, if you’re looking for the iPad 2, start queuing!

[box] UPDATE: It’s official, both iPad 2 and white iPhone released April 28. Pricing confirmed. Read more.[/box]

Help Japan

Whether or not the iPad 2 is released tomorrow, you should continue to help Japan.

Mobile in Japan supports our amazing friends at #quakebook who created the beautiful 2:46: Aftershocks: Stories from the Japan Earthquake. Buy it on Amazon (US store: http://amzn.to/quakebook & UK store: http://amzn.to/qbuk). 100% of your money goes to the Japan Red Cross society.

More than a month after the earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan, there’s finally official word about the impact on Apple’s global supply chain.

Apple’s Q2 2011 earnings –which, it has to be noted, remain very strong– allowed Tim Cook to address the question directly.

Disruption mitigated

As pointed out yesterday, the disruption to Apple’s sourcing seems to have been mitigated for the past month through some extra effort, leading to minimal sales impact.

The acting CEO acknowledged during the Q&A session that Apple was sourcing “hundreds of items” from Japan. These range from LCD components to coatings and optical drives. “The earthquake and tsunami and nuclear crisis caused disruption for suppliers”. Acknowledging the difficulties, Cook added that “employees have been literally working around the clock” and have come up with a “number of contingency plans”. He stressed the impressive resilience and “outstanding teamwork” of Apple’s partners in Japan.

Uncertain future

The situation remains uncertain, as the company would prefer to maintain its long-lasting relationship. “There’s obviously no guarantees” warned Tim Cook as he anticipated no shortage nor cost impact for the upcoming quarter. Apple will revisit the situation during the next earnings in September.

Cook admitted that there had been an impact on revenue for Q2 but that it shouldn’t amount to more than USD 200m for Q3. As a reminder, Apple’s revenue in Japan were about 1.4bn USD for the last quarter of 2010.

No word on iPad2

Apple didn’t announce any release date for the delayed iPad2 in Japan. It seems to rule out a roll-out in the next few days, that some analysts had predicted. I personally remain bullish on a mid-May release date.

 

Remember that you can help Japan. Strike that, remember that you should help Japan. “It’s an incredible tragedy” says Tim Cook. Head over our friends at #quakebook, and buy their ‘2:46: Aftershocks: Stories from the Japan Earthquake’ (direct Amazon links: http://amzn.to/quakebook (US) & http://amzn.to/qbuk (UK)). 100% of the money goes to the Japan Red Cross society.

 

Image credit: Quasic, under cc by-sa 2.0 license.

The Mobile Marketing Association Forum in Singapore is right around the corner.

I was there last year, along with a few other executives focused on Japan and it was a highlight of my 2010 conference circuit. Hence and even if I had to cancel my speaking engagement this year (sorry Rohit!), I’d like to recommend this event to all of you interested in the mobile business across Asia Pacific.

The event will take place on May 4 & 5, preceded by a full day of workshops on the 3rd, all at the Grand Hyatt Singapore. Representatives of companies ranging from Dentsu to Alcatel-Lucent, from Google to Ogilvy will certainly ensure that the full mobile prism is covered, from brands to telcos.

 


Got what it takes for The Pitch?

A new addition to the program caught my eye. Called The Pitch, it will allow six companies to demonstrate in six minutes how disruptive their service is. No Powerpoint –hallelujah!–, no presentation, just raw convincing. I like that.

Three benefits of taking part in The Pitch
#1. Visibility is important.
Some of the best products never make it to market, because no one sees them, and with ever-rising levels of competition in the current economic climate, becoming invisible is the best way to lose out. Get the edge on the competition, and make your pitch.
#2. The audience is focused.
The very nature of MMAF attracts an audience that is going to be interested in your product or service, particularly if you can emphasize its mobile technology angle. Why try to make yourself heard over the crowd, when you can talk to the right audience right here.
#3. Short, sharp and to the point.
The show and tell format of The Pitch strips away a lot of the unnecessary fluff, and instead puts your innovation front and centre. The fast pace of the event also helps to keep things moving along – and keeps the audience of top executives captivated, and interested.

The committee is still considering candidates, so if you think that you got what it takes, just submit yours.

So what are you waiting for?

Register with the  following code to get a 10% discount: P21317TWMMA

If you do go, let me know in the comments. If not, you’ll be able to get live updates on Twitter via @MMA_APAC and #MMAF.

On a personal note, I’m particularly sad to be missing Tomi Ahonen –the mobile uber-twitter. I mean, besides being a great guy, just check his blog. I promise I’ll try to make it again next year.

[box] UPDATE: the iPad 2 arrives on April 28. Read more. Official pricing here. [/box]

We are delaying the launch of the iPad 2 in Japan while the country and our teams focus on recovering from the recent disaster

That was a month ago. But with with the end of the self-restraint period that many are calling for –including the Prime Minister, will we see the tablet in the hands of Japanese soon?

Coming soon

According to the chatter, it’s probable. The iPad2, originally planned for March 25, could either land in Japan next week –in line with Hong Kong, South Korea and Singapore– or in mid-May.

Two potential dates? It’s still a rumor and neither SoftBank or Apple would confirm anything, as usual. I won’t go into the overused “people in the know” formula, but I think we’re close.

My bet would be mid-May.

Supply chain disruption

With ‘Made in Japan’ all over NAND flash chips, DRAM chips, electronic compasses and, possibly, some touch screens overlays, analyst firm IHS iSuppli has been warning of potential iPad2 shortages more than a month ago.

Whilst the iPad is assembled in China, it’s hard to overlook the impact of the destruction -or temporary suspension of production- of factories and the logistical difficulties inherent to the aftermath of one of the worst natural disasters in recent memory.

Cupertino denies supply issues altogether and the apparent continuity in the the sales -demand just outstripping supply- would make some believe everything remained normal.

My take? With companies like Toshiba, Nikon, Sony, Fujitsu, Panasonic or Hitachi scaling down production and more than a thousand aftershocks which might be keeping some semiconductor factories shut down, Apple’s supply chain couldn’t not have been disrupted. The sourcing couldn’t easily have been redirected towards other countries –think South Korea and Taiwan. Most probably, Chinese factories had a confortable buffer of parts during the launch period and the last month allowed for corrections in the sourcing process. The current aggressive approach –from offering upfront cash paiements to suppliers to agreeing to price hikes to ensure provision–  shows Apple is willing to do whatever it takes.

Add this fact: about 5 per cent of the company’s revenue are coming from Japan according to the Dec. 2010 quarterly report. That’s USD 1.4bn.

Hard to overlook. The iPad2 cannot be too far from the shores of Japan.

[box] UPDATE: Tim Cook confirms trouble with suppliers, stays mum on Japan iPad2 release date. Read more.[/box]

Help Japan

Don’t misread me, the decision of Apple not to sell the iPad2 as scheduled in Japan was obviously not linked with pure logistics, the company was and remains committed to help during this time of mourning. It has actually done a lot for the relief support, either via employees going the extra mile -amazing story- in various stores across the country or via the official iTunes compilation ‘Songs for Japan‘.

You should continue to help too.

Mobile in Japan supports our amazing friends at #quakebook who created the beautiful 2:46: Aftershocks: Stories from the Japan Earthquake. Buy it on Amazon (US store: http://amzn.to/quakebook & UK store: http://amzn.to/qbuk). 100% of your money goes to the Japan Red Cross society.

[box] UPDATE: the iPad 2 arrives on April 28. Read more. Official pricing here. [/box]

For those who have been living under a rock these past 24 hours, Apple has announced the new iPad. It’s thinner and comes in two colors -ok, more than that, just Google it, the specs are all over the web.

While it will land on March 11 in the USA, a few selected countries, including Japan, will get it on March 25.

These are the known facts. Let’s get to the questions.

SoftBank only?

The iPad 2 comes in more flavors than its predecessor. Besides the white & black color options, the 16, 32 & 64GB  versions and the Wi-Fi only model, the iPad 3G will have two variants. This is new and this is where it could become interesting.

Apple will offer the first model with UMTS/HSDPA/HSUPA (850, 900, 1900, 2100 MHz) & GSM/EDGE (850, 900, 1800, 1900 MHz) connectivity, the same technology that existed on the first Wi-Fi + 3G model and the one used by SoftBank. Let’s call it the “AT&T model”. The second, however, is new: the “Verizon model” is made for CDMA EV-DO Rev. A (800, 1900 MHz).

It means that, like the iPhone 4/5, the iPad 2 could work on au/KDDI’s network. The big question is then: is Softbank still in a sort-of exclusive agreement with Apple over the iPad?

When the iPad was released last May, many were caught off-guard by the fact that it was SIM-locked nationwide. No other microSIM card than SoftBank’s could be put in any iPad 3G sold in Japan, the only market to have this limitation. The new models come less than 12 months later and the addition of a variant that SoftBank cannot use shouts for the end of any such deal. With the chatter around KDDI negotiating for the iPhone 5 and DoCoMo’s CEO not having lost all hope on getting it -as he stated a week ago-, could it be that Cupertino’s tablet also becomes carrier-independent?

Chances are not high, it seems likely that iPad buyers will be tied to SoftBank for a bit more, but it creates room for potential competition as the general SIM unlocking debate continues to rage.

Right now Apple Japan only displays the existing arrangement, with 3G models being sold by SoftBank only and the carrier only redirects to Apple in its press release. One thing seems for sure though, tethering with iOS 4.3 won’t work in Japan -surely SoftBank’s specific requirement.

Pricing

Pricing is not known at this point, but with Apple replicating the iPad 1 price ranges in the US, Japan might very well have a similar deal, with prices being the same than last May. Apple won’t let a price war happen on the device, only data plans could see some interesting movements if another mobile operator enter the game. Note that the iPad For Everybody plan by SoftBank did end on February 28, maybe making room for an iPad 2-specific offer.

It will also be interesting to see if KDDI -or any MVDO like b-mobile- will release a dedicated microSIM for imported “Verizon-model” devices. And what SoftBank reaction could then be.

Availability

The surprisingly short pre-order period in the US and the close release date in international markets could mean limited availability. Apple has obviously planned the release well and is known for its great supply chain structure, but I would be surprised if Japan receives massive amounts of iPads, not to mention “Verizon models” -if they make it here at all- at start. Be prepared to queue.

You can be officially notified about the iPad 2 news by submitting your email at Apple. And discuss if you’ll get one in the community forums.

You know how we all thought DoCoMo would get the iPhone next? Well, time to think again. au/KDDI, the second biggest mobile carrier, might very well be the one to get its hands on the prized Apple handset. Maybe as early as this summer.

It’s not a change of heart, it’s just a technological possibility that didn’t exist: KDDI’s network is based on the W-CDMA standard. Like -you guessed it- Verizon.

The introduction of that “new” iPhone in the USA last January is giving way to a different scenario in Japan as in some other Asian countries.

iPhone in an open relationship

But wait, isn’t Apple tied up with an exclusive agreement with SoftBank? Exclusive deals are gone. As many -and we- had correctly guessed it, SoftBank’s exclusivity ran for two years. July 2008 – July 2010.

That type of deal was not unique to Japan, but the nail in the coffin was the official confirmation during the Q1 2011 earnings conference call that the AT&T deal was the last territorial exclusivity falling. Rest in peace.

More subscribers, more growth

Tim Cook, Apple’s COO and Jobs’ standing man during his leave of absence, also stated during that call that the company was constantly evaluating growth possibilities, seeking new ways to expand market share.

He couldn’t be clearer than that. No more exclusive deals + W-CDMA iPhone = growth.

KDDiPhone

Now, can the Japanese equation be: no more exclusive deals + W-CDMA iPhone + growth = KDDI?

Apple being in bed with three to four carriers in certain countries, no one can rule DoCoMo out -I wouldn’t, ever- but the chatter is that Cupertino’s would go first with KDDI who’s apparently less demanding in the negotiations -hey, DoCoMo is the big fish here, it can afford to be grandstanding a bit.

iSuppli, the market research firm, seems to be certain KDDI will lock the contract before this summer. It even computes this in in its worldwide W-CDMA iPhone shipment for 2012 –16.5m.

The official KDDI stance? A simple “no comment”, as President M. Tanaka Takashi reiterated during KDDI’s Q3 results presentation at the end of January. Well. That’s after the PR department made a blunder a few days before by implying talks were going on.

KDDI needs the iPhone

KDDI has been struggling in the smartphone wars in Japan. Although still number 2 with approximatively 33m subscribers (against 25m to SoftBank and 57m to DoCoMo), it has been lagging in new users additions and seemed unable to offer a solid smartphone strategy for a long time. The recent announcement of the Skype partnership, the Foursquare tie-in, the social gaming Gree marketplace, the IS series -although delivered with an outdated Android OS version- or the upcoming Motorola Xoom -this April- show that it’s getting something of a grip, but the iPhone would obviously be the massive boost the company needs, both in terms of sales and image.

The iPhone was the most popular smartphone in Japan during pretty much all its run. In the last six months of 2010, MM Research says that it was responsible of 60% of the smartphone segment’s shipments -the Xperia being a very distant second. That’s the phone people still talk about and KDDI needs one phone everybody talks about. The IS03 was close to it, but was drowned in DoCoMo’s Galaxy S noise.

KDDI promised that smartphones would account for the majority of its lineup this year. While not entirely true -those keitais are still hot for some-, it has revealed new high-end phones, like a nice WiMax-compatible HTC. Still, not a single one was able to cover its competitors’ noise so far. KDDI, I repeat, needs a big winner. It needs the iPhone.

Following up on the runaway success of the Pocket Wifi D25HW mobile router, EMobile has just announced a new device,the Pocket Wifi S.

Dubbed “S” for Simple and Smart, the new Pocket Wifi is not just a portable wireless router, but is also a fully functional smartphone running Android 2.2.

The Pocket Wifi S, or S31HW, seems to be a pretty pedestrian Android device with a 2.9 inch touchscreen, 512MB memory with a microSD memory slot.

What makes it interesting is that it will be able to share its HSPA 7.2Mbps down/5.8Mbps up connection wirelessly with up to five devices.  While docomo introduced this function about a year ago, the tethering speed was limited to paltry PHS speeds and data was only provided on a pricey PC plan.  EMobile is offering unlimited data on the phone, plus anything tethered to it for the low monthly cost of 4,280 yen.  To top it off, the Pocket Wifi S will retail for 19, 800! That’s about half of the cost of the last generation D25HW Pocket Wifi.

The Pocket wifi will be available in Japan in January of 2011 in three colors .

Press release (Japanese)

[UPDATED with registration deadline details and new groups involved]

It’s this time of the year again. The time of bonenkais in Tokyo. A time for a tech bonenkai. The biggest ever.

After the resounding success of last year’s inaugural Tokyo Biggest Tech Party Ever, which we co-organized (see some Flickr pics), we’re going at it again and we’re hoping you’ll all be joining us!

Our friends at Tokyo 2.0, Lars and his Mobile Monday Tokyo, Digital Eve Japan, Akky and the whole Asiajin crew -of which I’m part too-, AppleCert, our good Steve with his Tokyo Beer and Blog, Jonny and his StartupWeekend Tokyo, Tokyo HackerSpaceGreenITers and Ninjava will all be with us. But also the International Computer Association Japan, our friends at the venture lab Open Network Lab, Rob, Peter and the crew from Poken Japan, RingoMUG, Masaru and his sweet Startup Dating, the Tokyo Linux Group (our Pietro is happy), the Tokyo PC Users Group & the Web Application Security Forum -don’t worry, they know how to party!

We moved this year to the Modapolitica to have an even bigger event space. In order to get a bit of control before we rock the place, we ask you to pre-register. Only pre-registered peeps will get food, as we need to order this gigantic buffet for all you tech-hungry beer-loving geeks! Note that registration ends on Dec 2 at 12pm!

Talking about beer, we’re proud to be helping Beers for Books once again this year. Or, more accurately, Beers for Bytes. We will donate funds to tech infrastructure for Room to Read, whose focus is on childhood literacy and gender equality in education in developing countries.

The party will take place on December 6, starting at 7pm. You can grab all the details in the announcement below.

If you want to share your attendance with your friends, you can say it so on our community, on Facebook or on Plancast. But, no matter what, we ask you to register at Doorkeeper (a great service created by our friends at Mobalean).

If you’d like to become a sponsor for the event (heh, we’re talking more than 400 people last year, all tech geeks who share their passion online), just shoot us a line on sponsor[AT]tokyobiggesttechpartyever.com

Here’s the official announcement for your viewing pleasure:

It’s time once again to bring all of the tribes together for our annual TechXmas event, aka: Tokyo’s Biggest Tech Party Ever. We have nailed an Awesome Venue for the 2010 gig with a larger collection of participating groups and are expecting an even bigger crowd than the 400+ very cool folks who attended our epic mixer last year!

So mark your holiday calendar for December 6th – make sure you register – and use Twitter, Facebook and Plancast to help share the good word

Charity Benefit:
All net proceeds go to Beers for Bytes, an offshoot of the acclaimed
Beers For Books event. The funds will be donated to tech infrastructure for Room to Read, whose focus is on childhood literacy and gender equality in education in developing countries.

Sponsorship Opportunities:
We will also be offering the opportunity for sponsors to donate door prizes or small cash envelopes, so please do drop us a note asap to make arrangements.
sponsor @ tokyobiggesttechpartyever.com

Date: Monday December 6th, from 7-10pm
Venue:
ModapoliticaMap
Fee: ¥2,000 with
Advance Registration – Or – ¥3,000 At The Door **Note Below
Menu: Advance registration comes with a super tasty buffet – while all drinks, including beer, standard mixed or non-alcohol and wine selection, will be cash bar 500jpy each.

**Note: ‘At The Door’ attendees will receive two-drink tickets instead of a food coupon as we need to confirm an accurate buffet estimate in advance.

Participating groups:
AppleCert, Asiajin, Digital Eve Japan, GreenITers, ICA Japan, Mobile in Japan, Mobile Monday Tokyo, Ninjava, Open Network Lab, Poken Japan, RingoMUG, Startup Dating, StartupWeekend Tokyo, Tokyo 2.0, Tokyo Beer & Blog, Tokyo HackerSpace, TLUG, Tokyo PC Users Group, WAS Forum.

Thanks for another fantastic year — We look forward to see you all again soon!

東京最大の技術者仲間のかってないパーティー!

忘年会 2010 - 12月6日 – モ-ダポリティカ

技術者仲間が一同に会して年末恒例のTechXmas event、別名Tokyo’s Biggest Tech Party Everを楽しむ時期がまたやって来ました。主催する多くの関係団体の合議で2010年の集会場として息を呑むような会場が最終決定されました。今年の人数は去年の壮大な交流会に集まった400人超のステキな仲間をさらに上回ると予想しています。

そこで、皆さんはカレンダーの12月6日に上記行事を予定して下さい。その事前登録の確認をお忘れなく。適切な発言の共有に役立つ Twitter, Facebook, Plancast を使いましょう。詳細は下記を参照して下さい。

チャリティ収益:
チャリティ利益の全額は、賞賛を受けている
Beers For Books より分派したBeers for Bytesに寄付されます。寄付された資金は、開発途上国の教育において子供の文盲解消および両性平等に注力するRoom to Readの技術インフラに使われます。

スポンサー募集:
私共主催者は福引の賞品または大入袋を寄付するスポンサーを募集します。希望者は準備が必要なので出来る限り早くその旨を連絡して下さい。
sponsor @ tokyobiggesttechpartyever.com

日時:12月6日(月曜日)午後7時 - 10時
会場:
モ-ダポリティカ(Modapolitica)Map
入場料:前売券=2000円 当日券=3000円**
メニュー:前売券には一流のうまいビュッフェ食事が含まれています。一方、飲み物として、ビール、標準的な選別した洋酒、ワインとソフトドリンクが用意され、バーで一杯500円にて販売します。
**注意:主催者は事前に食事する人数を正確に把握する必要があるので、参加者は受付で食事ク-ポン券の代わりに2枚のドリンク券を受け取ることになります。

参加団体:
AppleCert, Asiajin, Digital Eve Japan, GreenITers, ICA Japan, Mobile in Japan, Mobile Monday Tokyo, Ninjava, Open Network Lab, Poken Japan, RingoMUG, Startup Dating, StartupWeekend Tokyo, Tokyo 2.0, Tokyo Beer & Blog, Tokyo HackerSpace, TLUG, Tokyo PC Users Group, WAS Forum.

すばらしいこの1年に感謝しましょう-- まもなく、皆さんに再会できることを楽しみにしています

On a personal note, I’ll be missing the party, since I’ll giving a talk for LeWeb in Paris. Be sure to drink a few beers for me, I’ll appreciate it. The other Mobile in Japan team members will certainly make up for me, though. I’ve got this feeling Joseph will come up with some crazy stunt only he can imagine.

You can check Tokyo Biggest Tech Party Ever on the web, follow @tbtpe on Twitter (and use the #tbtpe) or through the Facebook page and finally share your party pictures on the Flickr group (and tag them with tbtpe)

(Photo credit: Jim Grisanzio)

One of the most frequently asked questions received here at Mobile in Japan is, how can I get mobile data access when I’m in Japan?

Whilst Pietro has previously covered renting mobile phones in Japan, until now we’ve not looked at data options, something that many visitors to Japan might consider to be a lot more important than voice.

The main mobile data providers – Docomo, Softbank and EMOBILE, are known for their reluctance to provide access to their 3G networks on anything other than a long-term contractual basis – and only then if you have an alien registration card, something short term visitors to Japan won’t have.

Whilst major cities are well covered by public WIFI networks, these usually require you to be a customer of that same network provider for your home / mobile Internet, whilst outside of urban areas there’s very limited coverage.

Despite this, there are a growing list of options for temporary visitors who do not have residence or an Alien Registration Card, wanting to get online with their mobile devices. Here we cover a few, broken down into four categories:

  • Renting a phone / smartphone with or without Data
  • Renting data only
  • SIM / MICROSIM Rental for use in your own mobile device
  • Connecting to public WIFI networks

Please note that the information below is subject to change, but is correct as of the time of writing.

Please also check out the comments at the bottom of the post where readers have posted further information on available options.

3g-wifi-japan

Renting a phone / smartphone with or without Data

PuPuRu

PuPuRu offer a wide range of phones and service packages. With advance booking, the phone can be ready for you to pick from any location you specify, such as your hotel. Pick up from Narita, Kansai and Chubu airports is also possible, or PuPuRu branches in Tokyo and Nagoya. Payment is by credit card. They offer 2 packages: Basic and Prepaid (see site for latest rate information).

One important difference between these two packages that’s not immediately apparent is that on the Prepaid option, you can only use the handset for voice calls and sending/receiving email (and that being through the email address assigned by the company, not your own email address).

Whilst the Basic plan does allow for web browsing etc, it doesn’t come cheap at between ¥0.1 and ¥0.42 per packet (if my iPhone data was charged at that rate my bill last month would have come in at a minimum of ¥800,000 / US$9,950)

The majority of mobile phones available through PuPuRu are on the docomo network – although they do list a couple of options for those who have an inexplicable preference for the Softbank network. When asked about the iPhone, I was told that they are ‘thinking about providing them, but probably not until next year’.

PuPuRu have very good customer service, with helpful English speaking staff.

Softbank

Softbank also offer rental and prepaid mobiles to visitors to Japan (passport and credit card required). Somewhat unusually, they seem to offer different deals depending on whether you sign up in the shop or online. For online prices see their Global Rental site.

If you rent from one of their stores, the deal is as follows: As with PuPuRu, only standard Japanese handsets are available (i.e. no smart phones, including the iPhone). The daily charge for rental is ¥525, with calls costing approximately ¥105 per minute. Service is limited to voice calls and keitai email (these cost from ¥10 – ¥15 each), so no access to the web.

Prepaid: It’s ¥2,000 to get a prepaid handset from softbank, with call charges and email costing the same as on the rental plan above.

As noted, you can’t rent an iPhone from Softbank. See below for details on renting a SIM if you have an unlocked iPhone 3G or 3GS.

Downsides to using Softbank is the relative lack of English support (although they do have a number of stores that are supposed to have English-speaking staff) and poor network coverage in rural areas.

JCR Corp

JCR Corp have a very wide range of rental handsets, including the iPhone 4, EXPERIA and HTC. They offer free delivery to any location in Japan, with variable pricing depending on the length of rental.

Their primary market is the US corporate sector (thus explaining the $ pricing), and have built up an impressive list of clients over the past 12 years. Whilst expensive, friends have reported being happy with the service. I myself found the staff to be extremely helpful and knowledgable when I called. See below for more on data options.

Whilst pricey, if you’re looking to rent a smartphone whilst in Japan, JCR Corp are the only company we know that provide them. They have a variety of plans to choose from, ranging from voice calls only to full voice and data options.

Renting data only

Docomo, Softbank, EMOBILE & bmobile do not offer short-term data packages to non-residents without an Alien Registration Card.

PuPuRu

PuPuRu offer both USB-type and WIFI-type data dongles. With the USB type only able provide a network connection for a single USB-equipped computer, there’s little advantage in choosing this type over the WIFI variety, to which you can connect up to 5 devices at any time (including laptops, iPods/iPhones/iPads etc). One advantage however is that the USB-type L-05A uses the docomo data network (map), which offers far better coverage than the emobile network (map) that the other devices use. This need only be a consideration if you’re planning to spend a lot of time outside of major cities.

Transfer speeds are up to 7.2Mbps up / 5.8Mbps down (although in reality you’re unlikely to hit these speeds), and come with unlimited data use. Rental fees range from ¥7,350 for the first ten days, to ¥10,500 for a month, plus ¥1,050 postage each end of the rental period. This is almost 3 times the price that local users on 2-year contracts pay per month.

Japan Mobile Rental

Japan Mobile Rental are another good option if you’re looking for a 3G mobile WIFI router on an unlimited data plan. Their service is very straight forward: fill in the online reservation form, pay via Paypal or credit card, pick up your router at the airport upon arrival (Narita or Kansai International) or have it delivered to your hotel. If you want to extend or cancel the rental, just drop them an email (there is no cancellation fee). You’ll be charged a 10,000 yen security deposit when you reserve the device which is returned upon return of the router.

The router provided is the D25HW on the emobile network (check coverage map), offering the standard max speeds of 7.2Mbps up / 5.8Mbps down. You can connect up to 5 devices at a time via wifi, and one via mini USB.

JCRCorp

JCRCorp offer both the Buffalo DWR-PG and HuaWei E5830 mobile WIFI routers. Transfer speeds are up to 7.2Mbps up / 5.7Mbps down, and come with unlimited data. However, with prices starting at $150 (¥12,000) per week or $270 (¥21,000) per month – significantly more that PuPuRu – it’s hard to recommend. (One explanation for some of the expense is that these are both on the better yet comparatively pricey docomo network, and unlike EMOBILE, the routers do not come free with the contract).

E-Phone

E-phone offer USB data dongles on the emobile network for ¥1,000 yen per day for unlimited data, with pick up/ drop off from Narita Airport. Of course, with it being a USB device you can only use it with a laptop computer.

JALABC

JALABC offer an almost identical service to E-Phone, but this time on the Softbank network, costing ¥1,390 yen per day for unlimited usage.

UQ WIMAX

In what seems like a bit of a desperate bid to win customers, UQ WIMAX will provide unlimited data WIFI dongles to anyone with a passport and credit card. You’ll be required to take out a 1 year contract, but with a cancellation fee of only ¥2,100 if you quit within the first month, and ¥0 (yes, zero!) if you quit after one month, that’s hardly anything to worry about. The bulky WIMAX/WIFI router (NEC PA-WM3300R) will cost you ¥9,850 up front – it’s then ¥4,280 per month for unlimited data.

So what’s the catch? Well, with WIMAX still in its infancy, the network is pretty poor (map). Don’t bother thinking of getting online outside of the major cities. In fact, based on the experience friends of mine have had I’d say don’t take it out of sight of an antenna.

If you’re still not put off, you can sign up at any major electronics store such as Yodobashi Camera or Bic Camera. You can also order one online – see the comments on this post for more info.

SIM / MICROSIM Rental for use in your own iPad / iPhone / other smartphone

First off, to use a non-Softbank iPhone in Japan, it’ll need to be unlocked. Also, it’ll need to be able to use the 2100 MHz band – in English that translates as every iPhone except for the very first (non-3G) model. If your iPhone meets these criteria, you have a couple of (expensive) options:

You can rent a SIM card from Softbank that will allow you to use data too – but it comes at the extortionate price of 0.32Yen/packet (128bytes) – unless you don’t care about the bill, you don’t want to do this.

Previously mentioned JCR Corp offer SIM and MICROSIM rental for unlocked W-CDMA iPhones and other smartphones (but apparently not iPads – contact them to check on this). These run on Docomo’s Foma Network (offering good nationwide coverage) and tethering is possible. At almost $300 (¥24,000) a month though you’ll want to make sure it’s your employer paying the bill.

PuPuRu offer the same iPhone 3G/3GS SIM rental, but again, at over ¥24,000 ($300) per month it’s not cheap, and of course you’ll need to use a non-GSM handset.

Note that regular SIMs or MICROSIMs from bmobile (see our article here) are not an option for temporary visitors – no Alien Registration Card, no SIM. If you do have an Alien Registration Card it’ll take 2~3 weeks from the time you apply to the time you receive the SIM – and then only expect download speeds of up to 300kbps, not the usual 7.2mbps you’re used to.

Connecting to public WIFI networks in Japan

There are a number of WIFI hotspot networks in Japan that have pretty good coverage in the cities, mostly found at stations, in cafes and chain restaurants. In order to use these networks you’ll usually need some kind of account.

Be sure to check out the comments on this blog post for more info on WIFI availability

Wi2connect

Wi2connect is a great option if you’re going to be spending most of your time in the big cities. Giving you access to Yahoo BB, mobilepoint and Livedoor Wireless (location search). This covers branches of McDonalds (of which there are thousands!), airports, hotels, stations, airport buses and the Tokkaido Shinkansen between Tokyo and Yokohama. With a maximum charge of ¥980 ($12) per month for unlimited use this is a really good deal.

To use the network you’ll need to download and install their application (on the iPhone /iPod touch you need to download and install their free app [iTunes], which will then install a profile in network settings).
(Thanks to Warren for tipping us off about this service). This should also work in 3G iPads, although I haven’t been able to test it myself.

BOINGO

Boingo is ‘the world’s largest network of WI-FI hotspots’ – and it covers Japan too. Having partnered with NTT you can get access to 7,486 wifi spots here – from as little as $7.85 a month for mobile devices. Sign up online.

NTT Hotspot

For 24-hour access you can get a 1-day pass directly from NTT for ¥500. Unfortunately the English site turns Japanese at the beginning of the checkout process.

FON

The FON network now apparently has over 2 million worldwide access spots (map) – a figure to be taken with a pinch of salt as many of these spots may be private networks no longer online. The idea behind FON is that you plug in one their wireless routers at home; this creates two WIFI networks – a private one for yourself, and an open one for the public. In return for sharing your home connection, you’re given free access to any other FON WIFI network. In Japan FON have done a deal with Softbank, leading to Softbank handing out free FON routers left right and centre, to both individuals and businesses, including restaurants, bars and cafes. An increasing number of Starbucks branches in Japan have FON networks, usually marked by the Softbank mascot, Otousan the dog.

If you are not a member of the FON network, you can pay for access at the time: an hour pass is 200 yen, a day pass 480 yen, and a pack of 5 day passes 1600 yen. (Thanks to aciara14 for updating us on that via post comments).

iPhone/ iPod / iPad users might want to download the Starbucks Search app [disclaimer – it’s made by a friend of mine …and it rocks!] from the Apple store, as in addition to showing where the stores are / opening hours, it shows what WIFI networks are available.

Your local Internet provider

You may also want to check out if your local Internet provider offers international access vouchers for use with their roaming partners abroad. For example, in the UK, BT will sell you 500 minutes for £27.99, which can be used with NTT wifi spots (of which there are thousands). Another example would be that of AT&T who have a spectacular 60 WIFI locations in Tokyo.

Private cafes etc

Whilst a little out of date now, CNNGo published a list of public wifi spots in Tokyo here.

Beware of the Sheep

A word of advice in this era of the Firesheep, if you’re going to access an open wifi network, make sure you take precautions to protect your privacy.

Summary

For the time being then, it would seem that pricing for smartphone rental, or SIM rental for smartphones / tablet devices such as the iPhone and iPad, your choice is still very limited, and where it is available it’s pretty expensive. The same applies to pocket WIFI devices, with visitors paying almost three times the price locals on long terms contracts pay. However, with the growth of telcom-sponsored WIFI networks, you can get online in Japan without having to take out a bank loan.

If all else fails, just seek out one of the mobileinjapan writers – it’s rare to find them not emitting a WIFI signal.

There are undoubtedly other options for short term visitors to Japan looking to get online, and we’d love to hear about them. Please either post in the comments below, or join the discussion in our community.

It’s been a question that’s been asked by many of our readers here. Apple fanboys, maybe? But still.

How many iPhone have been sold in Japan?

Neither Apple or Softbank are releasing any official numbers on how many iPhones -and lately iPads- sold in Japan. The Cupertino company limits itself in pointing out the impressive growth in its quarterly earnings.

So I went ahead and asked as many analysts as I could think of. The smart ones only, don’t worry. And, no, I didn’t ask Steve Jobs.

The consensus is that 5 million iPhone have been sold in Japan since its debut on July 2008.

That’s 70% or more of the smartphone market in the country, if you believe surveys and expert firms.

Don’t dream, there’s no breakdown between the three models available here -3G, 3GS and the latest 4. But, to those who called the iPhone as a failure here, this is just a slap in the face.

Is the iPhone a success?

What constitutes a success is in the eye of the beholder. Every analyst, journalist, blogger I’ve asked the question to has his/her own definition of success. Some are impressed by the iPhone, some not at all. But, at least, they know what the Japanese market is like, how peculiar it is, and, more strikingly, how different it was before and after the iPhone. Next time you want to know about Japan, ask people who know about Japan, not some random copywriter just because he’s writing for an established paper in the US.

Now, 70% of the smartphone market? Smartphones do not even reach the 10% threshold in Japan. It’s still a rare beast -well, you could say that all Japan phones are smartphones, but let’s not get into this debate now, will you. And, if we believe unscientific but valuable analysis from those in the know, many users are getting an iPhone along with their existing keitai, beefing up the numbers a bit.

The iPhone has had limitations in Japan from the start. A peculiar Japanese-input system -even if that one is not as important now. No access to the web portals users are used to on their keitai and which brings all the insane services many people are drooling over abroad -like a train application that gives you the best routes & schedules, but also where to walk from one station to another if it’s raining along with the extra time it takes. A strange new mobile email address, without emojis at the start and still without all the decoration than every other dumb phone offers -don’t laugh, it is important for some segment of the market here. No digital TV tuner. No e-book store. No waterproof pink color choice.

And SoftBank. Wait, I don’t dislike the carrier, but it’s only the #3 in the race. It’s the used-to-be-foreign carrier (it was called Vodafone, you know). It has a lesser coverage, especially when compared with how good DoCoMo’s is.

But still. Not a single phone -even with three iterations- has ever held such a market share in Japan -hovering at 5%. Never. Ever. A phone from a newcomer -well, ok, Apple has historically been the only foreign electronic brand ranked at the top of consumer surveys. A candy bar smartphone in a world of clamshell keitais.

Just go to any electronic store in Tokyo and look at the sheer number of Japan-made iPhone accessories. It’s insane.

5 million is a success. Accept it.

The iPhone effect

I’m already seeing those who dislike Apple hitting me on Twitter and explaining them their view. Peeps, please. I’m known for having an everything-Apple setup. It doesn’t mean that I’m blind to realities.

Now, admit it. The Japanese mobile phone industry has changed since the iPhone arrival. Every other week, you’ve got one of the big three announcing a new smartphone, while this type of phones were just absent before -no Blackberry in the hands of CEOs, the odd Palm or WinPhone and that’s it. You just had to stroll through the aisles of the recent CEATEC in Tokyo to see that smartphones and tablets were on everybody’s booth -and lips. One could even argue that the whole SIM lock debate is partially to blame on the iPhone.

Come on, even the whole advertising campaign DoCoMo is running for the Samsung Galaxy S makes it look like an iPhone.

DoCoMo is clever: 1 in 4 of its users would get an iPhone. 25% of almost 60m subscribers.

So, yeah, thank God Android exists. After a few false starts with poor models, DoCoMo is getting serious in the smartphone game with that S beauty. KDDI is touting its Sharp IS03 flagship -plus the Skype partnership. And they’re great phones. I’ve tested both. They will be a success.

Estimates are than in less than five years, between 40 and 70% of sales (depending on which analyst you believe) will be coming from the smartphone segment in a cellphone-saturated-Japan -sales estimates range between 10 and 13% for 2010. They also estimate that most mobile revenues will come from these higher-priced devices. Factor in the fact that DoCoMo, KDDI and SoftBank already derive most of their revenue from data. That mobile advertising already brought more than USD 1bn in 2009 and you’ve got the storyline for the market in the next five years.

DoCoMo might have started the application market more than 10 years ago with the i-mode, there has never been the same rush of developers creating for them than its the case with the iTunes App Store -just log on there and witness the incredible number of local apps. DoCoMo had the standard. It had the control. Apple displaced that control. SoftBank has no say over what is coming to the iPhone. The revenue stream is shifting.

While the story will be slightly different with Android, KDDI installing its own Android app market and DoCoMo creating a portal -not a store per se-, the end game is that data will be revenue. Data + ads + mobile commerce will be revenue.

Users are loving it. Developers are loving it. Carriers are loving it. Big party with balloons and hugs. Well, not exactly, we don’t live in a perfect world, but you see the idea -and the opportunities for everyone.

Don’t read the 5m iPhones sold into an ode to Apple. Don’t even believe the 5m number if you wish, I don’t care.

Read this as the sign that the mobile market ecosystem in Japan is evolving.

Darwinism is hitting the Galapagos.

The smartphone battle is heating up -again- in Japan.

Realizing that it was clearly lagging in that fast-growing segment -hey, we’re talking 4m units this year in a cell phone saturated market-, au KDDI, Japan’s second biggest mobile carrier, has decided to take a bold move. It entered an alliance with Skype, the peer-to-peer VoIP company.

Because calls between Skype users are free, mobile-phone companies have feared their revenue would decline should they make the service available. For that reason, the Skype app was viewed as verboten until now

Bold enough? At least in the eyes of Tanaka, KDDI’s Senior VP.

No details have been released yet, though. No package pricing in particular.

Skype on WiFi?

It’s only the second time that Skype partners with a cellco. Their first deal was made with US Verizon Wireless.

If you didn’t know, Skype calls are actually not made using the data service there. They’re being done on the voice line. Skype’s press release says KDDI will also do that.

That’s a big no-no for Wifi, sorry folks.

It has to be noted that calls will need to use a bit of data before being re-routed to the voice line. Hope KDDI won’t charge users for that.

Skype to Japan numbers?

The Verizon deal only allows Skype calls to be made while on US soil. And while Skype-to-Skype are free, the Skype-to-cell/landine minutes are charged against the plan. That should be similar with KDDI in Japan. Or will it?

If you read the press release I just mentioned between the lines, you see that

users will be able to make unlimited Skype-to-Skype calls to any Skype user in Japan and around the globe

Yeah, ok, basically what Skype is for, but let’s read on.

KDDI customers with data plans will also be able to […] call international phone numbers at competitive Skype Out calling rates.

Nice. But, if you didn’t get it, no mention to Skype Out calling rates for phone numbers in Japan. None. Zip.

So, unlike the Verizon deal where the application lets you call mobile and landline numbers, KDDI’s Skype might well force you to exit it for these types of call. Not very practical, isn’t it?

Skype on Android

So, starting this November, Japan’s second biggest carrier should pre-install the Skype application on all its smartphones (pre-register if interested)

The flagship phone will be Sharp’s IS03. Mobile in Japan’s good friend Steve and I had the chance to play with it at the recent CEATEC in Tokyo.

We both found it to be a very solid smartphone. Of notice is the integration of an e-wallet function, a feature existing on many keitais but not on the iPhone, and the faculty to keep an existing KDDI mobile email address, again something SoftBank was not able to provide with the iPhone (oh yeah, it also has a pimp-your-email decorating function -so important for the teenager market here).

We weren’t able to fully test it, but our limited look at au One Market, a carrier-branded Android app store, left a good impression.

The app will also be rolled-out on the less noticeable IS01, but, strangely enough, no news about Sharp’s IS05 that was announced today, nor Toshiba’s IS04.

Skype on keitais?

While KDDI promises to use Android for all its upcoming smartphones, the future roadmap for Skype and KDDI promises to go beyond Google mobile operating system.

Other phones might get an app too, not unlike what Verizon is offering in the US with LG and Samsung. I’d say not before Q2 2011 though.

But, in a time when DoCoMo is rolling out its Android smartphone with full fanfare, IS03 + Skype might very well be a sweet deal for KDDI.

Skype on DoCoMo?

Yeah, what about DoCoMo? Does it have to reply with an VoIP offering?

Right now, the king of carriers is kinda blunt. Skype is simply banned from its Android-powered devices. It’s as simple as that. And, anyway, none of its Android-powered phones is running 2.1 yet, a pre-requisiste for the application.

But rumors are floating that it is negotiating a similar deal than KDDI’s. Skype with DoCoMo might become true by the end of the year, if you’re of the optimist kind.

As for Softbank, it already allows Skype on the iPhone, but no news on any other front from them. At least, they can be satisfied that Ustream, a company they’ve partnered with and invested in, was used by KDDI for its press conference.

My guess is that things are only getting started on the smartphone front. Oh boy, I love that.

We would like to show that we are (competing in the segment) in earnest and with dedication

Tanaka seems to be up for the battle. Let’s rumble.