The Fingerist by EVENNO (Trinity Inc)

A short while ago I caught sight of this accessory at an Apple themed event in Tokyo.  I couldn’t believe someone hasn’t done this before.  An iPhone add-on that turns your geek-phone into a real musical instrument!

Fingerist - 4

I finally got my hands on one and have had a great time testing it out over the last few days.  Sure there are lots of apps that simulate every musical instrument on the planet, but I always felt the experience was somewhat lacking.  Now I know what was needed.

The Fingerist is made by Japan based Trinity inc, and was developed in cooperation with local Apple fans and musicians to create a totally new musical instrument.  Basically an Apple dock connected to a speaker, the Fingerist turns any iPhone or iPod Touch into a something truly unique.

How it works

The Fingerist is about the size of a Ukulele and requires three AA batteries to operate.  Once you have put in the batteries, simply slide your iPhone or iPod Touch onto the dock and push it into the small recess in the middle of the Fingerist.  There is a small latch that will hold the iPhone in and a spring to keep it from wobbling around loose.  Then turn on the volume, start up any musical instrument app and you are ready to go.  I tried Pocket Guitar and Frontier’s Guitar app and had a blast plinking away.  The built in 3 watt speaker offers clear sound that will fill a small room, and there is even a standard quarter inch output plug for larger amplifiers.

Fingerist - 6

Build and Quality

I have to admit, I was just a small bit let down when I actually held the Fingerist for the first time.  While it looked at first glance like the casing was made with real wood, close inspection reveals that it is made almost entirely of high end plastic.  It’s actually very good quality and I had to look closely to tell, but the wooden parts are molded plastic with a special coating.  It actually feels very good and makes the whole thing lighter than I was expecting, but I still would have preferred solid wood.  On the whole however, I have to say the build quality is excellent.  The speaker is great and provides great sound and the whole thing has a very nice solid feel.  The use of the Apple dock interface means no loose wires.

Packaging

I was really impressed with the packaging for the Fingerist.  First of all, it didn’t come in a box.  It actually comes in a very nice soft case.  Not only does it reduce wasteful packaging, but it also saves you from having to buy a carrying case.  Great idea!

Fingerist - 1

Inside the case there is the Fingerist, a guitar style strap, and three silicon cases.  These are used to protect your iPhone/iPod and create a custom fit so it will blend into the front face without a gap.  I was very surprised to see that in addition to an iPhone 3G/3Gs and iPod Touch case, there was also a case for the unreleased iPhone 4!

Fingerist - 2

Price and Availability

The Fingerist was shown off at CES and promised a March release.  It seems that some problems with manufacturing has delayed the launch, but it is now available in Japan for 14,800 yen.  It should be available soon in the United States for a $150.00.  Pretty reasonable price for a fun and unique accessory.

Here’s a video of the Fingerist in action.

In the first of my reviews of iPhone apps for students of Japanese I looked at dictionaries. In this article, I’ll be recommending four fairly simple apps from independent developers.

NihongoUp

[$4.99 iTunes | Nihongo Up Website]

The iPhone version of the Adobe Air app, allowing users to improve kana reading speed, review JLPT kanji and vocabulary, and learn Japanese grammar in context.

It’s a pretty straightforward game. These are the instructions:

Here, the ballons are gradually floating down from the top of the screen – touch the correct balloon before they hit the ground!

This is one of those apps that just does one thing, but does it extremely well. Made by award-winning new media developer and designer Philip Seyfi, this app is a pleasure to use. The interface is beautiful and the games easy to get to grips with. Certainly stands out from the crowd. Check out the free trial of the desktop app to get a feel for it.

Note that like many other apps, this groups kanji by the 4 old JLPT levels due to the fact that lists for the 5 new levels have not yet been published, thus at this stage any attempt to classify them by the new levels would have to be based on guesswork.



Next up we have a couple of apps from www.JapanNewbie.com.

Japanese 101: Particles

[$5.99 iTunes]

As the app name suggests, Japanese 101: Particles looks to develop your knowledge of those little elements of the Japanese language that tie everything else together (は、を、に、で etc).

From the iTunes description:

When using the Study Mode the front of the Study Card shows a sentence in Japanese with a key particle removed. The card also auto-plays audio of a native Japanese speaker reading the sentence leaving a blank at the missing particle. Touch the card to flip it over and see the sentence with the correct particle used, the romaji, and the English translation. You can also press the notes section to see a grammatical explanation of the particle usage.

This way you can SEE the Japanese, HEAR the Japanese, and READ the romaji and translation to ensure that you UNDERSTAND, and also check the notes section to STUDY the fundamental rules on particle usage.

It does what it’s designed to do pretty well, although beginners who are not yet proficient in the kanji required for levels N4 and N5 of the new Japanese Language Proficiency Test may struggle, due to the fact that kanji are used on the front of the flashcards.

A good tool for reviewing / revising particle knowledge once you’ve learn the basics with you textbooks.

Japanese 101: Numbers

[$2.99 iTunes]

The second app from JapanNewbie helps you reinforce your knowledge of Japanese numbers. The interface and use is essentially the same as in Particles. From the iTunes App Store description:

When using the Study Mode the front of the Study Card shows a number. The card also auto-plays audio of a native Japanese speaker reading the number. Touch the card to flip it over and see the number in Japanese Kanji, the romaji, and the English translation.

This application currently covers the numbers 1-100, and than a random selection of numbers from 100 to 9,999,999.

This app is good not only for beginner-level students or people coming to Japan for a vacation, but also for those of us who’ve been in Japan for some time and still find it difficult to get our heads around 7-digit numbers!

More apps from Japan Newbie.


Kanji Box

[$3.99 iTunes - iPhone | $4.99 iTunes - iPad | Kanjibox Website]

One of the better apps for practising kanji, covering the following areas of study:

  • Kana (hiragana and katakana)
  • Kanji (over 6,000 kanji)
  • Vocabulary (over 20,000 words)

I quite enjoyed using this app. It’s very straightforward, has a Scores section to help you keep track of your studies, and a timed quiz mode with which to prove that you know more kanji than that annoying person who insists on asking everyone how many kanji they know.

Check out their Website for more info, and for a demo video featured a rather alarming severed hand and funky soundtrack.

Note that like many other apps, this groups kanji by the 4 old JLPT levels due to the fact that lists for the 5 new levels have not yet been published.


That’s it for now. If there’s a Japanese language learning app that you think deserves attention, do get in touch.

In the year or so since I last reviewed iPhone apps for Japanese language learners, there’s been an explosion in the number and variety available. Look in the iTunes App store today and you’ll find a wealth of vocabulary builders, apps to teach you how to write in hiragana and katakana, kanji flashcard programs, pronunciation guides and powerful dictionaries.

I asked a few Japanese language teachers and Japanese language learners for their recommendation. The result was a list far too long to cover in a single article, so I’ll be breaking them down into several groups, starting off today with Japanese-English dictionaries.

Whilst not the sexiest of apps, dictionaries can (literally) be lifesavers for non-Japanese in Japan – don’t leave the house without one! Whilst there are a huge number of English-Japanese dictionaries in the App Store, for a long time now there have been two clear leaders, Kotoba! and Japanese, and it’s these two that I’m focusing on here.

Kotoba!

Free: iTunes | Website (currently no iPad version).

This app has progressed a great deal in the past year, with a range of new features having been added to turn it into a force to be reckoned with.

The main database was created with files from the JMdict project (which in turn was based on Jim Breen’s EDICT), resulting in it containing over 130,000 Japanese / English entries. Version 2 saw the addition of example sentences, and a more recent update an astonishing 6,500 stroke order diagrams added. Aside from the English translations, there’s also partial support for French, German, Russian, Spanish, Portuguese and Italian – accounting for another 100,000 translations.

There are several ways to look up a character, making it almost impossible to not find what you’re looking for. The search function accepts romaji, kana or kanji input – and kanji input can of course be done using your finger to trace the character (go to your iPhone’s keyboard settings panel to enable the Simplified Chinese Handwriting keyboard).

If you don’t know the reading of the kanji there are also a number of pre-defined lists to work from, including the SKIP index (used in the popular Kanji Learner’s Dictionary), Radicals and JLPT levels.

A note on JLPT levels: in most Japanese language learning apps you’ll find that the JLPT lists have yet to be updated from the old four levels to the new five levels (N1~N5). There’s a simple reason for this: the organisation behind the test is refusing to make the new kanji lists public, thus at this stage any attempt to classify them by the new levels would have to be based on guesswork.

Having found the character or word you’re looking for you’ll be presented with a wealth of information, including the reading, meanings, all verb conjugations, kanji compounds and a staggering number of example sentences. You can add individual words or entire sentences to personalised lists, copy them to the iPhone clipboard or append them to the clipboard – meaning that if you’re wanting to paste a string of kanji into an email you don’t have to go back-and-forth between the dictionary and your mail app between kanji. Cross-reference numbers are also provided for about 19 other kanji lists including Heisig, Nelson and Halpern.

But better than being able to share entries via the iPhone clipboard is the export feature. Simply go to your chosen list and send it via email as text or a CSV file.

Overall, revisiting Kotoba! after a year of not using it, I was pretty blown away by how comprehensive it is – although at times I must admit that I felt a little overwhelmed and lost in all the options – what other app do you know that has over 40 options to toggle in the settings panel?!


Japanese!

$15.99: iTunes | codefromtokyo Website (iPad version available soon as a free update)

This was one of those apps that I loved right from the start. I bought it on the recommendation of a friend, prior to even owning a iPhone to run it on. I’ve used it consistently since, and it remains one of my favourite (and most expensive) apps. It was definitely worth it.

With over 150,000 Japanese entries and about 12,000 kanji, it’s a truly comprehensive dictionary. There are many similarities with Kotoba!, including word lookup by romaji/ kana / kanji / handwriting, kanji lists, multiple example sentences, personal vocabulary lists and cross-references for other kanji resources.

However, it has a number of other features that set it apart from the Kotoba!, and make it feel like more than just an interface for the JMdict database.

Firstly, the search function activates as soon as you start typing, with suggestions appearing below. When you tap on the word you’re looking for, along with translations and example sentences you’ll find popular compounds and conjugations – no need to dig deeper into the sub-menus.

Also, should you enter a long phrase into the search box, the search engine will try to break it down into individual elements (see image below). Numbers can also be transcribed – just enter the digits and out comes the kanji & reading.

Similar Kanji are another feature, helping avoid confusion with lookalike characters, whilst the recent addition of furigana (little hiragana characters above the kanji) show you the readings of individual characters in search results.

Adding words to your personal lists just takes two taps- you also have the ability to apply self-defined color labels.

Integration of Spaced Reptiton flashcards

The killer feature for this app, and the one that really sets it apart from Kotoba!, is the integrated Spaced Repetition flashcard function. This can be used with any word list within the app – not just those that you create yourself. Pre-loaded lists include JLPT (pre-2010 for reasons explained above), expressions, proverbs, interjections, nouns, verbs, adjectives, particles, a huge array of subject categories such as Art, Chemistry, Food etc …and many more.

What this means for the student then is that there’s no need to export your lists to import to a similar SRS such as Anki – although should you wish to you can share lists as text-emails for import – let’s hope that CSV exports are on the cards for a future update.

Another feature that makes this app stand out from the crowd in the ability to import vocabulary lists – provided they are in the same format as when exported – just copy and paste from the email app into a new list.

A nice little touch is the ability to change the color of the app; personally I’ve gone for purple now.

A video demo of the app can be found at www.codefromtokyo.com/japanese

Summary

So there we have it – two powerful dictionary apps for Japanese language learners. Considering the price tag (free), Kotoba! is an incredible resource, and for those who just need a dictionary and are not actively studying Japanese, it makes sense to choose it over Japanese.

For serious students of Japanese however, the integrated SRS makes Japanese a better choice. It has some really handy extra features, and I find it to be a more ‘beautiful’, iPhone-esque app – little things like that instant search function, the smoother kanji stroke animations, the text styles used.

Whilst some may think the price tag a little high, it compares well with many other major dictionary apps, and in my view is well worth the investment.

Code from Tokyo is also due to release an iPad version soon – look forward to seeing that in the app store.

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

Live Link 3G J [iTunes Japan only, Free] from Yudo.jp brings free video conferencing to the iPhone in Japan – over the 3G network.

Using Live Link 3G J is simplicity itself: both iPhone uses launch the app, and enter a matching keyword of their own choosing. A few seconds later the screen is divided into two – the top half showing video from the remote iPhone camera, the bottom showing that from the local camera.

Of course there’s one fundamental problem with the system that is unlikely to be fixed anytime soon – the iPhone only has a camera facing away from the user. So whilst you can share what you can see, you can’t easily use it to do video conferencing in the traditional ‘face to face’ sense.

In the current version 1.0.0, users have the ability to mute the mic, pause the outgoing video stream, lower the quality of the video (useful if bandwidth is poor), and choose which audio to listen to (that of the local iPhone or the remote paired iPhone).

Version 2.0.0, announced on the company site on the 20th March but (at the time of writing) yet to surface in the iTunes Japan App Store promises to bring:

  • Reduced latency (delay)
  • Wifi support
  • User profile registration
  • Twitter integration
  • Improved sound and video quality

Importantly, there is also mention of ‘Global Compatibility’, meaning it should eventually become available outside of Japan. The company has also announced a paid version which will allow users to decorate their videos with hand-drawn messages.

Future updates are said to include a friend function and push notifications. Importantly, there is also mention of ‘Global Compatibility’, meaning it should eventually become available outside of Japan.

The ease with which one can connect to other users came as quite a surprise – whilst testing the app for Mobile in Japan with two iPhones, I managed to connect to two complete strangers by entering the keyword ‘aaaaa’. I’m not sure who was more surprised – them or me!

Whilst this app may not be suitable for couples living apart (not being able to turn the iPhones on themselves and still gaze into their partner’s eyes), it could be very useful in situations where you quickly want to show someone something, whilst simultaneously explaining it. Think business plans, or a view of your surroundings when trying to meet someone  in a strange place.

A word of advice though – choose your keywords wisely; you don’t want to be giving people heart attacks as I did tonight.

Someone has uploaded an unofficial demo video of the app here.

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.

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).

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

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

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

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

For the last week or so I have been evaluating the smrtcase Glide for iPhone. I’m happy to report that in many ways it has exceeded my expectations. While the case market for iPhones is over saturated beyond all reason, the smrtcase adds some much in demand functionality at a truly bargain price.

The killer feature of the smrtcase Glide is the ability to easily store and access cards from the back of the case. You can put in business cards, credit cards, and of course smart cards like Edy electric money or train and subway transit cards. There is enough space to hold about 2 credit cards or 3-4 business cards. The center opening in the back makes it easy to slide out cards as needed from a slot along the side of the case. This works well, but does have some drawbacks (namely exposing the top card in the case to dirt and other environmental elements).

Beyond the card holder, the case stands up well against the standard case offerings. The plastic is high quality, although a bit slippery for my tastes. Remarkably, the case is not much larger than many full protection iPhone cases. It’s a bit of a hybrid, completely covering the back and side bezel, but leaving the top and bottom edges exposed. Corners are also fully protected. This is a single piece case with a snap on design similar to a lot of the minimal scratch-guard shields that are all the rage. It also comes in three colors, however out of the pink, white, and black, I think black is by far the best looking. Overall the case looks good, is lightweight and adds a minimum of bulk to the phone.

(Not much thicker than my Griffin Carbon case)

The card compartment is not actually a sealed separate compartment inside the case. When you slide a card in the slot, the card becomes sandwiched between the back of your iPhone and the inside of the case. Don’t worry, you won’t scratch your phone with raised numbers on your credit card. smrtcase provides a protective sticker that you ally the the back of your iPhone to prevent scratches. I found this solution to work well, although it feels a bit inelegant and the rounded back of the iPhone makes it impossible to apply the sticker without tons of bubbles. Since the case and cards cover the back pretty much all the time, this isn’t such a big deal, however it does make it less than ideal if you like to swap cases around often or let you phone go commando from time to time. Basically once to you apply the sticker, you best leave the case on from now on.

(Plenty of space in the back for cards)

(Not so nice. Back protective sticker is functional, but not so great looking)

Using the case is pretty much exactly as you would think. Cards slip into the back compartment easily and can be pushed out with just a flick of the thumb. The shape of the iPhone does force the cards to bend slightly, but it’s little enough that cards will lay flat immediately after you remove them from the case. Of course due to the nature of Smart Cards, it’s difficult and in many cases impossible to put in two smartcards at the same time and have them both function properly, but it can easily hold a train pass and a couple of business cards. You can put in a train pass and swipe it at an electric gate without removing the card at all, but I’ve found the iPhone will block enough of the signal, so make sure to swipe it with the card/backside down and the screen up. Other than that, it works the same as the small plastic card holder I used to use.

Using the smrtcase Glide as a trainpass:

While this doesn’t enable the full “saifu keitai” functionality that most Japanese cellphones have, it does bring the most desirable functions at last to the iPhone. Of course there is no actual interaction between stored cards and the iPhone, but I have happily used my iPhone as a train pass and to pay for food and drinks in a train station. Best of all the look of envy in the faces of my iPhone wielding friends when they realize what the case can do.

So this case finally adds the capability to the iPhone that I have wanted since it first came out. The only thing that could ruin it of course is the price. I am happy to report that this is where the best news of all is. When I first received the review unit I thought cost would be the weak point. With the multitudes of competitors out there a single trick case like this might have difficulty winning over buyers. Knowing this, smrtcase partnered with Focal Point in Japan to bring it out here for only 1,980 yen. That makes this one of the cheapest cases on the market (not counting the cheapo disposable silicon cases). Considering the build quality and the usefulness of the card holder it’s an amazing deal.

So to sum up.

Pros:
Good build quality
Great feature to add smart cards
Small, stylish design looks good
Great low price

Cons:
Sticker protection functional, but makes it impossible to swap around cases.
Open hole in back exposes cards to dirt
Color options not great. Would like a carbon fiber or leather version.

If you would like to order one you can get the in Japan at the Focal Point Online Store and at Rakuten Ichiba

IMG_1051

This is a quick first-impressions review of Layar 2.0, an augmented reality app released for the iPhone 3GS by sprxmobile [iTunes - free].

For starters, this app is very cool, and definately has the “Wow – we’re living in the future!” factor. It far surpasses the AR apps released by Presselite (Bionic Eye Tokyo, Tokyo Metro) mainly due to the fact that it has a myriad of data sources – the primary ‘layar’ plugging into Google Local Search, thus enabling it to draw from a wealth of existing reviews / photos / location and contact details.

Other layars already available include Twitter, Flickr, Wikipedia, Panoramio – plus many more localised layers (the Layars displayed will be local to the country that you have your iPhone set to in International settings, or you can manually set the location in the app’s own settings panel).

Here in Japan you’ll currently be offered find ATM guides, station guides, Hot Pepper, a hair salon search and more.

The user interface is a refreshing break from that adopted by Sekai Camera and the afore mentioned Presselite apps. The manner is which their airtags float around is ‘cool’, but not very practical. It’s far easier to navigate the 3D grid laid out before you in Layar.

This is of course an extremely young market, so expect to see rapid developments over the next few months. It’s great to have some more companies entering the arena with different approaches to UI etc, and it’ll be interesting to see if any one of them comes to dominate the market.

Ok, let’s see some screenshots.

The main menu: choose a layar
layar_screenshot_1035

The primary layer is ‘Layar Local Search’ which utilises Google Local Search. Just enter your search term. As with Google, you can enter your search terms in Japanese or English. You also have the option to define the the spread of your search.

layar_screenshot_1022

A search for ‘station’ (it brought up train stations, a gas station and a couple of other results, such as ‘Gohongi House’)

layar_screenshot_1022

Map view (Google map inside the app – clicking the blue jump icon will take you to the iPhone’s native Google Map app)

layar_screenshot

Ok, let’s search for restaurants:

layar_screenshot

Restaurants: Map view

layar_screenshot

This is where it gets sexy: click on the small blue jump arrow bottom right, and you’re given 3 choices:

layar_screenshot

Click on ‘Call this spot’ and your phone will dial the restaurant number. Click on ‘More info’ and this is the kind of thing you’ll get:

layar_screenshot

Customer reviews, directions / contact details, photos, it’s all there.

Click on ‘take me there’ and the route will be plotted for you on the Google map.

layar_screenshot

Of course, much of this functionality is native to the iPhone’s Google Apps map – but the seamless integration with the AR makes it far more attractive.

Twitter

So what about the Twitter Layars? I tried two out, with similar results.

So here we have Tweeps Around in AR mode. The light blue blob indicates the current active tweet, and below you have the tweet itself with the avatar.

Layar: Augmented Reality Twitter Japan

The cool thing is, is that as you turn around, the highlighted tweet changes – so you feel that you’re kind of scanning the air for tweets! At this point you are officially living on a Star Trek set.

You can switch to map view too of course – here we see that in Tweetmondo.

layar_screenshot

List view

layar_screenshot

Flickr

It soon picked up a couple of photos I took near the station the other day.

layar_screenshot

Flickr layer options

layar_screenshot

Flickr list view

layar_screenshot>

Wikipedia

layar_screenshot

Summary

Layar is a fantastic AR app, and provides a nice cross-over between the closed database approach of Presselite and the user-generated content of Sekai Camera. I believe the layer approach is a winner, opening the door for massive expansion.

As with all AR apps, it falls down when it comes to accuracy. One nice feature however is that it tells you how accurate it is at any one time, so you know how much to trust it. Another thing I like, is that unlike Sekai Camera it is displayed in Portrait mode, making it easier to use as a one-handed navigation device when walking.

The recent debut of two such strong players is great news for AR development, and I expect that within a year we will no longer actually need to look at anything except our iPhones as we go about our daily lives.

sekai camera shibuya station

There’s been much made of Tonchidot‘s Sekai Camera, one of the first Augmented Reality iPhone apps to allow users to add their own content to the virtual-world database powering it.

And rightly so. Whilst Augmented Reality has been around for a long time (starting out in the military), this is the first time that it’s been made available to consumers without requiring specialist hardware. All you need is Japan’s best selling mobile handset, the iPhone.

We recently tried Sekai Camera out on our 3GS, and were pretty impressed by what we saw.

The iPhone’s GPS is used to locate nearby airtags, with the built-in compass figuring out what to direction your facing to only display relevant tags. The tags constantly wobble around in mid-air as you move (3G users who don’t have the compass can manually scroll through north/south/east/west, but should upgrade to the 3GS for ease of use and overall sex appeal).

First off then, we powered up Sekai Camera opposite Shibuya Station. As you can see there’s a fair number of tags. The white ones seem to be pre-defined – these include banks, stations, building names etc. The coloured tags are text air tags that have been added by users themselves. They don’t tend to say anything very profound, and may remind you of your first few Twitter tweets, when you had to tell everyone that you were just having a cup of coffee / brushing your teeth.

Tap on an air tag, and it fills the screen. Wait a moment, and any text displayed on it will appear in another window along with the details of the user who uploaded it (not shown below).

sekai camera_shibuya

If you’re anywhere crowded (like Shibuya) there can be far too many tags to see any in detail. To deal with this there’s a built-in spiralator: tap and hold your finger on a tag for a few seconds and they’ll all arrange themselves in a neat rotating spiral allowing you to read them one by one.

sekai camera_spiral

Adding your own airtags is easy. Once you’ve registered (username / password, done in-app) just choose your tag type from the menu on the right hand side: Text, photo, or sound.

Then, enter your text / take your photo / record your audio, click on ‘post’ – and it’s up. It should then show up on your screen (and that of anyone else using the app in the area) within a few seconds. Here is Paul‘s head floating in a pub in Shibuya.

sekai camera_paul

The next thing to do is take a photo of the person you’ve just made an airtag of and get them to point at their own head. Believe me, it’s trickier than you’d thing as these tags tend to wobble quite a bit (thanks for your patience Jonny!)

sekai camera_jonni

In tag-rich areas there are some filters which may come in handy. Under ‘Filter’ you can choose a date range (anything from tags posted in the last 24 hours, to forever), and distance from your present location (50m – 300m).

You can also choose whether or not to show your own tags, other air tags, landmarks and shouts (a shout is an airtag that someone posts by clicking on ‘shout’ – this booms out through the virtual world and fills the screen of nearby users – as a shout might fill their ears).

There’s also a ‘pocket function’ – this stores all of your bookmarked tags, and will display them on a map.

Ok, that sounds like it coulld be fun – but is it actually useful?

Erm, in a word, no.

At least not yet – but expect that to change in the near future when the next update is released.

So why’s it not all that useful yet? Well, for a start, as mentioned above, it’s like the early days of Twitter when everyone was desperate to tell others that they were feeding the cat. There’s a lot of noise out there, and whilst the distance / time filters do help, they still don’t control whose tags you see and whose you don’t. Imagine a Twitter where you basically have to follow everyone near you.

Secondly, the limitations of the iPhone (notably the compass) mean that you don’t always get accurate accurate placing of air tags. This will of course improve with future hardware updates.

But having said that, this app is AMAZING! It’s such early days for this technology, and to have a smooth user experience at this stage is, in my book, quite staggering. We will undoubtedly see significant upgrades and additional filters / functionality added in the near future (this post will be updated with news on that in a few days).

In the meantime, I’m going to be busy filling Tokyo’s virtual AR world with quality photo tags of bowls of ramen and text tags saying “I’m her now”.

ekotan_0983

Having been consistently disappointed by voice recognition apps in the past, it was with some scepticism that I installed Koetan Tokyo from Traffic Gate, Ltd.

[iTunes, Free]

Using it is very simple. You can ignore all the Japanese.

Image 1

– Tap the big black button in the middle.
– Say the name of your starting station. Pause a moment. Say the name of your destination station.
– Add the word “まで” (ma-de = ‘to’).
– Press the button in the middle again.

The app will now connect and search for your route (this only takes a few seconds. Of course you must have a data connection).

ekotan_0984

Image 2
The results screen shows several results, one of which is bound to match yours. Not once has it failed to place my  route at the top of the list. As you can see, it’s in English and Japanese, so this is a great way to see how station names are written in Japanese too.

ekotan_0985

Image 3
Having selected your route, the detailed results page appears. Yes, it’s all in Japanese, but even if you don’t read Japanese you can see all the important info, including time taken, cost and the number of changes. The route is diplayed below.

Click on the car / map option (地図によるルート)to see the route on the apps built-in map (image 4).

koetan_0986

You can then click on マップ (top right) to view the map in the iPhone’s native Google Maps app (image 5).

koetan_0987

Like many of these kinds of navigation apps (such as the Tokyo Metro App), Koetan! does not provide you with real-time timetable information – it’ll just give you the route and time it’ll take, so if you need precise timings you’ll still need an app such as Ekitan (Japanese only).

Another limitation is the fact that it only covers Tokyo (no Saitama, no Chiba etc) – no doubt this limitation is one reason it’s so accurate in terms of voice recognition, as there’s not all that much for the software to choose from.

However, this app is a fantastic way to quickly get this basic info without having to type in the station names, which is often the thing that causes the most problems for non-Japanese speakers.

Tokyo Metro App name: Tokyo Metro

Part 1: the Basic App

This is a great navigation app for Tokyoites, with a decent resolution pinchable image of the Tokyo subway network and, unlike most timetable apps which require an internet connection to function, this one will work mid-tunnel too.

It includes a GPS-enabled station finder for those times when you haven’t a clue where you are, or you can just enter the name of an area of Tokyo and it’ll pick out your nearest stations for you. A recent update brought the ability to simply select your start and end point by tapping on the stations on the map.

The app has a range of interface languages to choose from – this is a welcome addition to the line-up of japan-based public transport apps available, most of which require at least some knowledge of Japanese (Ekitan remaining the cream of the crop at present).

Whilst lacking that certain iPhone sexiness, the metro map is easy to use, with relevant stations being highlighted following searches. There’s also a link through to Google Maps, allowing the user to move seamlessly from the train to above ground to continue their journey.

There’s certainly room for improvement though, something the developers themselves acknowledge with their mention on the iTunes product page of updates currently being worked on.

Improvements to the basic app that would be good to see in future updates

Currently, the list of train lines is static, and merely serves as a key to understanding which line is which on the main map. Ideally, tapping on a line name would bring up a scrollable linear map of all stations along it, complete with interchanges for other lines.

As noted above, with the app using a local database no network connection is needed to plan a route. However, this also serves to curtail it’s functionality, as even when you do have a network connection results are limited to showing where to change trains and how long the total journey will take – there are no real-time departure or arrival times so for that you will still need something like the above-mentioned Ekitan.

Additionally, searches net only one result when multiple journey options may be available.

Being designed for non-Japanese readers, the lack of additional Japanese script for station names is understandable – but deprives users of the fun of learning kanji whilst they travel.

Part 2: Augmented Reality

Tokyo Metro appThe release of a new version of Tokyo Metro with an augmented reality location engine got quite a bit of attention from the international iPhone community – but how does it stand up to actual use?

Well, it’s a mixed bag.

How to use it

First off, you need to install the AR databases. These are sold separately from the app itself – you will be prompted to buy them within the app itself when you go to Settings and turn on the available Points of Interest. At present these come in several database sets (each set costing about 115 yen to download) include American Style restaurants, Japanese Style restaurants, Cafes, donuts and ice cream outlets, convenience stores and other misc leisure places. It should be noted that the same databases are used for Presselite’s other Tokyo-centric AR app, Bionic Eye Tokyo, so if you already have them for that the app will automatically use them.

(N.b. if you receive an error message when trying to buy these AR databases, reinstall the latest version of the Tokyo Metro app).

Having bought and installed your AR databases, from the app’s main display tap on the Locate icon. It will default to showing you a standard list of stations in the local area. From here, if you click on ‘Map’ you will see (surprisingly) a Google Map with all the POI listed. To enable Augmented Reality, click on ‘POI’ (Points of Interest). This will fire up your iPhone camera, and all enabled points of interest in the local area will show up, floating in the air (as shown above).

The app uses not only GPS, but also the iPhone 3GS’ built-in compass, so as you turn around, so the floating tags will change (see below about compass accuracy).

One neat thing is that as you then tilt the phone down towards the ground, the floating tags are replaced with a list, as shown below.


tokyomet_ar_screenshot_0979

Click on any of these and the display will change to an arrow pointing towards the place.

tokyomet_ar_screenshot_0980

When it comes to options regarding what is displayed: as well as the basic enabling / disabling of POI databases, you can also set the localization distance (200m – 3km).

The Verdict

Well this is very cool. A few years ago I never would have thought I would have this kind of AR device in my pocket, and especially not in the form of what has essentially just been a minor software install for the phone I already carried (is the iPhone not the sexiest device on Earth?!)

But to be honest, cool does not equal functionality in this case. Why? Accuracy. I’m guessing that this is not due to the app, but due to the limitations of the iPhone itself in this case and the limits in accuracy of today’s GPS (how many times have you used Google maps on your iPhone and have it tell you you’re on the other side of the street?).

Because of this, if you’re using it in AR mode to find a place the chances are you may be going in slightly the wrong direction. You are also at risk of tripping over big rocks in the road / falling down storm drains and breaking your leg because you have your eyes fixed on the screen.

BUT – the Google Map integration is good (just like the native google maps app but with more POIs). Using it in Map view allows you to make up for any inaccuracies in the positioning device.

The AR function is however great for impressing friends at parties who have yet to see convenience stores and Starbucks floating in the air.

It’s an incredible reasonable price for what is essentially cutting edge consumer technology, so if I were you, I’d get it.

N.B. Presselite’s ‘Bionic Eye Tokyo’ has no functionality that the Tokyo Metro app doesn’t have.

I think I might be sick. Mentally, you know?

Did I need a new iPhone 3Gs? Nope.

Did I need to stay up all night to wait in line to get one? Definitely not.

Was there a problem with my old iPhone 3G? Not really.

Do I have so much money I need to just throw it away? No way.

So that leaves me with the fact that I have a problem.

oh well. On with the review :)

So obviously I stayed up last Friday night at the all-night Softbank iPhone 3Gs launch event/party. To be honest, I had a pretty good time. Got to spend time with some good friends and meet lots of interesting people. I got to participate in a totally geek centered event that boosts my ego (always nice to know for sure that you are NOT the geekiest person in the room). Enjoyed the presentations, and even managed to win some cool stuff. And of course, I finished things off by taking my brand new iPhone 3Gs home with me.

Since I was mostly asleep when I first posted about this event, I’d like to start over and detail the events of the evening.

I started off my iPhone Night by first stopping by the Softbank store in Omotesando. I got there around 4PM and quickly ran in to reserve my iPhone. Had waffled for several days on the decision, but finally broke down and decided to go for it. Here are the things that led me to my decision.

1. Decided to get one from Softbank rather than importing an unlocked model. Two reasons for this choice. One was that after one year, I am now on my third iPhone 3G. Apple has kindly replaced my iPhone twice due to problems with the headphone plug and the center button. If I import, I can still probably get a replacement, but I doubt it will be unlocked. Second is the cost. By going with a two year contract, Softbank will pick up roughly 40,000 yen of the cost of my phone. Not getting that with an import.

2. Decided to upgrade my spare phone contract rather than upgrading or starting a new contract. Upgrading was an option, but since I had a second contract I get to enjoy the subsidy on both of my iPhones at the same time provided I do not cancel either contract. I had been thinking of canceling my spare phone contract, but well, I guess this works out in some way (rationalization). Oh, and three contracts seems a bit excessive. Even for me.

3. Sure I don’t really need one. But gosh darnit. It’s pretty, it’s Apple, and I have no willpower. After seeing reviews on the improvement in speed for web browsing and heavy application loading it was just a matter of time. Navigation is one of the power apps on the iPhone for me and directional navigation is sooo needed, and video is getting to be a more common media for me (although I am still just starting).

So I duck my head in the shop and quickly reserve a Black 32GB iPhone 3Gs. It takes less than half an hour and I am back out on the street in no time. I guess it helps that I am a long time customer of Softbank, so the process was very simple. I just gave them my phone number, showed them an ID and my passport, and told them what I wanted and everything was set. Most of the time in the shop was used by the salesman giving me the whole disclaimer lectures (3 pages worth) and making sure I signed enough forms.

Gizmodo Japan at the head of the line showing some Android Love. In back is the Focal Point team shilling Poken and Hugs.

Was tempted to join the already growing line in front of Softbank, but was not prepared so headed back home. Good thing too. Once home I took a quick shower, then put together my overnight bag. Not really the type of overnight bag most people think of though. This was my Tech Blogging Special var. I. It included;

1 Macbook Air

1 iPhone 3G

1 Sony A300 DSLR

2 Sony lenses. 18-80mm telephoto and 50mm prime

1 Sony HVL-F58AM Superflash

1 Sony vertical grip

1 Canon G10 with Eye-fi SD card, and spare battery

1 Cradlepoint PHS-300 portable wireless router.

1 EMobile D21HW USB 3G High Speed Modem

2 Eneloop Mobile Booster Professional batteries (Total of 10,000MaH power)

1 Black&Decker CPI100B Power to Go 100watt Power Supply/inverter

Ok, I know the sheer amount of mobile power I had in my bag was enough to set of Homeland Security warnings all over the place, but before you call it excessive, I have to say that every battery I had was practically drained by the time I got home.

After I got my stuff together, I caught a quick train to catch up with Danny Choo, Ken Lee, and Hector Garcia at Mirai HQ. Danny’s wife kindly drove us all (Danny in full Trooper regalia) back to Omotesando. Instead of hitting the line however, we zipped over to Cafe Ratia for Appliya Night. We got there around 7:30.

Appliya Night was fun, but we couldn’t stay for long. Appliya, being an iPhone development house was co-sponsoring the main event, so Appliya Night was used as a staging ground to gather iPhone developers together who would later present on the main stage. There Danny was joined by a troop of cosplayers who would later join him up on stage.

Around 10PM, we all marched about a block to the event hall that had been set up for the big event. The party was set up by Nobi Hayashi, one of the best known technology journalists in Japan. Around 400 iPhone fanboys were pulled from the line outside and allowed to spend the night in the event hall for presentations, contests, and a general geek-off. As we came in, both Joseph Tame and I were following the group shooting cameras wildly, so somehow we ended up with press passes. I thought it was pretty cool and took advantage of it by moving around the stage to get closer shots. This did cost me later on though.

For the next hour and a half, the event was a standard fare of presentations covering the iPhone and it’s place in Japan. Appliya brought developers up to preview their applications and even sponsored a contest where anyone in the room could get on stage to pitch for a favorite app and compete for prizes. Danny was up first with his presentation of the new DannyChoo.com app written by Ken and published by Appliya. Here’s a vid of his presentation and App.

After the fun, Softbank President Masayoshi Son himself entered the stage (He actually charged right past me and I had to jump aside and he ran up toward the stage). He went on about how great the iPhone and Steve Jobs are for about 5 minutes until the countdown hit midnight.
Midnight hits and Pres. Son announces that everyone gets a Otousan-Ken doll and iTunes gift certificate. Here’s where my press pass bites me. After the Softbank coolies speed past me, I ask for my goodies, but get told “No love for press.” !!! Well, I get my revenge later though.

After taunting us with the greatness that is the iPhone 3Gs, Son leaves the stage reminding us that we still have 7 hours left to wait. To help kill the time though we have lots of presentations and contest to keep us amused. A second round of iPhone app presentations is put together and this time I am somehow recruited. I choose for my app LogMeIn Ignition. The crowd seemed impressed with the remote desktop application if not by my post midnight presentation skills and I walked away with first prize, a Bose on-ear headset that works with the iPhone! I don’t need no stinkin toy dog!

They also do a ton of Janken contests to give away iPhone accessories and other gifts.
After the big midnight countdown most of the crew goes home to get some rest.

We line up inside the building before heading out to make sure it is nice and orderly. Every person was issued a ticket when they entered the hall with a number corresponding to your assigned seat.

Since not everyone who lined up is actually planning to get an iPhone, this translated to roughly 150. Since there were almost a hundred people assigned to selling new iPhones, this meant my time in line after opening was about 45 minutes. Not that bad really.

So about 15 minutes after we line up outside I’m checking twitter and the news is just breaking about Michael Jackson. By the time 7AM rolls around the rumors and counter rumors are flooding all the news channels. I even hear a few of the news reporters panicking about being in the wrong place while the story is breaking. Luckily I can be in two places at once as Andrew takes my camera and shoots some pics of the grand opening.

Finally! My time arrives and I set up in a small booth with a very skittish looking salesgirl. All in all it goes well. I think the advance work done by the clerk the day before kind of confused her though and she had to ask others around her repeatedly for help, but about 20 minutes later I have a brand new iPhone 3Gs in front of me.

So that about does it.  I still have to write about by post-first charge experience, but this post is already mega-huge, so I think I’ll call it a night.

The full post with images can be found over at my blog.

The time has come. On the 17th of June we get the next version of the iPhone OS. But thanks to the MobileinJapan community, I was able to get my hands on the OS a bit early. So here is a preview of the new iPhone 3.0 OS, running on an iPhone 3G on Softbank Japans 3G network. This is the full version of 3.0, but there are a few features like push and MMS that we are waiting for the network to activate.

This review is also cross-posted to my blog here.

In a Nutshell:
The long wait is over. OS 3.0 brings a lot of overdue functionality to the iPhone and a few neat tricks to boot. Still this is nothing like the bump from 1.0 to 2.0. In fact, the overall feel to the phone is exactly the same. Only a few small graphical changes give away the upgrade at first glance. Also, I don’t credit for push apps since this was promised as part of the 2.0 upgrade. I still haven’t seen how that works, but will try it out as soon as the apps hit the store. I do see why the new hardware has a faster processor though as I felt that the interface is a bit sluggish since the upgrade. I asked a few other people to try out my phone though and they say that it feels the same, so I guess no definite call there yet.

Batteries not included:
So what is not in the upgrade? Obviously, hardware related features are out. No new 3MP autofocus camera. No macro lens. no digital compass, no Nike+iPod integration. Additionally there are really no new features. Most of the changes that are available to iPhone 3G owners are merely enhancements and upgrades to existing functionality. In typical fashion, for new features, you gotta show the dough. So this means no video recording, no voice control, no turn based navigation in Maps, And of course there is the didyourcarrierscrewya feature, tethering. in Softbanks case the answer is an expected “Not a chance you freeloading bum.” No tethering in Japan. Finally, while Softbank has promised to turn on MMS support on the 17th, it’s not on now so I wasn’t able to test it out.
So that’s what is not inside. What did we get then?

Search: I know I left that app somewhere

Simply swipe your finger left from the Home screen and you enter the new search screen. Basically a Spotlight for the iPhone, Search lets you easy find and open Contacts, Apps, Emails and messages. Surpassingly responsive and seemingly comprehensive, This should make the Home screen a much more popular place to live. If you are not currently using the “push center button once to go Home” shortcut, I think you soon might be.

Much needed feature and well implemented. 10 points.

Cut&Paste: Was it worth the wait?

One of the more popular reasons to jailbreak your iPhone is now gone. And I mean gone. Cut&Paste forks just as advertised. Simply press and hold over any text or graphics and when you release, the Copy options appear. Then you can drag the points apart to increase the area you want to cut. No longer limited to text fields, you can now grab paragraphs from webpages, even objects and inline graphics. Then open up Mail or Notes and press-hold one more time to bring up the paste command. Easy-peasy and doesn’t stop you from running Skype.

You can even use the new motion commands to shake to undo. Still requires verification, so no accidental undos on the train.

Long overdue function that works as advertised. a bit tricky to get the hang of though. 9 points.

Bluetooth A2DP Support: Cut the cord already!

Yay! Finally stereo bluetooth support. I pulled out an old pair of Sony bluetooth headphone and discovering them was a piece of cake. Once paired, the iPhone reconnects automatically whenever the headphones are turned on. Sound quality was better and the connection was much more stable compared to using one of the plug-in dongles that have been kicking around. I was even able to take an incoming phone call by using the call button on the headphones. Music playback just pauses while you are on the call and resumes as soon as you hang up.
I think I can see why this was delayed however. Signal processing must take quite a bit of power so if I try running an app (say Tweetie for instance) while playing music through bluetooth, the iPhone starts crawling. More reason to upgrade to the 3G-S I guess.

Just press the speaker icon in the control wind to switch between speaker and bluetooth.
Another overdue feature, but old hardware suffers under the stress. Also lacks some functionality. 6 points.

Landscape keyboards: Mrs. Beacon would be proud.

Yup. Landscape keyboard alright. Available in all basic apps including Email. Ummm. yup. Like the landscape. yup.
Oooo. moving along.

Simple, Easy, Reliable. 10 Points.

Download Video from the iTunes Store: Die, Blockbuster, Die!

With a US based iTunes account you can now buy and rent videos on the iTunes store. That includes Movies, TV Shows and Music Videos. You can even redeem itunes gift cards right on your iPhone. No need to ever plug your iPhone into a computer again (well, not really). Of course, you are probably thinking that it can’t be that easy. And of course. The silly little 10MB limitation on 3G data connections is still there. so really video downloading is a wi-fi only feature.Mr. Jobs? Tear down this wall.

More importantly now however it the ability to log out of your iTunes account on the iPhone manually. This is a godsend for those of us with multiple accounts so we can download apps from the Japanese appstore. In the past you had to switch accounts on your computer, so switching around while out and about was not possible. The new Store menu in Settings takes care of that.

Great for people with iTunes accounts in multiple countries. -2 points for leaving the 10MB wall intact. 8 points.

Find My iPhone/Remote Wipe: Hit em’ from orbit

Afraid of losing your phone? Think you might have left it on the subway? Or maybe it’s at the office. Now you can be sure.Make sure to activate Find My iPhone in your MobileMe settings (requires a ridiculously overprices MobileMe account) and you can now pinpoint exactly where your iPhone is. Provided the power is on that is.
Just log in to you account on a computer and you can find your phone, send a wipe command (will delete all data on the phone, but leave phone functions active), or even send a message to the Yakuza currently holding your phone.

Typical enterprise feature that is cool to play with, but requires expesive MobileMe account. 5 points.

Anything else?
Apple advertise hundreds of changes in this version, and I’m sure I haven’t found them all. But here are a few more that I thought were at least somewhat useful.

  • Youtube account integration. You can now log into your own Youtube account! -5 points
  • Notes sync: Synchronize Notes to a desktop computer – 4 points
  • Autofill in Safari: Remembers your usernames and stuff – 4 points
  • Autologin to wi-fil hotspots: MUCH easier to get into those hotspots that require a login to connect. -5 points
  • ics support in calendar: You can now subscribe to calendars on the iPhone! -6 points
  • Voice recorder app: a 99cent app now part of the standard apps. -3 points

Is that it?Well, that’s all I got. So tally up the points and you get… Sorry. I don’t do math. Basically it’s a good upgrade, but nothing world changing here. Free for existing iPhone users is a good thing. It’s all pretty much positive, except I still think things are running a bit slower. Guess it’s time to start saving my yens for an iPhone 3G-s.

If you have any questions, post em up on MobileinJapan and I’ll try to get to em.