* Updated with official press release. details and participating countries/carriers.

This has been mentioned by Softbank President Masayoshi Son several times over the last few months, but finally details are starting to leak out about an unlimited data plan for international roaming.

IMG_1050.JPG

While there has been no official release of information from Softbank PR, Japanese Apple weblog Ringo Sanco is reporting that the plan will be set at 1,980 yen ($22 US) per day. However, in a special promotion, until June 30, 2011, the service will be offered for only 1,480 ($16.5 USD) per day. Softbank subscribers using an X-Series smartphone, Disney phone, iPhone, or iPad 3G will be able to apply for the plan from July 21 of this year.

While speaking at a press conference at the launch of the iPhone 4 in Japan, Son spoke of how much he enjoyed using twitter and other online services, and how addictive they have become. While traveling abroad, customers using devices like the iPad could run the risk of gigantic bills resulting from even minimal data usage while roaming. This plan, while certainly not cheap, will make it easy for business travelers and vacationers to use data heavy devices and easily calculate the costs. Also with VoIP services like Skype now offering voice communication over 3G data, communications costs while traveling can be minimized while still offering robust options.

We’re still waiting for final confirmation on this information, as well as details regarding enrollment instructions and effected countries.  Stay tuned for more.

* Update 6/28 20:00: Softbank has issued a press release with details on the international roaming data plan here.  It confirms the information posted previously and adds information on participating countries.

  • United States (AT&T)
  • Australia (Vodafone)
  • Guam (Pulse Mobile)
  • New Zealand (Vodafone)
  • Indonesia (XL)
  • South Korea (SK Telecom)
  • Singapore (Singtel)
  • Thailand (AIS)
  • Taiwan (Taiwan Mobile/VIBO)
  • China (China Unicom)
  • Phillipines (Globe Telecom)
  • Hong Kong (CSL)
  • Malaysia (Celcom)
  • Ireland (Vodafone)
  • Albania (Vodafone)
  • England (Vodafone)
  • Italy (Vodafone)
  • Netherlands (Vodafone)
  • Greece (Vodafone)
  • Spain (Vodafone)
  • Czechoslovakia (Vodafone)
  • Germany (Vodafone)
  • Turkey (Vodafone)
  • Hungary (Vodafone)
  • France (SFR)
  • Portugal (Vodafone)
  • Malta (Vodafone)
  • Romania (Vodafone)
  • Egypt (Vodafone)

Another piece of interesting information is that it appears the cap is raised for a maximum of 2,980 yen per day for video downloads.  I’m not sure I like the sound of that, but more information should be forthcoming.

iPhone photo by Gonzalo Baeza Hernández’s

SIM Locked or Not SIM Locked, that is the iPad 3G question in Japan.

In order to get our facts in order, I’m going to recap what we’ve learned so far.

May 8: Softbank keeps iPad SIM Locked

As pre-orders are about to start in Japan, rumors that Softbank was able to keep the device SIM locked in Japan are turning out to be true.

IT media reporting on Softbank press announcement:

ところが、5月8日にソフトバンクモバイルが公表したiPad販売に関する情報では、日本国内のソフトバンクショップやソフトバンクケータイ取扱店で販売されるiPadのWi-Fi+3G版は、ソフトバンクモバイルの3Gネットワークでしか使えないように、SIMロックがかかっているというアナウンスがあった。

translating into

According to information released by Softbank on May 8, iPad wi-fi+3G models sold from Softbank shops will be SIM locked so that they can only connect to Softbank Mobile’s network.

The wording used by Softbank to the media outlets is quite clear: SIMロック

It only mentions iPad sold from Softbank shops since the Apple Store only sells the Wi-Fi versions.

May 10: DoCoMo abandons plans to sell iPad microSIMs

Since Softbank’s relation with DoCoMo suddenly became even more exclusive, DoCoMo announces it backs out from its plans to sell iPad microSIMs.

May 12: iPad in Japan Not Really SIM Locked

Thanks to a Mobile in Japan community member, we are able to report that Steve Jobs contradicts Softbank:

Actually, the version of iPad sold in Japan does accept international SIMs.

May 12: Apple changes its official iPad FAQ, adds to confusion

The official iPad FAQ is changed on that same day (the 3rd edit since it got online) and adds to the confusion, due to what can be described as clever wording. Indeed,

you cannot use a microSIM purchased overseas for an iPad in Japan

can be read in multiple ways.

Our commenters seem to be agree that it means that while abroad, one is free to switch microSIM, the iPad is tied to Softbank microSIM in Japan.

May 15: Steve Jobs says both Apple and Softbank websites are wrong

Kernel Panic gets another clarification from Steve Jobs

Our website and Softbank are wrong, and we are getting them the correct information ASAP. The website should be fixed soon. Sorry for the confusion.

Steve Jobs is basically saying that Softbank employees, mentioned in Gabe Glick‘s original email, should not have been saying the iPad 3G was locked nor that it wouldn’t work with any other microSIM than Softbank’s.

May 15: Wall Street Journal Confirms iPads only work with Softbank in Japan

Thanks to Yukari Iwatani Kane reaching out to Apple for the WSJ, it seems now a certainty that iPads can only be used with Softbank in Japan:

Japanese 3G iPads will only work with Softbank’s 3G service in Japan. But outside of Japan, those iPads are unlocked, so they can be used with SIMs for local carriers in their respective markets. Whether 3G iPads purchased outside of Japan will work in Japan will depend on the roaming agreement that the users’s home carrier has established in the country

May 16: Steve Jobs confirms the Japanese iPad works with international microSIMs

On the following day, Ed Andersen gets the same confirmation from Steve Jobs himself:

It is locked to Softbank in Japan, but you can use any international microSIM.

Only to learn, one email later, that there must be some software SIM lock.

Thanks for the reply. So Japanese 3G iPads are not SIM-locked at all, you are just forced to take out a Softbank contract. Is this correct?

No, not exactly.

May 17: Softbank’s CEO responds

Friend Hideki Francis Onda adds a nail into the coffin with a brilliant post summarizing the iPad in Japan situation.

Son Masayoshi, the operator CEO candidly admits the iPad exclusivity is due to the relative lack of robustness of his network compared to DoCoMo

We are at a disadvantage compared with NTT. We will lose massive customers if we did not lock the Japanese iPads to our network

Interestingly, he adds that he would consider unlocking the device if Softbank can get the 800MHz spectrum.

Softbank has a long history fighting for this band that the government doesn’t want to license again until 2015, but already used by DoCoMo and au/KDDI.

May 18: Apple updates the iPad FAQ for the umpteenth time

The new FAQ wording makes it clearer. In Japan, Softbank only!

3Gデータプランについてよくあるご質問
iPad Wi-Fi + 3GモデルはソフトバンクのSIMカードのみに対応していますか?

日本で発売されるiPad Wi-Fi + 3Gモデルは、日本で使用する場合、iPad向け3Gデータプランを提供しているソフトバンクのmicro-SIMカードのみに対応します。海外で使用する際は、その国で発売されているmicro-SIMカードもご利用になれます。
その他の通信事業者のmicro-SIMカードを使って、日本で発売されるiPad Wi-Fi + 3Gモデルを海外で利用できますか?

日本で発売されるiPad Wi-Fi + 3Gモデルは、日本国内ではソフトバンクの3Gデータサービスのみに対応します。その他の国内通信事業者のmicro-SIMカードには対応しません。海外では、その国の通信事業者が提供しているmicro-SIMカードとデータプランを利用して、日本で発売されるiPad Wi-Fi + 3Gモデルを使用することができます。
micro-SIMカードはどこで手に入れられますか?

直営店のApple Store、またはiPad正規販売店でiPad Wi-Fi + 3Gモデルと一緒にmicro-SIMカードを購入できます。(日本国外で購入したiPad用に、micro-SIMカードを購入することはできません。)

So, what do we know so far?

Any iPad 3G sold in Japan will be tied exclusively to Softbank while in Japan.

Any iPad 3G sold in Japan will have the ability to switch microSIM while outside of Japan (or to roam using Softbank microSIM).

Any iPad 3G bought outside of Japan won’t accept any Japanese microSIM, since Softbank is the sole microSIM vendor (at this point) and won’t sell the SIM & plans without an iPad.

It is unclear how Softbank is SIM locking iPads sold in Japan. A software lock is possible but not confirmed, but Steve Jobs remarks seems to indicate that there is more than a simple country contract exclusivity.

So, yeah, Steve Jobs was right all along: both Softbank’s iPad announcement (and customer relations) and Apple’s website (until today’s modification) were wrong. And misleading I should add.

Follow our complete iPad landing in Japan coverage

[* Updated: Local news agencies now reporting iPad 3G will be SIM locked in Japan. Read below for details]

It’s P-Day in Japan.  That’s “P” for Pre-order I mean.

As of today you can pre-order your shiny new iPad.  But remember, no iPads will hit the street until May 28 in Japan.  As I am writing this, I am even hearing reports of  people lining up in front of shops to be the first to put their names down.

If you want to know what it will cost you, check out our price breakdown post, but besides price, what else do you need to know?  Well, to start with;

Where can I pre-order an iPad?

The iPad can be pre-ordered in person at the following locations.

You can also pre-order the iPad online at the Apple Online Store.  But note that you can only pre-order the Wi-Fi only model online.  You must stop by in person to pre-order a wi-fi+3G model.  Also, there is no in-store pickup option in Japan like there was in the US, so if you order online you have to have your iPad shipped to a location somewhere.

What do I need to pre-order an iPad wi-fi+3G?

Sure, it’s just a pre-order, and not an actual contract at this point, but don’t forget your documentation if you want to reserve your iPad 3G.  Here’s what you will need.

ONE of the following forms of identification.

  1. Drivers License
  2. Japanese Passport
  3. National Health Insurance Card + Proof of local residency
  4. National Health Insurance Card + Credit Card
  5. National Health Insurance Card + Student ID card with Photo
  6. Disability certificate
  7. Foreign passport + Foreign resident identification card

In addition for the iPad, the only method of payment allowed for the iPad plan is credit card payment.  So it looks like automatic bank withdrawal and convenience store payment are not acceptable.

Micro-SIM and SIM lock

There have been plenty of rumors floating around the intertubes over the last few days, but here’s is what has been officially announced regarding the iPad SIM cards.

According to Apple Japan’s website, the iPad is not SIM locked.

“The iPad wi-fi+3G can be used with a micro-SIM card provided with an iPad compatible data plan”.  On international usage, “To use a local data plan while roaming, use a micro-SIM with iPad data service.  For international roaming service, please check with your domestic service carrier”.

Now, we still do not have practical verification.  That will come when we actually have reports of people plugging in different SIM cards.  Also keep in mind that Apple can change the wording on their site any time before the actual launch day, but take this as a positive sign that the Japanese iPad will remain SIM-lock free.

Also note, that Apple has stated that the iPhone SIM and the iPad micro-SIM can not be swapped.  Well, certainly they are different sizes, so they can’t easily be exchanged, but they go as far as to say that you must be on an iPad compatible plan, so even filing down you iPhone SIM to fit into the micro-SIM slot might not be enough to get your iPad working (and would certainly violate you users agreement).

UPDATE #2: Impress Watch and ITMedia are now both reporting that all iPad wi-fi+3G models sold in Japan will be SIM locked.  This contradicts information on Apple’s own webpage, but according to ITMedia, an official statement from Apple confirms that “Due to Apple’s partnership with Softbank with the iPhone 3G and 3GS, the only network that all iPads sold in Japan will be able to access is Softbank”.  As of this update, Apple’s webpage has still not been updated and continues to state that the iPad can be used with any micro-SIM card that has an iPad data plan.

Docomo has reportedly expressed regret that their plans to offer a micro-SIM compatible with the iPad are not going to work.

In addition, Impress notes that customers who buy iPad 3G models overseas will not be able to make a contract for due to the fact that imported models are not certified to operate in Japan.

This is very disappointing news, and you will certainly be hearing more, both on this website and others, leading up to the May 28 launch of the iPad in Japan.

UPDATE: The discussion on twitter regarding the locked status of the iPad is quite lively now.  Information coming from the Apple camp implies that the iPad is unlocked, however inquiries to Softbank have been coming back that the iPad will be locked to Softbank only.  Is the Apple website just an unedited translation or is Softbank trying to play up their launch exclusivity. We may not know until May 28 so buyer beware.

Softbank exclusivity

In the MetPod Podcast yesterday, Softbank Store General Manager Mihoko Kasuga stated that Softbank has an exclusive for the iPad launch in Japan.  While this doesn’t restrict other carriers from coming out with compatible micro-SIM cards and plans, it does look like at the very least, we won’t see them on May 28.

While it’s only a matter of time until micro-SIM cards start to appear in Japanese handsets, the iPad will be the first device in Japan that uses them.  I would bet that the iPhone 4G will be the second, so there is certainly no rush by Japanese carriers to support the format.

For now at least, Softbank has the only horse in town, but you can bet EMobile is salivating with at the number of Pocket wi-fi’s they will be able to sell with the iPad wi-fi.

Accessorize your iPad

Bring out the bling!  While Amazon Japan has been flooded with 3rd party iPad accessories for a while now, but now we have the official add-ons.  On the Apple online store, along with the iPad, you can also pre-order the iPad case, dock, keyboard dock, camera connection kit, vga adapter, and 10 watt usb power adapter.

So what are you waiting for?  If you are in line right now to pre-order or will be signing up, make sure to check out our iPad forum and discuss the iPad with your fellow iPad peers.

Thanks to @TokyoDan for the pic!

Follow our complete iPad landing in Japan coverage

[* Updated with new plan information]

Sorry for all the iPad traffic lately. Rest assured we are still keeping our eagle eye’s out for other mobile coverage in Japan.

But the moment we have been waiting for is here.  Softbank has announced pricing for the iPad and iPad 3G, as well as details on two 3G connection plans, a monthly unlimited plan and a pre-paid option.

http://mb.softbank.jp/mb/ipad/

So let’s take a look at what we have got.

First of all, you will have a choice of paying up front cash, or buying on a two year installment plan.

So pricing for an iPad Wi-fi only model in cash would be

16GB: 48,960,  32GB: 59,040, and 64GB 68,880

Using installment ups it a bit at

16GB: 53,280, 32GB: 63,360, and 64GB 73,200

Pricing for the iPad 3G model with the prepaid plan would be

Cash purchase

16GB: 61,920, 32GB: 72,000, and 64GB 81,840

monthly installments (24x)

16GB: 66,240, 32GB: 76,320, and 64GB 86,160

If you sign up for a two year contract for unlimited data, Softbank will eat the interest for you so there is no difference between cash purchase price and installment plan.  So the 3G model on the monthly unlimited data plan (2 year contract)

16GB: 58,320, 32GB: 67,920, and 64GB 77,280

see the full price chart with detail here

http://mb.softbank.jp/mb/ipad/price_plan/chart/

Note that all iPads come with two years of free access to Softbank’s Wi-fi hotspot service (after two years the cost will be 490 yen/month).

Next we have the data plans.  You’ll have to sign up some data service in addition to purchasing an iPad to use Softbank’s 3G data network.

Softbank is offering their standard unlimited data plan of 4,410 yen a month, however if you are using an iPad, you can receive a 1,500 yen a month discount dropping the monthly charge to 2,910 a month.  I assume this means that if you pop out your micro SIM and somehow get it into a computer or other device you risk losing your discount.

There is also a monthly prepaid service that offers you up to 1 GB of data that you can use for up to 30 days.  This will cost you 4,410 yen a charge.  This is not as great a deal and if either 30 days pass or you use your 1GB of data up (whichever comes first), you will need to recharge your plan.  You can set this up to work automatically, but that could lead to some scary charges if you somehow download a lot of data.

Remember, pre-orders start on Monday, May 10 at 10 am.

and as for Docomo, no official word.

*UPDATE 5/9: Thanks to community member ketahi who found information on a third data plan.  It seems that in addition to the 1GB prepaid plan, there will be an additional 100MB prepaid plan offered starting July 1.  This plan will cost 1,510 yen per month and people who sign up for the 1GB plan will be able to swap over to the lower plan when it becomes available.

press release with more detailed plan information

http://www.softbankmobile.co.jp/ja/news/press/2010/20100508_01/index.html

So what do you think of the pricing for Japan?  Send us your comments!

.

UPDATE 5/10: All you need to know in order to pre-order an iPad

Follow our complete iPad landing in Japan coverage

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

Traveling to Japan? Will you need a means of communication? Prepare your pocket if you are up to rent a phone, a SIM card or a Data card in Japan. Most providers give you different choices for rental devices, but be careful because prices from one to another might vary a lot. Please read carefully the following information and then check all the links. Prices can vary from one another, and through time as well.

Do you want to rent a 3G SIM card in Japan?

If you have an iPhone, or a NOKIA compatible with Japanese WCDMA2100 technology, then you are able to rent it. (Sorry, Android seems too new at this moment). Though you have some providers who give you the possibility to rent it, using Softbank might be one of the best choices.

http://www.softbank-rental.jp/en/phones/sim3g.php

Though renting might be cheap (105 yen a day), using it can turn your bill a nightmare.
Check the rates here

You can apply for it directly from your sofa at home. Get it online, and be ready to pick it up when you arrive at the airport. If you aren’t so sure yet about which provider you would like to use, just spend some extra time at the airport to rent your 3G SIM card. Note that you won’t be able to rent a 3G SIM card anywhere else.

What if I want to use my own phone?

If your phone uses a 3G GSM SIM card you will be able to use this option. You can rent just the handset and use the GSM SIM card. But remember that you must check your roaming agreements with Softbank (vodafone) prior to come to Japan.
http://www.softbank-rental.jp/en/phones/roaming.php

What if my phone has nothing of the above?

Then your only choice is to rent a Japanese phone. You can try the following services:
Softbank (quite cheap at the moment)
Pururu (with a special offer for 30 days)
E-phone
G-Call
Jal ABC

I also need a Data Card!

If you want to use internet wherever you go, to rent a Data Card for your Mac or PC might be a good idea. The most popular is called e-mobile.
The following companies offer data card services:

Pururu
E-phone
G-Call
Jal ABC

If you check the rates, Pururu has the best rental fees at the moment. But remember that this can change at any time. So please check all providers before flying to Japan.

What about a pocket wifi?

Unfortunately, at the moment, it seems that providers are not offering that option.

Where can I rent it?

At the Airport. You can check the list of providers in Narita International Airport here:

http://www.narita-airport.jp/en/guide/service/list/svc_19.html

Providers only have rent options at the Airport, so once you exit it, you’ve lost all opportunities to rent a phone, 3G SIM card, or Data Card. Unless, that is, you go back to the airport just for that.

UPDATE Nov. 3 2010: Read Visiting Japan? Mobile Phone and Data Plans to Keep You Connected

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.

No 3G iTunes downloads for you todayApple’s announcement that iTunes music can now be downloaded direct to the iPhone over the 3G network has seen a lot of excited fingers jumping up and down on computer keyboards around the world.

So exciting was this news that it even provoked me (that’s me that only buys a couple of albums off iTunes per year) to tap the iTunes App button on my home screen and have a look around for the first time.

But alas, there was to be no downloading iTunes songs over 3G for me just yet. Apparently, Softbank are yet to come round to the idea, thus if you do try, you’ll just be faced with the same old message that you need to be on a wifi network.

I popped into the Apple Store (Shibuya) tonight to confirm that this is the case (“yes”), and to find out if they have any idea when the service might arrive in Japan – to the latter they couldn’t say anything but “wakarimasen”.

I’m secretly quite happy about this as I spend enough on my iPhone already (all those premium cigarette-lighter apps), and anything that makes it harder for me to impulse buy can’t be bad.