Joseph had covered a few language apps over two posts last year (see part 1 and part 2). Here’s a new one.

Midori is a Japanese/English dictionary useful if you are studying Japanese or if you find yourself lost in translation. This app is especially convenient for students, mainly for the following key features when studying Japanese:

    • Fast searching for translation terms. Whereas a lack of speed exists in many Japanese dictionaries, this app performs very well;

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    • Kanji details are shown with an animation for the correct strokes drawing order;

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    • A large number of examples using the searched word, which is great for learning purposes;

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    • finally: bookmarks, kanji lists based on JLPT and a translation mode that automatically separates searchable words from particles.

In a nutshell, the strong point of this app is its speed and an easy, clean and minimalistic interface. Added bonus for the translation mode, really helpful to do searches of terms from an article.

Apple Store link

SoftBank, the number 2 Japan carrier, is going Android after all.

As we broke news earlier, the operator announced that it would start carrying the HTC Desire, renaming it the X06HT and will launch it with Android 2.1 almost untouched.

Softbank’s Nexus

The Desire is basically Google’s Nexus One without the search engine branding and was announced by HTC at the Mobile World Congress in mid-February in Barcelona.

It comes with an unique home screen that reminds a lot of Apple’s exposé, which allows to see all home screens at once.

The hardware is close to Google’s phone, with Qualcomm’s 1GHz SnapDragon chip for instance, but leaving some features out as to reduce pricing, while adding nice touches as an optical trackpad.

SoftBank will offer it at around 10,000-16,000JPY with contract and add a 2GB microSD card to the lot. The S! Basic Pack (315 JPY per month) will be needed for internet connectivity.

Smartphone diversification

It’s interesting that SoftBank, known for its flagship smartphone, Apple’s iPhone, would diversify like this. Up to now, only NTT DoCoMo was selling an Android-powered phone, the disappointing HT-03A (KDDI has previewed its Sharp IS01 but won’t sell it before October). I wouldn’t read too much into it and imply that the carrier is dissatisfied with the current level of iPhone sales –estimated at around 2.5m, but simply that going away from what is basically a one high end model strategy makes sense (well, SoftBank also does Windows Mobile).

Yahoo! goes Google?

It will also be interesting to see if and how SoftBank will port it’s current Yahoo! services to what is a Google phone. Dedicated applications or software updates might address this issue, as well as the S! Mail one, also absent in the iPhone, giving headaches to many users depending on these addresses for services in Japan.

On its press release however, SoftBank touts Gmail, Google Maps, Google Earth and other Google services.

Android in Japan

In a saturated market, going Android could open doors to some growth potential. SoftBank was the first operator to earn more revenue from data than voice in 2009 and  going to an app-driven market seems sound.

Smartphone penetration is also very low in Japan compared with other countries.

Remains to be seen how the big three will coordinate -or not- some of their Android efforts. The number 1 operator is gearing up with localized resources, operator-specific APIs and reaching out to local app developers –DoCoMo needs them, as having an app market means easier entry for foreign entities, not having to go through the keitai specs to release services in Japan anymore.

KDDI is going with its au one Market and will link it to the Android market with its own billing platform this summer. It also hinted at a later version of an Android smartphone with Osaifu keitai -RFID payment- integration.

Android in Japan: will it blend?

Image by SoftBank Mobile

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.

Tonight, from 7:00 pm to 10:00 JST (Japan standard time), was held the new entry to Tokyo 2.0 series of events in collaboration with Mobile in Japan. Tokyo’s Next Mobile Application Star was discovered after great presentations of four participants in front of a passionate audience & special judges.

Steven Nagata did a great job organizing this wonderful event, in which some celebrities took part. Danny Choo, Noboyuki (Nobi) Hayashi, Hareo Shiiya and Hiroko Tabuchi were the celebrity judges, Hideki Francis Onda was the Moderator of this imposing quest to discover Tokyo’s Next Mobile Application –more information about the panelists.

Tokyo2.0/Mobile in Japan Event: TOKYO’S NEXT MOBILE APP STAR Tokyo2.0/Mobile in Japan Event: TOKYO’S NEXT MOBILE APP STAR

While lots of people were filling the place, the virtual public from around the world did join the event through various channels, from Twitter (hashtags #MiJ and #t2p0). Presentations were kept under 5 minutes each. The goal for the participant was obviously to be able to explain his application and convince the public and the judges of its greatness.

Tokyo2.0/Mobile in Japan Event: TOKYO’S NEXT MOBILE APP STAR

The first application was ふきだしツクール (manga balloon maker) [iTunes link] from Pool Inc., presented by Tomoya Nakamura.
With Manga Balloon Maker, you can add manga-like text balloons to your photographs.

Tokyo2.0/Mobile in Japan Event: TOKYO’S NEXT MOBILE APP STAR

The second application was iPoseable [iTunes link] from Ryuuguu & presented by Grant Morgan.
This application lets you play with 3D articulated models.

Tokyo2.0/Mobile in Japan Event: TOKYO’S NEXT MOBILE APP STAR

The third application, presented by Yoski Akamatsu, was Twitcasting [iTunes] by sidefeed.
TwitCasting Live is a Twitter client which adds a live broadcasting service (both visual and sound streaming).

Tokyo2.0/Mobile in Japan Event: TOKYO’S NEXT MOBILE APP STAR

The fourth & last application was フーフーミントン (Huff Puff Volley) [iTunes link] from ConIT, presented by Tetsuya Imamura
It’s a comical 3d sports game for iPhone. It’s a multiplayer game via bluetooth where you can interact with your character, blowing directly on your iPhone

At the end of the presentations, the public had around 15 minutes to vote for its favorite application, while the online audience was able to cast its poll using twitter.
When the time ran out, votes were counted and Tokyo’s Next Mobile Application Star was finally discovered! Two different prizes were given: the public’s and the judges’. Twitcasting got prize of the public (getting a mysterious prize the name of which cannot be revealed for legal reasons) and Huff Puff Volley got second prize. The first prize granted by the judges, though, went to Huff Puff Volley while the second went to Twitcasting. Funny, isn’t it??

Tokyo2.0/Mobile in Japan Event: TOKYO’S NEXT MOBILE APP STAR

Hiroko Tabuchi, New York Times Tokyo journalist, announcing the winner.

Tokyo2.0/Mobile in Japan Event: TOKYO’S NEXT MOBILE APP STAR

The night ended with a glamorous background and a great feeling of achievement for all participants. Not only tech people attended the event, but also journalists, photographers, artists, etc. all coming to discover the Star of the night. Not to forget the cute girls who were cheering up the party.

Tokyo2.0/Mobile in Japan Event: TOKYO’S NEXT MOBILE APP STAR

Special thanks to all the participants who made this event a reality and kudos to all the volunteers.
First and foremost, thanks to Steve Nagata without whom this would have not been possible! Thanks also go to Joseph Tame and his funny D. App videos, Pepi Valderrama for helping to prepare the set, Satoka F for her technical support, Paul Papadimitriou for his transcontinental support from the old continent, and many others that made this a success.

Check for more pictures at Mobile in Japan Flickr group (join and add yours, don’t forget to tag with MiJ)

UPDATE: watch Dr. Appleton’s videos that ran throughout the event.

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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
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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.

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

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

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Ok, let’s search for restaurants:

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Restaurants: Map view

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

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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:

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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.

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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.

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List view

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Flickr

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

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Flickr layer options

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Flickr list view

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Wikipedia

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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).

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

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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.

gengoufreeSome of the best apps on the iPhone are the simple ones – and Gengou Free [iTunes] is a perfect example of this.

It only does one thing – converts the non-Japanese calendar year into the Japanese calendar year.

Whilst it’s not the kind of app that you’ll use everyday, there are times when it’s indispensable, such as filling in forms at your local ward office or trying to remember your date of birth when being stopped by police for owning a bicycle.

It is very iPhonesque, oozing sex appeal thanks to the rolling dials that you flick your finger across to change the year you’d like to convert.

There is also a paid version of Gengou [iTunes], although I’d suggest that the free version without bells and whistles does the job just fine.