Smartphone support just got smarter

June 10th, 2011 by Sandra Barron

They're all so smart

In a departure from running single-brand shops, NEC Mobiling has opened an all-carrier, all smart-device store called AND Market Kasumigaseki. The experimental shop hooks up customers with smart phones and contracts from the major carriers, docomo, au by KDDI and SoftBank and EMobile, as well as tablet and notebook PCs. They also have a staff of “smart concierges” who help people choose the right phone, regardless of brand, and help users transition from older to newer devices. They offer paid services such as transferring data or photos and helping people figure out how to load and use apps.

AND Market is the next logical step in the trend of smartphone repair shops. Since the end of last year, stand-alone storefronts and mini-shops inside department stores have done walk-in repairs. For example, Dr. Mobile and sister shop S/MART fix cracked screens and replace batteries at shops in Shinjuku, Akihabara and Fukuoka. A trendy version of S/MART in Shibuya’s Parco department store also has some 2,000 varieties of smartphone covers.

Palette Plaza has also expanded the store’s original business — photo printing — to include a mobile phone dealership. Customers can draw up new contracts or upgrade with any of the major carriers. While some higher-end keitai (non-smart, or “regular” Japanese cellphones) are available, the focus is clearly on smartphones and their accessories. They’ve got a wide variety of cases, from the manly to the bejeweled, for each model and expensive add-ons like phone-docking speaker systems and silicone Bluetooth keyboards that can be rolled up.

Palette Plaza is a sub-brand of 55 DPE Station, a quick photo “developing, printing and enlarging” kiosk that’s been around for almost 50 years. These stands adapted to life after film by making it easy to get digital photos printed, whether as simple photos or as postcards, bound photo books or on mugs and calendars. Their digital photo printing stations, like those at any number of electronics stores, have slots, cords and plugs to attach to just about any digital photo storage device — memory cards, USB sticks and any kind of keitai.

What they haven’t been able to do until recently was print photos from smart phones. For all the tricks an iPhone or one of the Androids can do, the only way to get photos printed at one of these places was to upload the photos from the phone to a computer and then download them back onto a USB stick and then bring that back to the store. (And did any of these places have a computer set up where you could do this in the shop? Nope.) Not exactly while-you-wait.

Now, Palette and 55 Station have a free photo-sending app that lets you select the photos on your phone you want printed and send them to the shop ahead of time.  After sending the photos, the app gives you an order number that you take to the store to complete the ordering process and pick up your pictures, starting at ¥37 a piece. Photos can also be printed as mini-stickers. (Separately, a free app called Photoback just launched. It lets you create and mail-order a bound photobook directly from your iPhone or iPad.)

With over 7 million people in Japan owning smartphones now and that number growing every quarter,  we expect to see more smartphone-oriented services. Spotted any? Tweet us about it @Japan_Pulse and leave a comment below.

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