Posts Tagged ‘cell phones’

New era for New Year’s cards

Thursday, December 8th, 2011

Forgotten the address? Postman gets it for you via Facebook

As holiday season approaches, people are beginning to start thinking about sending out New Year’s greeting postcards to relatives and friends. JP Post guarantees that all cards marked as nengajo will be delivered on New Year’s day and hires temporary staff to help them achieve this goal. However, in recent years, the burden of delivering nengajo has shifted from the post office to the internet and cell-phone networks, as increasing numbers of people opt to send electronic New Year’s greetings.

Though the web can cope with this increased traffic, cell-phone networks can’t, and every year the major networks issue warnings to customers that after midnight on New Year’s Eve, they can expect delivery delays of up to two hours for mail service as well as difficulty in making calls due to high traffic.

Even if you do get through, sending your nengajo via email may create the impression that you’re not that bothered about the person receiving the message — either that or they’ll think you’re a bit of a tight wad. This year, however, the traditional nengajo has been given a digital facelift and several innovative new services are available to help you get your New Year’s greetings done properly.

  • Postman: Mislaid addresses? No worries. Similar to Giftee, which works utilizing Twitter, this service finds addresses for you via Facebook. Ad agency Dentsu has teamed up with Japan’s Post Office to create Postman and in the future the service will be extended to allow people to send other kinds of greetings cards and even gifts. Using the templates available, you are able to customize your own cards. Available only in Japan, cards cost upward of ¥97.
  • Nenga-Cinema: These nengajo double as gifts. A code printed on the postcard can be input into the nenga-cinema website allowing the receiver to view one of 30 movies available online for free. The service is offered by Ripplex and Sony, and titles available are “Spiderman,” “Men in Black” and “Taxi Driver.” These cards cost a reasonable ¥365.
  • Budemame Nenga 2012: Want a personalized card, but too busy to sit at your desk and create one? Try this Android app, which allows you to create your own card on your smartphone. Combine photos taken on your phone with customizable templates to create a personalized nengajo. To print, send the info to a PC or use a smartphone compatible printer.

Tough commute? Let these apps ease the pain

Thursday, September 1st, 2011

It’s a fact of life in the big cities of Japan that the morning commuter trains will be jammed packed. There’s really no way around it for bedtown residents but luckily for the country’s million of 9-to-5 salaried workers,  this summer saw the launch of three new apps that can quite literally help commuters out of a jam, or at least make it a bit more bearable.

Komirepo: The name says it all, komi, meaning crowded and repo, a contraction of the loanword report, this app lets you know which routes are most crowded. Each route is given a rating from one through six – one  meaning you’ve got plenty of space to sit down in and six meaning get ready to go bumper to bumper with a bunch of strangers – allowing you the option to switch to a less congested line. The information is updated by users in realtime, making it a largely reliable service. Made by Navitime, a software provider that already provides a huge range of apps to help with navigating your way around Japan, Komirepo is free of charge, but unfortunately not available in English.

Densha de Suwaru: Though Komirepo is great for those who suffer from claustrophobia, it’s not a surefire solution for those who really need a seat, especially in Tokyo where virtually all routes are busy during rush hour. Users of this app form alliances with other commuters, letting each other know what route they’re riding, which carriage they’re on and when they’re about to vacate a seat. This requires sacrificing a certain amount of privacy as you have to let others know what you look like, but it does it in such a cute way that it seems churlish to object. To let that seat-hungry member of your group know who you are, you simply create and dress up a cute little avatar of yourself, letting them know your age group, hair style and choice of clothing. Once they’ve spotted you they can simply sidle up and wait for you to leave the train.

Densha de Go! Yamanote Sen: Once you’ve got yourself seated, you’ll need something to pass the time. Why not pretend that you’re in control of driving the train (see video above). This Yamanote Line version is the latest release in a series of games by Taito that realistically simulate the experience of driving a train on actual routes within Japan. Excitement within the game is somewhat sacrificed to realism, as goals include things like keeping to the timetable, but it’s pretty much a must for train geeks.

Smartphone support just got smarter

Friday, June 10th, 2011

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.

Continue reading about smartphone services &arr;

An early warning system in every pocket

Friday, April 8th, 2011

The “bwoop, bwoop, bwoop!” of cell-phone earthquake alerts is enough to scare the bejeezus out of most people in the near vicinity, especially anyone who experienced the March 11 Tohoku-Kanto quake. A fantastic invention that beams info from Japan’s Meterological agency directly to your phone, the service can predict the occurrence of an earthquake from a few seconds up to a minute in advance. But does it have to be so damned terrifying? The makers of apps for Android and iPhones clearly think not.

Yurekuru kooru (tremor’s coming call) for the iPhone, available on iTunes, tinkles urgently (see video above) to announce the arrival of a tremor. Since the big one hit last month, followed by innumerable tremors, subscribers to the service have multiplied tenfold and downloads have now broken the 1 million mark: Testament to the popularity of the iPhone and to the feelings of uneasiness most Japanese are experiencing at the moment.

For Android users there’s the Namazu Sokuhou β (Catfish Report β). Users are able to choose their own warning noise; though it’s important to make sure it’s not too subtle, the service should be able to wake you up in the middle of the night after all. In Japanese mythology giant catfish living in mud underground were thought to be the cause of earthquakes, hence the catfish reference in the app’s title. Users should note that the app is still in beta.

Japan’s earthquake early-warning service predicts larger quakes on the basis of the preceding P-waves and sends messages out to phones after tremors are felt by over 1,000 seismographs throughout the country. Quick calculations are then done to predict the size of the subsequent quake and that figure is reported on the cell-phone screen as well as estimated time of impact. A detailed explanation of this sophisticated system can be read in this article in Time magazine.

Both of these apps are free to download. Users of AU, DoCoMo and SoftBank also receive free reports but don’t get much say in how their earthquake warning message is delivered. Comments on Twitter from jittery Japanese suggest these apps are filling a definite need: “I duck underneath the table every time I hear the warning. It’s like an air-raid siren,” UnConiglioNero states on Twitter.

Glasses-free 3D bursting into focus soon

Friday, December 17th, 2010

Exciting things are happening in the world of 3D entertainment over the next few months as a range of glasses-free 3D products hit big and small screens.

Toshiba's Regza 12 GL1 Series

Coming first in the race to release a 3D glasses-free screen was DoCoMo, with their LYNX 3D SH-03C Android handset, released for sale on Dec. 3. Manufactured by Sharp, the 3.8-inch touchscreen has a 400 x 800 pixel resolution screen that is capable of displaying 3D images that can be seen without glasses. But SoftBank are not far behind. They’ll also be introducing a Sharp Android phone to the market: the Galapagos 003SH which will be on sale from Dec. 17. In terms of content, though, SoftBank, who’ll be offering a range of 3D games like Taiko Drum Master and Biohazard, seem to have got the edge on DoCoMo.

Those unwilling to trade away their iPhones for a 3D-capable handset need not despair: a neat little device called the Palm Top Theatre, clips onto your phone and transforms 2D images into 3D, again without the need for special specs.

TVs are not far behind cell phones, and as we went to post, Toshiba were scrambling to release their glasses-free Regza GL1 Series 3D TV this month. A call to their PR office revealed that they’re still planning to release the technology within the promised deadline. This is bad news for other 3D TV manufacturers, making their efforts look dated before they’ve even had a chance to get going.

The advent of Toshiba’s glasses-free TV comes just in time for the launch of Japan’s first-ever custom-made 3D TV drama. Made in collaboration with Fuji and Sony, “Tokyo Control” is a drama about air-traffic control. The program will be on air from 19 Jan.

Game lovers, of course, are all eagerly awaiting the release of Nintendo’s 3DS which, according to 3DS Buzz, goes on sale in Japan on Feb. 27. One of the games available to play in 3D will be Konami’s notorious “Love Plus” dating game (shown above). Passionate players will be able to, um, fondle their virtual girlfriends with their fingers instead of poking them with their plastic styluses.

Japan by the numbers (12.03.10)

Friday, December 3rd, 2010

Publishers flock to next-generation newsstands

Saturday, September 11th, 2010

SoftBank's Viewn service allows users to read a wide range of publications for a flat monthly fee

SoftBank’s Viewn service allows users to read a wide range of publications for a monthly fee

Spurred on by the early innovations of mobile-phone carriers, namely DoCoMo’s i-mode platform, Japan’s publishing industry was quick to get its content on the small screens of cell phones – and charge handsomely for it.  But the times they are a-changin’ again, with new options in print-promotion strategies, distribution channels and business models.

In June, online magazine store Magastore, which was previously mainly orientated toward iPhone/iPad users, went Android-friendly, thus opening its doors to all au and DoCoMo smartphone users (before, it was only available for DoCoMo users on the i-mode platform). Launched last year, Magastore provides content from 20 Japanese publishers, including major-league names such as Asahi Shimbun and Sony. Magazines can cost up to ¥500 and popular titles include Spa!Newsweek and Oz Magazine.

Since Magastore became widely available to their rivals, SoftBank, who exclusively sell the iPhone in Japan, went one better by launching Viewn (ビューン )  in the same month that Magastore went live with Android. Aimed at iPhone users and SoftBank’s 3G customers, Viewn offers free content from 31 different kinds of newspapers and magazines for a flat fee of ¥450 a month, with the first month free. Viewn boasts famous titles such as fashion magazine CanCam and news daily Mainichi Shimbun, but content is limited: Users have to put up with banner advertising and can access only selected articles.

Readers only interested in reading a particular article can now benefit from a website that went live this month. Providing individual electronic versions of articles published in magazines and books, G-Search Mitsuke! offers users a cheaper alternative to buying the entire publication. An article from The Economist, for example, costs ¥210, as opposed to buying the entire print publication at ¥650. As J-Cast points out, though, the problem is there’s a delay between the print edition’s release and G-Search Mitsuke!’s digital version. G-Search Mitsuke! articles can be read on virtually any cell phone, but the clunky PDF format doesn’t exactly promise an easy read.

Though G-Search Mitsuke and Magastore titles are available to users of all the big three cell-phone carriers, Viewn is exclusively in the clutches of SoftBank, meaning we can expect au and DoCoMo to continue to play catch-up.

Online shopping sites for women on the go

Friday, June 4th, 2010

KDDI join the rapidly growing cell phone store business

KDDI join the rapidly growing cell-phone store business

Recent years have seen a big boom in cell-phone shopping sites that cater to time-poor women by allowing them to purchase fashionable items while on the go. If you’re a woman with a full-time job in Japan, chances are, you don’t have much time to go shopping and once you get home, you’re often too tired to browse the web, so shopping with your cell phone really makes sense.

Just last month KDDI partnered up with Okinawa Cellular to launch a new site called AU One La Select aimed at women in their 30s and 40s. The site sells kitchen items, cosmetics, bags and cooking utensils, among other things. Customers can buy items either from their cell phones or via their PCs and payment methods are flexible: you can pay either with credit card, cash on delivery or at a convenience store.

AU One La Select joins a growing number of online sites that have sister cell-phone sites. One of  the most popular is fashionwalker.com,which offers a massive range of fashionable items albeit aimed at users younger than Select. Other popular sites include Select Square and Siamese, the latter of which offers an interesting range of imported brands such as TopShop and Primark. Zozoresort is a fun store that sells upscale brands such as Beams and is probably a hit with fashion-hungry girls who live outside the metropolis.

My personal favorite is the shopping site of free magazine Eruca. Commuters pick up the magazine in the morning and can browse the fashions during the day then perhaps buy themselves a little treat after they get home. Eruca has a street-style section and contains discount coupons for bargain hunters.

They aren’t the only magazine with an online store. Elle has an online store with a mobile sister site and earlier this year we mentioned Mobile Closet, which is a cell-phone only magazine that offers popular teen fashions.

As yet, Softbank and DoCoMo do not have any shopping sites of their own but no doubt if AU One La Select does well, executives at these companies might also decide to jump aboard the cell-phone shopping bandwagon.

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