Posts Tagged ‘iPhone app’

Searching for a soulmate? There’s an app for that

Friday, February 10th, 2012

Lots of ways to show your love

This Valentine’s day, that cold slab of glass and metal in your pocket could get you closer to real, warm love — that is, if you have the right apps.

There’s more to it than just Japan’s everyday mind-boggling array of dating apps and love simulation games. With more Japanese singles now than ever before, the Koi Kuru proximity-detecting app from clothing retailer Beams is extra timely. It alerts you when someone else with the love-locator is nearby. You input your info (age, sex, blood type, etc.) and assign it to a funky little avatar you design in the app. It then alerts you when you cross paths with another user and what your percent compatibility is. (These close encounters are represented visually and updated constantly on the associated website Koi Kuru.) You can send little virtual gifts, like cyber-flowers or a generic “present,” to the other person. There are buttons for virtual flirty gestures, too — you can wink, blow a kiss or “drop your eraser.” It’s all anonymous, so there’s no giveaway of who the mystery match is, unless you catch someone else sneaking glances up from their phone, trying to look like they’re not looking around. This continues the trend of retailers putting out loyalty-building apps.

If you already know who your true love is, there are branded tablet and smartphone apps with recipes for making homemade chocolates and chocolate-covered baked goods from confectioners Meiji and Ghana. Meiji’s includes step-by-step instructions for creating fancy individual wrappings. Ghana’s app lets you choose recipes not only by ingredients, but also by “scene.” We’re guessing that’s referring to whether you want to whip up some “love chocolate,” “friend chocolate” or the least inspiring (but most purchased) chocolate of all, “obligation chocolate.” The app from Excite Japan Co. simply called Choco has lots of mouthwatering photos and English as well as Japanese for over 100 recipes. It also, somewhat cruelly, includes calorie counts.

For sending a little virtual love, Valentine Photo lets you plaster your cellphone photos with all kinds of hearts and then email them directly or upload them to Twitter or other social networking sites. There are also endless collections of “deco-mail” characters and icons to liven up cellphone love letters. Looking ahead, Starbucks would do well to release  the AR Valentine app that’s out in the U.S. here next year as well. If the buzz in online forums is to be trusted, it already has a fan club in Japan.

Companies connect with free mobile apps

Friday, January 27th, 2012

Enticing smartphone users with high-tech functions and original content, Japanese businesses have begun engaging customers by releasing custom mobile apps for free download. In the process, they’re managing to slip in a strong marketing messages into the pockets of loyal fans and potential customers.

Wego's app offers style tips from the store's staff

On Jan. 24, Doutor, a national chain of coffee shops. launched their Doutor AR app. Made to be used in conjunction with the free magazine It’s My Times, the app displays animation and text on the user’s smartphone via augmented-reality technology. Users simply hover their phone’s camera over special points on the magazine to view these extra features. The magazine, available only in Doutor shops, is designed to be read while customers relax with a cup of coffee. This app, available only until the end of February, is a clever way to attract more readers while also boosting brand profile. One of the attractions of downloading the app for readers of the magazine is the opportunity to watch and listen to a song performed by cover star Lisa Ono.

Another brand that is creatively engaging with smartphone app technology, is Wego. On Jan. 10 the second-hand clothes chain launched its own branded app, which offers free wallpaper, a GPS-aware store locator, staff blogs and photos of staff with information on how they coordinated their look. The app also seems to be yet another mutation of the charismatic shop assistant cult (shop assistants gaining near celebrity status).

Of course not everyone desires style tips from super trendy shop assistants. Dechau Pachinko parlor is targeting a slightly different user (predominantly male perhaps?) with its Dechau Girls Calendar 2012, a free Android app that utilizes the ever-popular beach babe. In case you didn’t know, the Dechau Girls, who have been touring pachinko parlors since 2007, cheer on players and hand out candies and hot towels. While they’re usually dressed in bright skintight outfits, this free calendar app gives fans a chance to see the girls relaxing at the beach in itsy bitsy bikinis.

The final app on our list also has a straightforward, unsophisticated appeal. Chiyoda, a company that owns over 1,100 shoe stores nationwide, has launched an app that provides users with discount coupons. Once users enter their personal info (date of birth, sex, location of the store they’re visiting), they can then receive coupons tailored to their needs. Nothing fancy — you scratch our back, we’ll scratch yours — but for a country that’s obsessed with customer point cards and coupons, this is an app that’s bound to stick.

Tamagtotchi turns 15, as virtual pets continue to evolve

Thursday, November 24th, 2011

Tamagochi reached the ripe old age of 15 yesterday. To celebrate, Bandai brought out a special Tamagotchi iD L 15th anniversary edition in pink or purple with plenty of new functions. Not just for the 8- to 9-year-old girls, those who recall their cute digital pets with fondness, rather than mild irritation, are bound to want to get their hands on these special models which have one of the game’s first-generation characters, Oyajichi, among their sets of 32 characters.

The commemorative version of the Tamagochi features one of the game's original characters

Tamagochi have come a long way since their birth and the iD L has a color screen, is decorated with sparkling crystals and has a function that allows you to swap items and propose marriage with other players.

The success of the toys sparked a virtual pet rearing boom that continues to this day. It’s not that surprising, especially when you think of all the city apartment dwellers who aren’t allow to keep real pets at home. Though some simply get around a landlord’s strict rules by keeping a secret pet (small dog owners can resort to hiding a dog in a bag when entering and exiting a building), many have sublimated their need with virtual games.

Pet-raising games have continued to be popular in Japan and the increased complexity of games like Nintendo’s Nintendogs has arguably brought pet games to an adult market. More recently this popularity has spread to smartphone apps. Just this month, for instance, a new pet-rearing app, featuring a cute cat called “Mecha-kun,” was released on the market.

But the area in which pet-rearing games are really evolving is within games that combine the usual game-playing characteristics, such as feeding and petting your animal, with a social networking element. Online game Meromero Park, for instance, allows you not only to raise your own cute creature, but to meet and chat with other users who share your interests while going out for a walk.

Fun for one, online and off

Wednesday, November 16th, 2011

While Japan’s konkatsu, or “marriage hunting” boom is into its third year, it seems that Japanese companies are embracing the fact that there are plenty of people out there who are rolling solo. Pulse has looked at a yakiniku restaurant that takes the embarrassment out of cooking meat by yourself, as well as places that serve ramen for one and cater especially to women looking to grab a solo drink and snack on the way home.

Dinner for two... sort of.

For the working woman who simply wants to have a relaxed meal at home with a little — and only a little — company, there’s the iPhone app Kare to gohan (Dinner with My Boyfriend). The English version is called PlusBoys. The app has photos of clean-cut young men who each have personality profiles and back stories: Biker and college student Tatsuya is “friendly, but a luck pusher. He likes going to rock festivals by himself.” There are photos of each of them whipping up a meal for two, accompanied by screens of cheerful “welcome home” banter. The instructions warn that checking on more than one character might make them jealous. (Is nothing simple?) As you proceed through the stories, you can buy new characters from within the app.

For guys, there are a handful of apps that will liven up a dinner for one – or make you seem popular with the ladies when you’re out with friends. That is, as long as your friends don’t see who’s actually calling: These apps send you “phone calls” from anime characters or, equally unlikely to actually call you, pop stars. A recent version of Dream Call requires you to pick up the phone and make appropriate “I’m listening” noises in response to the recorded pre-programmed chat and scores you on your “mm-hmms” and “I sees.”

And then, for the . . .  actually, we’re not sure who this is for. Hatofuru kareshi (pigeon boyfriend) is a dating simulation game where you are a second-year student at the St. Pigeonation high school, finding yourself increasingly attracted to your male classmates, who are all pigeons. If it comes to this, please, put down the iPhone and get out of the house.

While you’re out there, may we suggest checking out OneKara, the new karaoke place for soloists only? There’s no shame in a little hitokara. Rent a room for one and rock your own socks off.

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.

Sassor’s ELP shines a light on energy consumption

Wednesday, June 22nd, 2011

Sassor's ELP module and receiver

Though we’re all doing our best right now to cut down on power consumption, by turning off unnecessary lighting and keeping the air conditioner temperature down low (if it’s on at all), when it comes to finding out just how much energy we’re actually saving, most of us are in the dark. But a new device and app called the Energy Literacy Platform (ELP), developed by startup company Sassor, can shed some light on our personal energy consumption.

Info on domestic power usage can be tracked via iPhone

The ELP, which is on limited release to homes in and around Tokyo this summer, was found to assist in cutting domestic energy consumption by as much as 25 percent in a recent trial run on the NHK morning show “Asaichi.” The ELP package consists of modules that are plugged in between your electric sockets and appliances, a main ELP receiver and software for your computer and iPhone. The modules collect information on power consumption and then send them via wireless signal to the receiver, which then forwards the info to the company’s server. Users can then check their power consumption on their PC or iPhone.

Though devices like Google’s “Powermeter” already allow users to monitor domestic power consumption, Sassor’s system allows users to identify devices, such as hairdryers or kettles, that are causing a huge drain on the power grid. If you’re checking on devices from your iPhone, you can even turn them off remotely via the ELP website. The information is displayed in graph and pie chart form, so you can easily get a handle on your power consumption habits. The app will calculate how much you’re spending on electricity and it’s also possible to compare and contrast your power usage online with friends.

While this sounds great, the device is yet to be mass-produced (only 100 sets are going out), so unfortunately, it won’t realistically be till winter that most people can get their hands on them. The pilot scheme version is called ELP Lite and you won’t be able to monitor more than five appliances with this slimmed-down package, which costs ¥41,500 for the year (or ¥19,500, if you only get one module). The current modules are also rather bulky, a big problem if you’ve got a lot of devices to monitor. However, Sassor are developing a prototype module that fits snugly over a plug socket.

Sassor is the brainchild of CEO Shuichi Ishibashi and COO Takayuki Miyauchi, who submitted their first prototype to the British Council E-idea competition. Now big business is understandably interested, according to Nikkei Trendy, and the company have received capital to get things rolling from Samurai Incubate.

 

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.

Japanese now a little less lost in translation

Monday, November 23rd, 2009

pulse_map

If technology is truly meant to bring us all closer together, then recent translation services are doing their part to make the world a smaller place.

Flashy items like NEC’s translation glasses and the new iPhone application that can convert text from pictures will get plenty of attention once they’re tested and widely distributed, but in 2009 a number of other innovations have already begun to affect how Japan’s residents interact with the world and each other.

Google has certainly been at the forefront. Their “Translate this page” links are now built into Japanese search results, and the dedicated Translate application has made huge strides in turning select phrases, web pages and PDF documents into your preferred tongue. Google Reader has opened the blogosphere even further with the option to change RSS feeds into English or other languages. Twitter, the year’s other web darling, continues to grow in popularity here, and the Tweetie iPhone application‘s translate function is helping more non-Japanese speakers to keep better track of the country’s 140-character community.

Continue reading about translation services →

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