Posts Tagged ‘iphone’

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.

 

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;

A winter touchscreen solution that fits hand in glove

Thursday, January 13th, 2011

Touch screen gloves at Loft

Last winter, enterprising South Koreans reportedly found a low-tech answer to a first world problem: To avoid operating cell-phone touchscreens without gloves in freezing weather, they used mini sausages as finger surrogates. Whether or not you choose to believe that people were actually using the so-called meat stylus, it did make the news in Japan.

A year later, alas, sausages are not flying off the shelves, but Japanese retailers obviously did read the hand signals for help. This winter, as sales of smartphones in Japan topped 3.8 million units for 2010, local stores are stocking special gloves with conductive fingertips that let people to keep their digits warm and still operate phone and tablet touchscreens.

The current range of touchscreen gloves at Seibu Loft and Tokyu Hands is impressive, with prices ranging from about ¥1,000 to ¥5,000.The E-Touch gloves (not to be confused with the similar iTouch gloves) are also knit gloves, but have gripping material at the palms for hanging onto to those extra slippery devices. Echo Touch gloves, imported from New York, are at the higher end of the price spectrum. Made from a fleecy wool blend, they feature panels of “eLink” fabric at the fingertips.

Japanese brands are also holding their own. The simplest and least expensive are the Pitakuro Touch, which come in bright colors with contrasting silvery thumb and index fingertips. Gloves from evolg sold out almost as soon as they went on sale online at Rakuten two months ago. Though Rakuten promised a new shipment in mid-December, almost all patterns and styles are currently sold out on evolg’s own website. With soft fabric and playful dots and stripes sealed into sleek packaging, it’s not surprising.

Touchscreen gloves from Momiji, another made-in-Japan line, might not have the same flair as the flashier brands, but they are conductive in all fingers, not just two or three. Come to think of it, any make of gloves is bound to be more stylish than carrying around a plastic-wrapped sausage. And you can rest assured that they’re not going to go bad if you happen to leave them in a pocket for a while.

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.

App unlocks augmented reality embedded in images

Tuesday, October 26th, 2010

What secrets is Noguchi is hiding?

What secrets is Noguchi is hiding?

Remember how the Terminator could just look at something, scan it with his laser eye and call up all its vital data? A new augmented reality app from PR giant Dentsu is bringing us a step closer to having this power on our iPhones. The app, called Scan it (スキャン イット) and available on the iTunes Stores Japan, uses the phone’s camera to scan and recognize images the way that phones up to now have scanned bar codes and QR codes. Pointing the camera at any image that’s been pre-programmed to be recognized – a photo in a magazine, the cover of a CD, or the label on food packaging — will direct the phone’s browser to the associated website or content.

Dentsu has been experimenting this year with several AR applications. This summer’s iButterfly is a location-based coupon generator that has users with smart phones chasing virtual CG butterflies superimposed over real environments to “catch” coupons or other information linked to the butterflies. A campaign tied to the international COP 10 Conference on Biological Diversity being held in Nagoya this month uses QR codes to bring little AR animals to life in the pages of newspapers, even using standard keitai – non-smart phones – from all three of Japan’s major mobile carriers.

Scan it seems to still be a work in progress. At launch, the only images it could recognize were the faces on ¥1,000, ¥5,000 and ¥10,000 bills. In the Japan Pulse test labs, scanning the faces took us alternately to a YouTube  page of videos related to Japanese money and what appears to be a YouTube search on the phrase “5 pounds.” So, for the moment, the Terminator it is not. But the potential for more is definitely there. Instead of using a blotchy square of QR static on its laminated menu, a bar could print a photo of a frosty mug of beer as a mobile link to its website, for example.

But Dentsu is banking on advertisers adding scannable photos and other images onto wrappers and posters and at points of sale. Waving the phone’s camera over these images could produce a snippet of music, an animation or a link to a website where the user can get more information or take some kind of action. Preferably, one imagines, action linked to buying something.

Scan it works on iPhones running iOS 4. What would you like to be able to scan?

iPhones become ice-breakers at gokon dating parties

Thursday, July 22nd, 2010

gokon

iPhone apps like “Shuffle de Gokon” are helping singles make connections – this will mix up your seating arrangements.

After an initial dormancy, the iPhone has boomed in Japan over the past two years and attracted hordes of app developers. Japan Pulse has previously reported on iPhone apps for car sharing, moms and moms-to-be, streaming concerts, children’s books and business cards, but now app store dealers have infiltrated the gokon – the Japanese group blind date.

Gokon (合コン) is a contracted form of the word godo konpa (合同コンパ), which literally means “combined company.” For a gokon, generally one girl and one guy will reserve a location and agree to bring along a set number of their friends (of the same sex) for a combined date. The goal? Get your drink on and woo/be wooed.

iPhone apps and Japanese blogs have found many ways to use the ubiquitous phone while at a gokon. What Japan Thinks has an English-language rundown of a Goo survey that asked site visitors which apps are best suited for use at a gokon.

Standard gokon etiquette states that initial seating arrangements should be men on one side of a table and women on the other. “Gokon de Shuffle” gets things off to a running start with seating randomization, a fun way to mix up the evening. Will it put you next to the girl of your dreams? Or the friend she brought with her who is . . . nice. This was the highest rated app in the survey.

There are plenty more ice-breakers at the App Store. “Touch Scan Pro” and “Love Touch” both offer love compatibility tests where users give fingerprints in exchange for readings. (The former also includes lie detection, an IQ scan and a horoscope reader.) While apps like this may claim to offer services, in the end they are really just plain fun, and the Love Touch site rightly warns users not to take the results too seriously: “This is really random . . . please don’t fight.”

Once the beverages start to work their magic, conversation topics get more daring. “Dice Talk” helps catalyze that process with a little Truth-or-Dare style sets of questions, with three different modes for friends, significant others or gokon.

Clearly the goal of all these apps is to induce some sort of interaction. A group of young adults huddled around an iPhone on a date, however, unfortunately recalls the world author Gary Shteyngart describes in “Lenny Hearts Eunice,” an excerpt from his upcoming novel “Super Sad True Love Story” which details a future in which people lie next to each other and, in lieu of actual interaction, stare at their “äppäräti” – futuristic iPhone-like entertainment devices.

But not all of this can be blamed on the iPhone – people have been always been searching for shortcuts to meaningful interaction, and some of these apps only mimic things that exist in the real world. One Japanese blog suggests using “PullPullPic,” an app that lets users alter photographs – not unlike purikura, which has existed for decades.

Pulsations (06.23.10)

Wednesday, June 23rd, 2010

Pulsations? Glad you asked. They’re links to fresh stories and visuals about Japan, shout-outs to fellow bloggers, and highly clickable stuff that we think you might enjoy.

In no particular order, they are …

RSS

Recent Posts