Posts Tagged ‘iphone’

New ABC’s of motherhood in Japan: Apps, Beer and Crying

Friday, May 14th, 2010

The rewards of having a baby: the precious coos and smiles, the joy of continuing the human race, the free beer. Free beer? Sort of.

Kirin Beer is promoting healthy maternal drinking habits – and, coincidentally, its one-year-old Kirin Free beer – by giving cans of the alcohol-free brew to new mothers on their way out of the maternity ward. Free is among the ranks of last year’s wave of un-beers, which includes Suntory Fine Zero, Sapporo Super Clear and Asahi Point Zero. Free seems to be the only one explicitly targeting new mothers; their original campaign focused on pregnant women but this recent campaign marks a shift to post-partum partying.

And new moms who had the presence of mind to get on Twitter and announce their delivery on the  microblogging site are rewarded not only with a bunch of 140-character congratulations, but with an Stop Baby CryiPhone app, too. BabyBlog will send a free copy of its photo cataloging app to the first 100 parents each month to tweet 「出産なう!」(shussan nau), Japanese Twitter-speak for “I’m delivering a baby now.”

And hope the iPhone is still nearby when the tweets become a repeated string of “the baby is crying now.”  Not surprisingly, some of the top-ranking paid apps in the “medical” section of  Japan’s iPhone App store are baby soothers, including Stop Cry Baby Sound, Baby Smile and Baby Sleep.

Getting out of the house might be a welcome idea when the bundle of joy gets a little bigger. The women’s division of Japanese web portal Excite launched a mobile “Mama support” site this week with an “Out with Mama” directory. It lists “mom-oriented” details for about 20,000 entertainment, shopping and health-care venues around the Kanto and Kansai areas where babies are welcome, including vital data like whether there are places to nurse and if strollers can be wheeled in. The site, in Japanese only, is available on on the three main cell phone carriers, and unlimited access costs ¥210 a month.

Could any of these be the elusive population-boosting incentive the graying country’s been waiting for?

Finally, if the kid’s going to cry anyway, might as well make a sport of it. People have been getting a kick out of Asakusa’s relatively new take on the centuries-old tradition of nakizumou, a contest in which young sumo wrestlers compete to see who can make a baby cry the loudest. It’s all for the greater good – the tradition apparently comes from the old proverb “A crying baby grows up strong,” so it’s good luck if your kid cries.

Just keep telling yourself that.

Car-sharing iPhone apps unlock potential

Monday, April 19th, 2010

carlock

Considering that the monthly rent for a strip of asphalt to park a car can cost as much as an entire apartment in other places, it’s not surprising that car-sharing services are making inroads as a more affordable, more eco-friendly alternative to owning a car. As the number of services grows, companies are competing to differentiate themselves by going online and mobile — one has an app that can find a shareable car and pop its locks.

Car-sharing memberships are increasingly being offered by condominiums, car rental companies (Orix) and  parking lot companies (Park24).  Orix is the largest with about 6,500 members. Drivers pay a monthly fee of around ¥3,000 or ¥4,000 and then usage fees of a few hundred yen for driving increments as short as 15 minutes.

There are over 20 car-sharing companies in Japan now — and about half of them started up just last year, according to Japanese site car-share.net. Companies and government programs have been experimenting with the idea in Japan since as early as 1999. Mazda car rental, which was recently taken over by Park24, started one of the first widespread sharing programs in 2006, followed by Orix the next year.

The companies tout lots of pluses: no need to worry about gas, repairs or cleaning. They also push the environmental benefits of not owning a car (hence the green fonts and leafy cartoons on so many car-share Web sites). Orix even includes electric cars in its lineup: the i-MiEv from Mitsubishi and Subaru’s Plug-in Stella. (Sidenote: another money-saving, eco-loving car trend is car pooling, which is also called car sharing in Japan. Confused yet?)

Great. Saving money, elbow grease and the planet all at once. So how to find a car when you need one? The cars are going mobile in a twenty-teens way, as car sharing companies put out iPhone apps to get people into the shared cars faster.

Orix and “Car Sharing Club” Careco (pronounced ka-re-ko) both launched free iPhone apps this month. Both let members find locations and rates for available shared cars near particular areas or train stations and make or change reservations. Orix’s version has GPS as well as augmented reality navigation to the “car station” where the car is waiting.

Careco’s app includes photos and rental rates, and it even has a futuristic feature it claims is an industry first: it locks and unlocks the car doors. (Take that, Remote!) Future updates that include searching by GPS and push notifications are planned.

It’s been said Japanese love of car ownership could be an obstacle to widespread adoption of car sharing here. After all, 愛車, read “ai sha,” is in Japanese dictionaries, meaning something like “beloved car.” The unassuming English words “my” and “car” were even fused into a culturally defining concept. It remains to be seen whether the “ai phone” can replace the national love of the “mai-kaa.”

Tools you can trust for the perfect hanami

Friday, April 2nd, 2010

No surprise why Naka-Meguro is a popular hanami spot in Tokyo.

No surprise why Naka-Meguro is a popular hanami spot in Tokyo.

In Japan, when the little pale pink cherry blossom petals start appearing in late March to early April, it’s a cause for celebration, organized celebration. So what could be so hard about having a party under the snowy branches with friends or coworkers? Plenty. A pre-season hanami “fail” survey this year by goo Research found 10 ways a hanami can go wrong.  It can be hard to get the timing right. You can get rained on, end up at a place with no toilets, or pick a place with few trees. Even a best-case scenario can have you and your friends starting out sprawled in the sun and ending up a freezing mass, huddled and hungry on your cold, blue tarp in the unpredictable spring weather.

iSakura app gives weather and bloom information

iSakura app gives weather and bloom information

The survey,  translated by What Japan Thinks, found that the number one problem hanami party organizers have had was finding and keeping a good spot. With more Japanese people carrying smart phones, sophisticated applications are coming to the rescue, including new iPhone apps from AAA, Weathernews and iSakura.

The iSakura app, from BayardNetwork Co., appears to be one of the most popular. It has info on 1,000 cherry blossom-viewing sites across Japan and has been hovering in the top 10 free downloads in the Japanese iTunes store. It can search for flower-viewing venues by name, area, train line or highway exit or by using GPS to find the nearest spot. The database is also searchable via specific conditions, such as night viewing, free entry, availability of parking and public toilets, and whether beer, sake or snacks are sold on site. For each location, in addition to those details and the venue phone number, it tells how open the blossoms are on a 10-degree scale from budding to full and offers the capability to jot down digital notes.

The second most common problem blossom party organizers reported was running out of food and drinks. The Domino’s delivery iPhone app, also featured in the Apple store as a hot item, uses GPS to deliver right to wherever you are, even when you’ve lost track of where in the sea of tarps that is. It also has 20% off coupons within the app until April 25.

Continue reading about hanami-friendly apps →

Japan by the numbers (2.23.10)

Tuesday, February 23rd, 2010

Augmented Reality taking it to another level

Monday, January 18th, 2010

The hype surrounding augmented reality (AR) technology is often dwarfed by coverage of 3D television,  but that may change once both are put into practice on a broad scale. AR could prove to change lives more profoundly, not only by locating subway stations or inviting Robert Downey Jr. into your cubicle, but also by providing information about anything or anyone at which you point your device.

The Sekai Camera iPhone app grabbed headlines in Japan last year, and several new Japanese applications may indicate what to expect in the coming decade. The Red Cross is using face-recognition software and anime hair to attract blood donors in Akihabara, and the pin@clip application is now being tested in Shibuya, allowing iPhone users to get real-time information on shopping and entertainment options in the buildings that users pass by.

Continue reading about augmented reality in Japan →

A virtual page-turner on the iPhone

Friday, November 13th, 2009

Now this is a fantastic idea. The Japanese firm Mobile Art Lab has turned the iPhone into an interactive children’s book with what they’re calling the PhoneBook.

This is not the first iPhone-related program aimed at your toddler – you could spend hours looking through all the child-related applications available on iTunes – but this approach, with its book-like accessory framing the touchscreen, is an idea that is bound to catch on. Mobile Art Lab has stated that these kind of applications are not limited to children’s books, but could also be utilized in other types of media such as catalogs and brochures. Graphic novels and manga could easily integrate this technology as well, but the interactive potential makes this an ideal learning tool.

Next up, Dr. Seuss: Is there an app for that?

The fruits of sharing a love of art

Thursday, October 15th, 2009

Tokyo Art Beat iPhone appIf you love art and design, then chances are you’ve spent some time perusing the listings and reviews found on Tokyo Art Beat (TAB), or if you get around, perhaps the Kansai (KAB)* and New York (NYAB) sites as well. About a year ago, the clever guys that run Art Beat released their API for all to see, which basically means that they made all of the site’s relevant data available for any programmer to use as he/she sees fit:

“In other words, this time we are setting our data free, free for people to share and broadcast to more places and in more ways than we could imagine.”

One of the fruits of such generosity is the new Tokyo Art iPhone application, which I am growing to love quite quickly. Not only can you search the TAB listings for a particular genre of art you’d like to see (photography, sculpture, etc.), you can also choose a specific area of town you’d like to explore.

The app goes a step further by using the iPhone’s maps and geolocation capability to find the closest Tokyo art and design events to wherever you’re standing. Just open the app and touch the “nearby” button after you choose a radius you want to work with (500 meters to 3,000 meters). A few seconds later, you’ll have gallery choices and directions. You can read TAB’s info on the gallery and exhibit, or go straight to a map.

Sort galleries by distance or popularity, or use the “free” filter to only see events with no entrance charge. There are hundreds of art events every month in Tokyo. TAB made them much easier to discover, and now the the Art Tokyo app practically walks you to their doorstep.

Just one more reason to get out there and see some art.

*KAB is currently on hiatus. They aren’t updating the calendar, but the site is still a great resource for art-related venue information such as maps, descriptions and directions. Just go to the Venues tab.

I want my Augmented Reality TV phone!

Saturday, September 19th, 2009

Yesterday, after almost of year of cruel teasing and prodding, gadget hounds finally got an up-close look at the Sekai Camera, a highly anticipated Augmented Reality application for mobile phones, named iPhone and Android-based phones.

Tech-man-about-town Nobi Hayashi was one of the lucky ones to attend the event at Loewe, a Spanish fashion ship in Tokyo’s Ginza. As his video shows, Sekai Camera users view their surroundings through the iPhone screen, which displays “Air Tags” floating in an overlay of reality. Tapping a tag brings up relevant info about the onscreen object.  At Loewe, visitors were able to learn more about high-end products (and we can imagine, some folks might need a lot of persuading.)

Wedding the iPhone’s GPS and video capabilities, the app’s creators, Tonchidot Corporation, appear to be targeting retailers in search of a new gimmick, but the camera’s uses aren’t purely commercial. For instance, you could leave a personal review of a restaurant or consult the reviews of previous patrons.  People visiting a new city could look up historical information about buildings that interest them from the local tourist office. In fact, Tonchidot is already aligning itself with a very interesting iPhone-centric tourism project in Gifu Prefecture.

But wait! There’s more! Behold Air Tagging, features include Air Filters (to weed out visual clutter); Air Shouts (to users within a 300 meter radius), Air Pocket (for saving those tags) and even Air Voice (for an audio recording).

Continue about Sekai Camera →

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