Posts Tagged ‘Sony’

2012: The year in gear

Tuesday, December 18th, 2012

Every year the Nikkei Marketing Journal (NMJ) ranks the year’s best new products and services like a sumo tournament, naming a “yokozuna” (champion) for eastern and western Japan. We combed through that, as well as magazines like Trendy (also from Nikkei) and Dime, for the game-changing gear of 2012 in Japan. Some trends we’re noticing are compact, cheaper goods that offer a comparative experience to the full size ones they’re designed to replace and “smart” appliances that work in tandem with smart phones, which had a big year too.

Honda N Box

The kei car from Honda doesn’t look like a kei car. Kei, or “light,” cars are ubiquitous in Japan; unless you’re planning to log long hours on the highway (for which you could just use the train), a small, light car with no power is perfect for traffic-clogged, narrow streets. Also, they cost a lot less to register and insure. But the innovation of the N Box – some 200,000 were sold this year – is that it is much roomier than your average kei. Not American-style minivan roomy, but maybe mini-minivan roomy. Ranked #3 for eastern Japan by NMJ and #12 by Trendy.

Panasonic “smart appliances”

Panasonic launched a new series of appliances that can be controlled remotely by an Android smartphone – meaning you can use your phone to turn on the rice cooker or the air conditioner before you get home (or check that you’ve turned them off). There’s also a scale that sends data to your phone, so you can track your weight-loss progress. We’re not sure what you’d want to communicate to the fridge that’s also part of the lineup, though. Featured in Dime’s “My Valuable Products 2012.”

Mirrorless cameras

2012 saw the market for mirrorless, interchangeable-lens cameras explode. Mirrorless cameras offered an affordable, compact alternative to a comparatively bulky DSLRs. Pretty much every major manufacturer now has a model out, and this year the prices fell under that crucial ¥50,000 mark. Gear magazine Dime name checks Nikon’s 1 V1, Olympus’ PEN Lite E-PL3, Panasonic’s Lumix GF5X, and Sony’s NEX-C3D in its best buys of 2012 roundup. Featured in Dime’s “My Valuable Products 2012.”

7-inch tablets

Smaller, cheaper tablets won over consumers who had been reluctant to buy into the first generation of full-size tablets. The market was just full of them this year, including imports like Apple’s iPad mini, Samsung’s Galaxy, and Google’s Nexus 7 along with domestic offerings like Toshiba’s Regza AT570 and Sharp’s Aquos Pad SHT 21. Ranked #1 for western Japan by NMJ.

Toyota Aqua

This compact hybrid edged out Toyota’s pricier Prius this year to become Japan’s top-selling car, with 24,192 units sold in October alone. Ranked #16 by Trendy.

Sharp Cocorobo

Not only can this “next generation” cleaning robot be controlled remotely by your smart phone, but it also has a built in camera and wifi so you can actually watch it work through your phone (if you have absolutely nothing better to do), seeing what it sees. You could even get it to send you before and after photos of its handiwork. Ranked #29 by Trendy.

Sony 3D Headset

Sony’s futuristic 3D personal viewing headset, the HMZ-T1, which actually came out late last year, proved more popular than Sony anticipated and the company announced in February that production couldn’t keep up with demand. The company has since launched the lighter HMZ-T2. Ranked #24 by Trendy.

Nintendo WII U

This one came out too late to make the yearly round-ups, but Nintendo’s new high definition system that includes a tablet-like controller that also works on the TV looks to be another game changer.

Today’s blip: PS3 ‘Ni no Kuni’ trailer in English

Tuesday, June 5th, 2012

Are you one of the Ghibli fans waiting anxiously for “Ni No kuni: Wrath of the White Witch?” It’s a PS3 exclusive video game released in Japan last November and scheduled for a Western release in January 2013. A collaboration between anime film makers Studio Ghibli and the creators of “Dragon Quest  V,” the game has Ghibli’s fingerprints all over the charming animation.  The Western version will be published by Namco Bandai Games and will include both English and Japanese voice tracks. The best news? A Namco representative told Digital Trends, “The Western release of ‘Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch’ will include all the content found in the newly announced ‘Ni no Kuni: All-in-One Edition for Japan.’ ”

The story follows a boy named Oliver who, saddened by the death of his mother, is visited by a fairy named Drippy who tells him how to bring her back to life. The creature speaks of another world existing within our own, and says that every being on earth has a soul twin in the other dimension. Are the Japanese and English versions each other’s soul twins, then? Check out the trailer and decide for yourself.

Keeping track of cashless spending

Friday, July 30th, 2010

Suica IC card can be charged with money at JR stations in order to make purchases in stores

A Suica IC card, which can be charged with money at JR stations in order to make purchases in stores

When it comes to credit, the Japanese have a cleaner conscience than most nationalities. If you’re talking about everyday purchases, then most would chose cash over credit cards. It’s a healthy attitude that runs counter to the “buy now, pay later” philosophy so rife in my native country (the U.K. in case you’re wondering). That’s not to say that plastic is not in fashion. In recent years there has been a huge rise in the popularity of IC cards and cell-phone chips that can be used to pay for items in place of cash by swiping them through a device at the checkout – users charge up their devices with cash (or credit) before they buy.

The popularity of this method of payment has been growing. According to the Wall Street Journal the number of electronic purchases in the first half of 2010 grew by 39 percent when compared to the same period last year and the most popular electronic money provider continues to be Edy, who, according to a recent survey by Rakuten, enjoys a healthy 29 percent share of the e-money market.

Though Japanese consumers are beginning to enjoy the benefits of carrying around a lighter cashless wallet, there is a downside. Unless you keep a mental track of your balance, you won’t know how much money you’ve got left on your card before you swipe, which can lead to embarrassment at the checkout.

This month a solution was introduced by Sony who has made a free downloadable program called FLO:Q available to users of Japan’s four major e-money providers: Edy, Suica, nanaco and WAON. The program allows users to track the balance of their cards and payment history, which is an attractive function for many housewives who traditionally keep records of household accounts on paper.

The downside is that you have to invest in Sony’s e-money reading device PaSoRi in order to scan the information into your computer from your card or cell phone. The PaSoRi costs nearly ¥4,000 on Amazon, making it a bit pricey for those on a budget. Sony do plan to offer users special discounts in the future based on their age, gender and location, making the investment look a little bit more attractive.

Rakuten’s survey indicates that Japanese are fully embracing e-money and would like to see more places accepting this form of payment, indicating that the future looks bright for a cash-free debt-free future.

Sony steps up its e-publishing game

Thursday, June 3rd, 2010

Coming to a briefcase near you?

Coming to a briefcase near you?

Just before the iPad hit the stores in Japan, Sony announced plans to once again enter the fray of e-publishing. The firm was burned back in 2007 when it was forced to withdraw their e-reader from the Japanese market due to poor sales. But this time, Sony is coming to the fight armed with a content deal that might just put a dent in iPad and Kindle sales. Sony is teaming up with Toppan PrintingKDDI and the Asahi Shimbun to form an e-book content distribution service that will offer readers a range of comics, magazines, newspapers and books. The content will be available to use in conjunction with the company’s new e-reader that is due to be released to the public before the end of the year.

Up till now, publishers have been a little leery of entering the e-book market, but there seems to be a growing acceptance in the industry of the inevitability of the growth of the sector. According to J-Cast, on May 21 a book written by editor and web designer Tashiro Makoto was published on the subject of the future of the e-book publishing. Makoto who has proved himself to be ahead of the curve in this field – he set up an electronic publishing company called Agora Books in March this year – believes that e-publishing doesn’t necessarily spell doom for publishers, agents and books stores but believes that the iPad will have a profound effect on the publishing industry.

It goes without saying that publishers will have to adapt to survive, but it’s not yet clear just how much content will cost and how many titles will be available on Sony’s device which is due to be released in Japan before the end of 2010.

Another fuzzy issue is just what kind of specs Sony’s e-reader will have; whether it’ll resemble the Sony readers already available overseas or be an entirely new product. Poor screen resolution, as well as glare when reading outdoors, also contributed to downfall of Sony’s last attempt at conquering the e-reader market in Japan. In order to stand any chance of success the company will have to address these issues as well. But for now, they seemed to have scored big with their content deal, whether rival publishers like Agora who offer content for the iPad mount a serious threat to them is yet to be seen.

With Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, is a hit for the PSP at hand?

Sunday, April 11th, 2010

Gamers at Yodobashi-Akiba playing their PSPs at a PlayStation Spot

Gamers at Yodobashi-Akiba playing their PSPs at a PlayStation Spot

Sony’s PlayStation 2 has had a remarkably long life for a home video game console. Released in 2000, it has sold over 140 million units. In Japan alone it has sold over 21 million units, and game developers continue to release new titles, even after Sony debuted its next-generation PlayStation 3 in 2006.

The times are changing, however, and handheld consoles are more and more often becoming the chosen platform for game developers.

Peace Walker: The newest game in the Metal Gear Solid franchise

Peace Walker: The newest game in the Metal Gear Solid franchise

By offering games that casual users are interested in, such as “brain training” games and cooking games, the Nintendo DS, released in 2004, has already surpassed the number of PS2 units sold within Japan for a total of 30 million consoles, or one for every four people in Japan. In turn the huge success of the console has attracted game developers who covet the large market.

The most surprising example of the change the DS has caused is Dragon Quest IX. The Dragon Quest series, which had been a home console staple for years, chose the Nintendo DS for its ninth installment, which was released last year to enormous sales.

The success of the DS has also made it difficult for other handhelds in the market; the PlayStation Portable (PSP), Sony’s handheld video game system, has sold half of the number of units the DS has. Possibly to help prop up the PSP in its battle against the Nintendo DS, Hideo Kojima, director of the incredibly popular Metal Gear Solid video game franchise, opted to release Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, due out in Japan on April 29, on the PSP rather than the PS3.

Kojima is a big proponent of handhelds, making it clear that he treated Peace Walker like a true game in the series, on the same level as a Metal Gear Solid 5 rather than as just a side story. Recently he stated that he believes the death knell for home consoles has sounded: “Gamers should be able to take the experience with them in their living rooms, on the go, when they travel – wherever they are and whenever they want to play. It should be the same software and the same experience.”

Kojima’s scouts must have been monitoring the action around Yodobashi Camera in Akihabara, a mecca for portable gamers. The front of the store is often the gathering place for groups of gamers who take advantage of the multiplayer functions of handhelds. Inside, there are PlayStation Spots where PSP users can connect and download demos. The release of Dragon Quest IX prompted huge crowds all searching for in-game items that required wireless interaction with other players. Peace Walker might be the next title to try and emulate the phenomenon.

Last Wednesday Konami held a media presentation that revealed the tie-in products for Peace Walker. In addition to Doritos, Axe, Pepsi, Mountain Dew and the Sony Walkman, Peace Walker will feature other video games. Video game magazine Famitsu leaked details of a tie-in with Capcom’s Monster Hunter series, and Konami confirmed this at the presentation. The lead character, Snake, will be able to hunt dinosaurs and roast meat as in the Monster Hunter series. There are also collaborations with Square Enix’s Front Mission Evolved and Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed. While the Assassin’s Creed tie-in is just a small part of the game, the combination with Monster Hunter, another popular game for the PSP with ad hoc multiplayer features, and Front Mission Evolved seem to imply that there will be a large multiplayer aspect to the game. Uniqlo/UT has also been recruited by Konami. They will release Peace Walker-themed T-shirts that players can load into the game. By entering a number from the barcode on the tag into the game, players will be able to have their characters wear a digital version of the T-shirt they just purchased.

Konami already has the next Metal Gear home console title in development (the title is Metal Gear Solid: Rising), and surely it will be a success, as most of the games in the franchise have been over the past decade, but unless gamers decide to start schlepping their PlayStation 3 systems out and about in Tokyo, it has no chance of becoming an ad hoc wireless phenomenon. With the help of dinosaurs, assassins and Uniqlo, Peace Walker still may.

Which e-reader will conquer Japan?

Friday, January 29th, 2010

readers

The news that Amazon Japan will be offering the first Japanese manga on Kindle will be welcomed by a small cadre of dedicated e-reader fans. So what took so long? Part of the problem is that the Kindle’s default font only supports Latin-based letters so that device owners either have to use a hack to view Japanese characters or be able to read English. As the text in manga is displayed as an image, this ought to eliminate one problem, though users will still have to negotiate English menus to buy a title and be satisfied with monochromatic pictures.

So why isn’t Amazon too bothered with tailoring their device to suit the local market? Perhaps an answer to that question can be found in 2004 when Sony introduced LIBRIe, their first e-reader for the Japanese market. ITmedia News’ article explains that the product failed to spark the imagination of the Japanese public, who despite enjoying reading titles from their mobile phones, felt the technology wasn’t particularly aesthetically pleasing.

Due to poor sales, the Sony e-reader was withdrawn from the Japanese market in 2007, clearing the way for Amazon and other players. Despite this, in the U.K. and U.S., Sony’s e-readers are proving themselves strong competitors against the Kindle, both in terms of price and applications.

Continue reading about e-readers in Japan →

Fancy pants climb the walls in Ginza

Wednesday, October 14th, 2009

Visitors to the Sony Building in Ginza on Oct. 19 might be a bit bemused to witness an intrepid climber abseiling down the face of the building and plucking colorful pairs of pants from its wall. Sony’s innovative Recycle Project JEANS is a limited edition sale with a difference: All the jeans are made from the fabric of colorful billboard adverts and to emphasize this point they’re all displayed on the buidling’s exterior.

Out of 120 pairs produced, there are only 20 left, so you’ll have to get to the 3rd floor of the building early with your ¥15,000 if you’re keen to buy a pair. Some of the profits are going to a charity that helps with the restoration of World Heritage sites. While billboard material has been recycled into bags before, we think using it for funky-looking garments is a rather new concept.

Continue reading about Sony's makeovers →

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