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“The Evolution of Japanese Mobiles”



The last article concluded that the evolution of mobile phones in Japan was the history of camera and LC. Certainly, it was so until a year or two ago. This article will guide readers to the latest news on mobiles today and its expected evolution.

As touched upon in the last article, the mad movement and boom of the cameras and LC for mobiles have settled down and thus the transformation of mobiles has slowed down – at least a glance. In reality, other functions are evolving quickly urging the phone makers to promote their newest models nearly every month. Literally, mobiles know nowhere to stop transforming theirselves and the market always has keen eyes on them.

The center of attention today is undoubtedly the “one-seg” mobiles, which carries a smart function of receiving one-segment broadcasting. There were mobiles that showed TV shows live, but that was only showing. It simply meant that those phones could catch the air and still had problems in image and sound qualities. They were not made the same way as televisions.

One-segment broadcasting emerged as the solution to this problem. The term itself is a name for a service which distributes terrestrial digital broadcasting to mobile communication device such as mobile phones, and is a dream realization of enabling the usual management system for TV broadcasting on mobile terminals.
To make it plainer, it means that as long as the phone has a function/ability to receive one-segment broadcasting, it can show the same programs that are shown on TV. No telecommunication fee is charged since it uses airwave, and no viewing charge occurs because the programs earn money from TV commercials. One-seg is provided completely free.

At this moment one-seg is a service provided only in the Tokyo area and a few other cities, allowing only a limited proportion of the population to appreciate the convenience of having clear vision and sound on the phone even in the car or on the train. With the expansion of the service area, however, it is sure that in very near future the trains will carry people staring at their phones while commuting in addition to the already-rooted habit of punching e-mails, playing games and drowning in their favorite music.

It is not only the scenery in the trains and town that changes along with the evolution of phone functions, but also their designs. The keenest phone (hardware) makers quickly adapted to this social wave, making the upper part of the phone (the half with the display) to twist when opened and lay flat sideways. In another word, the display which is used vertically when it’s a phone is becomes horizontal when watching TV, without having to have to turn the entire phone. It is interesting to note that the first maker to develop this style is SHARP, the same one as the one that came up with better phone displays.

Although the service is limited in terms of area, as mentioned, it has been decided that very soon one-seg will cover the whole country. Therefore, one can see that it is highly likely to become another standard function on mobiles – maybe or maybe not as common as cameras – and predict that the display size as well as image quality will improve, again.

Another completely different function that has been added a couple of years ago and is becoming more and more common today is the wallet-phone, which in Japanese is called “osaifu-keitai”. It is not unlike the automated toll machines on highway entrances, or the electronic tickets for trains. The wallet-phones have IC chips named FeliCa that works with corresponding machines.

What these phones do, in particular, is as follows.

Imagine yourself going into a convenience store, or a supermarket just to grab a can of coke, a bag of chips and your favorite magazine. You go to the cashier, and take out from your pocket your mobile phone – and never your wallet. No need to count your coins, keep track of your cash, dig into your pocket for another 10yen. Just hold your phone over a special terminal connected with the cash register for a second.

Now, with the coke, chips and magazine you want to take the train. Some people around you stop by at the ticketing machines to get their tickets. But all you do is walk past them, take out your phone at the gate and let it touch a particular part of the ticket gate. It subtracts the exact fare and nothing more when you go through the gate at your destination station when you get off.
This service itself is spreading more and more in different parts of the world mostly through cards, but Japan is probably the first if not the only country to provide it with mobile phones.

Besides the two aspects – wallet and train ticket – your wallet-phone can be your member ID, point card, tickets for bus and planes as well as functioning as your credit card. It is not too much to describe it as a collection of just the “functions” of pretty much everything in your real wallet.

Like this, mobile phones are gradually becoming something beyond mere electronics like cameras and televisions. It is trying to become everything that we carry in our daily lives.


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