Editorial: Why Japan doesnt Care about your Phone; A Trip to NTT Docomo’s HQ
As those of you who follow me on Twitter might know, last week, I had the immense pleasure of visiting Tokyo.
A two day trip by Tata Docomo, we were invited to not only check out the land that only has the latest technology in the world, but is also the homebase of NTT Docomo. As you might already know, Tata Docomo is India’s fourth largest operator in terms of wireless subscribers (about 32.82 million users at the end of June 2010), after Bharti Airtel, Reliance Communications and Vodafone. They became quite popular with the introduction of the charge-per-second pulse, and on November 5th 2010, became the first private sector telecom company to launch 3G services in India.
The Network provider is a joint venture between India’s Tata Group, and Japanese telecom giant NTT Docomo, who hold 26% stake in the company. NTT Docomo, is the predominant mobile phone operator in Japan. Heck, they are so large, that even the name is officially an abbreviation of the phrase, “do communications over the mobile network“. Symbian Fans might note that they are also a founding member of the Symbian Foundation.
I’ve always wanted to visit Japan. Ever since I saw my first Gundam episode, and found out that Sega (and hence Sonic the Hedgehog) was based out of the island. Japan is widely known, as the geek’s dream country, and hence, being a very proud fellow-geek, I was overjoyed to check out the land of the rising sun.
Day One: Getting Introduced to NTT Docomo and Tokyo
We landed in Tokyo’s Narita Airport and were quickly escorted to our Hotel, where we managed to changed, shower get refreshed and ready to check out NTT Docomo’s HQ. Ofcourse getting ready for me also meant quickly recharging with some Starbucks coffee, which was right next door and left me with a couple coins of Yen.
Ah Starbucks. How I miss ye.
A couple minutes later, we were at the NTT Docomo Headquarters in the Sanno Park Tower, Nagatach?, Chiyoda.
As you can imagine, I was quite excited because this was the hub of all things technology. The source from where most of Japan’s insanely advanced mobile technology comes from.
And it’s worth mentioning, that NTT Docomo’s HQ has a very nice view of Tokyo from the 27th Floor.
The Japanese are very prompt about time and at 2:30 sharp in the afternoon, we were introduced to the Managing Director of Global Business Department, Mr Kii, Murat Karadeniz, Executive Advisor and Keisuke Yoshizawa, Executive Director of Strategic Investment and Alliance.
We were shown a quick presentation introducing NTT Docomo, their history and portfolio, before being taken to NTT Docomo’s “Future Station” on the 29th floor, which is basically an entire floor dedicated to showing what Docomo has currently, and what they’re working on.
Docomo, as you might imagine, is the key mobile manufactuer andas such, they have mobile phones made for each segment of society. There are 4 main series, being the Docomo Style, Prime, Smart and Pro series.
The Style series, as the name suggests, are for Docomo’s more style conscious users. Distinctive mobile phones, designed like accessories and offered in a wide variety of fashionable designs and colors for individuals who want to project the latest “look.”
The Prime series is basically Full-feature mobile phones for the maximum enjoyment of video, games and other entertainment by people who love to explore the latest multimedia.
The Pro and Smart series. The Smart series consists of Sophisticated mobile phones for busy people who want to live productively and enhance the management of their professional and private lives..
You know how you hear manufacturers talking about adding NFC to their devices now, and Mini-projectors, and what not. Well, all these devices have NFC. And heck some of them even have that mini-projector (which as I came to know, can come in incredibly useful).
Docomo phones also come with a variety of services includes, like i-Bodymo, which in lamens terms, is basically like having a doctor, personal trainer and dietitian all together, in your mobile phone.
i Bodymo is a DOCOMO health service that provides encouragement to enable you to keep up your normal efforts with regards to things like walking and eating while enjoying yourself in a lighthearted manner.
Heck it will even check if your balance is correct,as demonstrated here by my friend.
There’s also i-concier, which is a service that provides lifestyle support by turning your mobile phone into your very own personal butler.
Bee-TV Allows you to watch TV on your phone, any time any place.
My favourite feature, Osaifu-Keitai (Using NFC) puts all the “functions” of your wallet – cash, credit cards, and more – into a mobile phone for easy portability.
There’s also the iD credit payment service. With this service, you can make payments at shops displaying the iD logo simply by waving your phone over the reader/writer.
We used this in more detail on Day two, so you’ll have to read on for that. Basically you can use your device to pay for things, just by waving it over a sensor/reader. Even if your phone is switched off, it’ll still work fine.
Docomo also have a phone that uses bone-conduction to transfer audio to you.
Very useful for the hard of hearing, I’d imagine.
Golf is also something that’s big in Japan, and as such there’s a very cool Augmented Reality-sort-of App called “Tee Shot” that looks at the Golf course you’re in, and suggests what to do.
There’s even a augmented reality app to show you if your car will ‘fit‘ and park into a certain spot. Seriously.
And not just cars. You can see how that new table you want to buy, would look in your living room. Or how that set or curtains would look on that wall. Incredible.
Docomo are also trying to be more eco-friendly and recycle to reduce CO2 emissions.
From what I noticed, the Japanese are big on being environmentally friendly, which is really great.
Solar powered chargers are found in plenitude, and also made by Docomo for their devices.
Docomo have also made a phone with a wooden panel/exterior to keep with their eco message.
And those are just some highlighted features. All of Docomo’s phones come with standard features which you can find on their Website’s services page. Because honestly, there’s way too many to list down (I say this after spending well over an hour typing the various features that come with a docomo phone, and gave up on listing them all below lol).
But some features I thought were exceptionally cool were:
- Bio authentication: Set your phone to unlock based on your fingerprint, voice, face, or other physical characteristics.
- ANSHIN-KEY: Set your mobile phone to automatically lock when you go beyond a certain distance and unlock when you come near it again.
- Area Mail Disaster Information Service: Receive Earthquake Early Warnings and other information from the Japan Meteorological Agency.
- i-mode Disaster Message Board Service: NTT DOCOMO provides the i-mode Disaster Message Board Service (Japanese and English versions) so you can use your mobile phone to check on the safety of loved ones in times of disaster.
- imadoco search: Use i-mode or My docomo on a PC to check where your loved ones are on a map.
- Remote monitoring: With FOMA handsets and a web camera, you can check on your pets and monitor your home even while you are away.
- Kid-safe mode: Prevent children from changing settings you don’t want them to change so you can let them use the phone with peace of mind.
- Remote Lock (Remote all lock): You can remotely access your mobile phone from another pre-registered phone or a public phone to prevent third parties from using it.
- Omakase Lock: The Phonebook and other personal information as well as the “Osaifu-Keitai” IC card function on your phone can be locked remotely.
- Uta-hodai: which, like Nokia’s Ovi Music Unlimited service, allows you to download an unlimited number of songs and music from the store.
- i-appli touch: which allows you to pair two devices by bluetooth, just by touching them to each other.
And so on, and so forth. These are all technology and services that are being used today. That’s the incredible part.
However, Docomo havent forgotten that they are also a Network provider, and hence provide some of these services on other devices too (however most dont have access to a lot of them).
There’s the Japanese Samsung Galaxy S, Sony Ericsson variants, and a couple Blackberry and Lynx Models, and a couple Windows Mobile devices.
And as you’d expect, Japan’s been on 3G for a while now. Docomo’s actually the people who invented the technology in the first place. As a result of which, they’ve grown bored with the already-super-high-speed internet and services, and are moving onto LTE (or Long-Term-Evolution as they put it), for even faster internet speeds on mobile, and even greater capabilities.
Did you see those data transfer figures above? Yeah. I cant even imagine speeds that fast. Eesh.
With that in mind, Docomo wanted us to check out their idea of what a future-household might be like, with LTE Technology abundant and all around.
You walk towards your apartment, and the sensor on your watch, turns the lights on, and opens your door. The living room lights come on, and the giant tv screen switches on to update you on what has happened while you were away.
First up, oh you’ve taken new pictures on your camera while you were out. Let’s copy them over to your home pc, shall we?
The dog’s been fed with the Auto-Pet feeder by the way, so you might not want to feed him anymore until he’s gone out for his walk. Speaking of food, your fridge has found that you’re out of Wine and Cheese, and has ordered some.
Mmmmm wine and cheese. Dont worry about getting any crumbs on your floor, because your cleaner robot’s covered that up already.
Your butler (a young Japanese Woman, ofcourse) greets you to let you know that you have an incoming video call.
Better not be a darn Tele-marketer eh? Ah it’s just a friend.
So yeah, we were pretty wow’ed by the House-of-tomorrow at this point. And now we were going to experience it in 3D.
Bored on a Saturday night? Want to head out to the local museum with a friend? Wait who heads out to museums anymore. In the future, the museum comes to you!
Pay the entrance ticket and go inside to look around. You can even speak to search for a certain piece of art, or period.
How do you control all of this, you ask? Well with your hands ofcourse. From the comfort of your couch, or standing in front of your TV. Sensors pick up your every move and gesture.
A search for the popular Japanese Kabuki will lead you to a whole bunch of pictures.
And if you’re not too big on watching it on a giant display, you can use a mini-clip on display glasses-thingy of course.
So yeah, at this point, we were thinking, Holy Crap.
Japan is a world of it’s own.
But this was just Day one! It was evening time by now, and had to head back to the hotel. The view had gotten even better.
With that, we said goodbye to the Docomodake, and headed back.
Yeah, we had no idea what was in store for Day Two.
Day Two: Experiencing tomorrow’s technology today (NFC)
I wake up in the morning to the alarm on the SH-08B phone that Docomo lent us.
Quite a phone the SH-08B. You wouldnt take a second look at it elsewhere.
But here it’s my wallet, my phone, a capable camera (8 Megapixels worth), and filled to the brim with all the services we saw in Day One. Nice.
Ofcourse the whole Interface is very simplistic. Most of the services were in Japanese so we couldnt really test them out unfortch.
A quick breakfast later, I get a call from Shitij from the Tata Docomo team, asking everyone to assemble downstairs in 10 minutes for our little field trip.
And by Call, I mean Video-call. Who uses Audio calls anymore, right? He then told his phone to send my phone his location, so that I’d know where he was. Nice.
Today was going to be all about using the Osaifu-Keitai and ID Payment systems with the NFC on our Docomo phones.
This was quite honestly, the most interesting part of the trip, for me. In Japan your phone is your wallet, and your personal ID. If you lose your phone or it’s stolen, there’s no worries because you can lock AND erase your device just by calling a certain number, from any other phone. To add to that, all your data is automatically backed up on the cloud, so you’ll never have to worry about losing anything.
Docomo started this quite a while ago, and I noticed almost every single person using their phones as payment, when we went out later. Almost every big and small brand shop accept payments by mobile nfc, and our first trip to try that out, was going to be to a Japanese McDonalds.
But oh wait, what’s that? You’re a little thirsty right now? No problem. You still have that phone right?
Yup, you can purchase drinks from vending machines too, using just your NFC phone. Just by choosing the drink you want, and then waving your phone across the sensor. Quick and easy. Brilliant.
But how do you get money into the phone, you might ask?
Well if you’re post paid, it just gets added to your phone bill. Like a credit card.
If you’re pre-paid, then it’s like, well, a prepaid credit card. You can go to any bank atm (or atleast the ones that are marked, which are almost all of them), place your phone on the sensor, and select the recharge.
Again, just quick and easy. No fuss, or worries.
At this point I was pretty much loving this new NFC world. We proceeded to the Subway, to head towards a nearby McDonalds for lunch.
And again, you can use your NFC-enabled phone as your subway token too. Just wave it across.
A couple minutes later, we were in Shibuya, Tokyo which is (what I was told) the busiest commercial district in the world.
We walked over to the McDonalds nearby, and were instructed on how to use the phone as payment.
“All you have to do, is place the phone on the sensor when the staff tells you the total bill“.
Well that didnt take very long, did it. To add to that, the McDonalds phone sensor thingy makes a very cool “Zooooooooooosh!” sound when it’s charging your phone for balance.
(And yes I got a Big Mac)
After lunch we walked around a bit. I got to be a tourist, which is one of the favourite things to do in my list. 30 minutes later, it was time to head to the Docomo “SmartPhone Lounge”.
We saw a lot more examples of NFC used in Tokyo. There was an instant photo booth, which you could pay with your device. General Shopping stores, Coin Storage Lockers, etc. All very cool, and so practical i makes me wonder why the rest of the world hasnt caught on yet.
Another Subway ride later, we were in Marunouchi, to check out the Docomo Smartphone Lounge.
Docomo smartphone lounges, are all over Tokyo, and are basically a nice little place where you can check out the latest Docomo, and Docomo branded devices (by other manufacturers), while sitting down and chilling with a cup of coffee. What a freakkin’ great idea.
You can tinker with phones, browse the internet on them, do a little work even. Noone will bother you as long as you dont do something insane. Seriously, what a freakkin brilliant idea heh.
We spied devices from various manufacturers there, including the Samsung Galaxy S and Galaxy Tab, which were advertised with various Star Wars characters, like Darth Vader himself. Interesting.
There’s the Xperia series from Sony Ericsson, devices from LG, Samsung, Blackberry, etc. No Nokia’s here though, since the Finnish company decided to leave Japan a year ago.
We even got to play with the Docomo Lynx SH-10B, which as you might know, is quite a rare device outside of Japan. It’s a proper competitor to the Dell Streak and Galaxy Tab, since it not only runs Android, but has a full Qwerty keyboard too.
Unfortunately all these devices were hardware locked to the Docomo network, so it’s be almost impossible to get them unlocked and working outside Japan.
An hour of playing with various phones later, we were taken to Otemachi, to check out the NTT group Note Lounge.
This was quite interesting. While we were not allowed to take pictures or video here (lots of concept stuff), NTT Docomo showed us what their idea of the future is like.
In a nutshell, the future is full of 3D, where you can actually visualize youself in, say, a place in China where you’re virtually present, and you’re checking out fireworks with friends from all over the world, along with someone who’s actually there, thanks to projectors and sensors in your mobile phone. You can move around with hand gestures, and explore the area too.
Holy crap *Brain explodes*.
We were also shown a concept where several friends from all over the world are talking to each other as they’re walking down a street. Difference is, they’re not at the same place. They’re a gazillion miles apart, but again wearing a special pair of glasses, and using sensors and projectors from your phone, it’s like you’re having a conversation with them as if they’re waking right next to you.
Then we were shown an example of a classroom of the future. In a circular room, we were all standing, backs to the wall (which are actually displays). There are cameras at each point, at notice where you are and relay it back to another circular room, where the teacher could be, or other students. Using that, a teacher would be able to look at and notice each student on the classroom, or use one of the displays to show a project or video clip. The whole time, because of the way the room is arranged, it’s like the teacher is looking right at you the whole time. No slacking off in this class, eh?
From there, we were taken to a similar-ish boardroom office conference set up. We were seated on one end of a half-circle table, with a huge widescreen display on the other end, that virtually mirrored the rest of the table. On the display was the rest of the board members, who were able to converse, and talk to us as if they were right in the room with us.
It’s hard to explain without pictures, to be very honest. But we were quite blown away by what we say.
With that, it was time to head back to our Hotel.
So what did I learn about Japan in the two days there?
Well, for one thing, Japan doesnt Care about your Phone.
You know how people keep telling you that Japan is like another planet or world all together? Well, it is.
In Japan, your phone is your wallet, your identity, your personal assistant, your trainer, your everything. While we in the rest of the world, worry about hardware and software features, in Japan it’s all about the services.
Your phone doesnt have NFC? No thanks.
Your phone doesnt have 3G? No thanks.
Your phone doesnt do email? No thanks. I’ve been told that people prefer to email or chat here, instead of use SMS.
I’m quite sure I had the only Nokia device in the entire country. The Japanese dont really care about hardware too much, but even with that, they are way more advanced than we think. The phone I was using, is actually comparatively mid-range in price, and had an 8 Megapixel camera, and had picture-in-picture TV, GPS, 3G, wifi, NFC technology, and it was still slimmer than even my iPhone.
Software and Apps, looks like that’s slowly becoming more important to the average Japanese consumer. Might explain why the iPhone 4 and Galaxy S are starting to do well there.
I dont mean to generalize, but there’s no denying though, that the average Japanese consumer is used to a basic set of features on a phone, which even the most premium device outside Japan, simply doesnt have. Even with the Galaxy S and iPhone 4, users are compromising.
I quite enjoyed Tokyo. With internet speeds that I could only dream of getting here in on my side of the planet. Carrying around a mifi unit in my backpack, enabling all my devices to be connected to the internet. With my phone running on 3G, which is already being considered old-and-slow.
We want to thank Tata Docomo for taking us to a country that felt like a totally different planet. The place really is, every geek’s dream. One can only hope the rest of the world will be this advanced, some time soon.