December 1, 1979, 30 years ago, the world's first mobile phone network was launched into commercial production. No, this was not the famous phone by Dr Martin Cooper of Motorola who is so frequently, but mistakenly credited for starting this industry. Four years before the first Motorola DynaTac phones were sold by Ameritech in Chicago, the Japanese had already been offering full mobile phone services in their country. As we now approach December, I want to take this moment to reflect on that immense invention and bold moment, and also celebrate several other major milestones that we can thank the Japanese telecoms industry for bringing to us.
Our regular readers know that I am an ex-Nokia guy and I come from Finland, so often this blog, and my books reflect an unfair balance of over-emphasizing the contributions of Finland and Nokia, and unfairly under-emphasize the contributions of other countries and companies, in particular those of Japan and NTT DoCoMo. I hope in a small way to correct that today, and will go on record to state, that the country that has given most to the mobile telecoms industry is, by a huge lead, Japan; and of many innovative companies in Japan, the one that has single-handedly turned a potentially niche geek market into a massive global giant, has been NTT DoCoMo.
And yes, I hope many will write celebrations and tributes to the mobile phone around December of this year, and wanted to provide the facts of when things happened. And to get the basics right, this industry was launched in Tokyo Japan, not Chicago USA.
Go get a cup of coffee, this will not be brief, but I think I will surprise you with some of the stories that came from the land of Nippon.
FONZIE, ABBA AND MORK FROM ORK
1979. Thirty years ago. The movies frightened us with the China Syndrome of what might happen in an accident in a nuclear powerplant, and then Three Mile Island nuclear power plant in the USA did have a nuclear accident. On TV Dallas was the big hit globally, while we laughed at Fonzie in Happy Days and the alien Mork in Mork & Mindy. Serious movie fans flocked to Kramer vs Kramer and Manhattan. Space was big in the movies, as Alien scared us, and James Bond made his sad space adventure in Moonraker.
Margaret Thatcher had been elected Prime Mininster of the UK, the Ayatollah Khomeini had taken over the rule of Iran, and peanut-farmer president Jimmy Carter was getting deeper and deeper into trouble with inflation, high oil prices and a hostage crisis - in Iran. The Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, to be entangled in a decade-long quagmire battling something called the Taliban. And in Iraq, a military coup put a young officer in charge by the name of Saddam Hussein. Meanwhile a second-rate actor was suggested as a long-shot to perhaps become the presidential candidate of the Republican Party, a guy named Ronald Reagan, known for movies such as acting with a monkey in Bedtime for Bonzo.
On the airwaves it was the time of disco, with Donna Summer singing of Bad Girls, Earth Wind and Fire taking us to Boogie Wonderland and Sister Sledge telling us We Are Family. Anita Ward asked us to Ring My Bell, while the Village People took us to YMCA. Even rocker Rod Stewart was into Disco asking Do Ya Think I'm Sexy. While some classic rock was also born, from Pink Floyd's the Wall album and its anthem, Another Brick in the Wall, to the Knack singing of My Sharona, Blondie releasing Heart of Glass, to Queen telling us to Don't Stop Me Now. And yes, of course there was all that Abba on our radios from Gimme Gimme Gimme to Voulez Vous.
30 years ago there was no CNN, there was no MTV, there was no Playstation. Madonna had not released a song yet. There was no digital music, no CDs. Movie rentals were on video cassette, not DVD and we had a format war of Betamax vs VHS. The internet had only 200 connected computers, all mainframe computers at this time. The personal computer was five years old and IBM had not bothered to release a PC. This was the context of 1979.
(this picture is from the launch time, and is at the NTT History website at this link picture first mobile phone service NTT 1979)
It was December 1, 1979, and Japan's national monopoly telecoms operator/carrier, NTT, launched the world's first mobile telecoms service commercially, with a fully functional network covering the 23 districts of Tokyo to start with, and by 1984 would offer national coverage across all of Japan. The early phones were carphones. The first service was purely a 'rental' service, which had a 2,000 dollar sign-up fee (remember those?) in the form of a deposit; plus a monthly fee of 300 dollars (ie 3,600 dollars per year, ouch..). And voice minutes cost 10 cents per every 6 seconds ie one dollar per minute. These new mobile phones were seen by all experts and analysts including management at NTT as only a niche product for the wealthy and powerful. But that was the starting point.
This blog will celebrate some of the major contributions of the Japanese mobile telecoms industry from that point on, with some context and numbers to illustrate the relevance.
1G ANALOG CELLULAR
So yes, December 1, 1979, NTT of Japan launched initially for the Tokyo metropolitan region, the world's first commercial mobile phone cellular telecoms network, consisting of 88 cell sites (base stations, or "radio towers"). This was a 'cellular network', with 'handover' and on an automated system ie the caller just dialled the number, and no human switchboard operator was needed to connect the call. Previous carphone systems existed in many advanced countries, but never had all three elements, so for example Ericsson had an automated non-cellular carphone system out of Sweden, while Finland had a nation-wide cellular system on ARP technology which did not have handover, and was no automated.
This NTT system, is genesis. It is what we now call a first generation or 1G mobile network. It was an analog system and still with phones big and batteries weak, these were mostly carphones, but soon also 'luggable' portable phones emerged, suitcase/briefcase sized monster-heavy phones, with shoulder-straps, weighing about 10 kg (22 pounds) that did allow callers to bring their phones with them. By the middle of the next decade, hand-held phones would appear in short succession in America, Europe and Japan.
While the utility of a mobile phone was obvious, the early costs and size issues prevented mass adoption. In Japan it would take about 15 years to connect the first one million users to the network. As prices would come down, in the second 15 years they would add a hundred million more.
In 1981 the innovation spread, and early 1G networks started to emerge in many countries in addition to Japan, first in the Nordic countries of Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden on the NMP standard and then rapidly in many countries from the UK to Mexico. The USA joined the growing list of countries with cellular mobile phone services quite late, on October 13, 1983 when Ameritech launched their commercial service in Chicago.
FIRST 10 YEARS, 4 MILLION
It was slow going, by the time the industry was ten years old, in 1989, we had only 4 million mobile phone subscribers in the world. In terms of total penetration rates, the cellular phone was strictly an expensive executive gadget, for busy businesspeople only. The networks were mostly city-networks, so you pretty much expected that as you drove into the suburbs and away from the city, the network would disappear and you would not get a cellular phone signal. Phones were still very expensive, cost more than a thousand dollars each, and voice minutes cost over a dollar per minute and a good phone would not last half an hour of talk-time. In terms of human penetration levels, after ten years, there was a cellular phone for well under one tenth of one percent of the total population of the planet. Or in other words, one cellular phone for every one thousand people. An interesting gadget perhaps, but definitely not a mass market device, its market penetration was only a tiny 'niche' and the gadget was strictly for the exclusive few, and the very rich.
SECOND TEN YEARS, 740 MILLION
But phones kept getting smaller and the services more affordable, and the first analog 1G mobile phone networks gave way to digital second generation mobile phone 2G networks from 1991, and by 1999, at the 20th year anniversary of mobile phones, the world had 740 million mobile phone subscriptions in use, and globally one in eight humans had a mobile phone, or global penetration rate was at 12% of the human population. Some were even suggesting one day there would be more mobile phones than fixed landline phones.
On a global basis, that number of mobile phones by 1999 was now bigger than the number of personal computers in use, more than total automobiles registered and far bigger than the number of internet users. But still, mobile phones were far off from the most widely spread technologies of the planet, fixed landine phones, TV sets and FM radios.
That 12% global penetration rate was of course not uniformly distributed. The 5 billion people living in the developing world had almost no mobile phones far less than 5% penetration rates, but in the most advanced markets, like Japan, Finland, Sweden, Norway, Hong Kong and Singapore, the mobile phone penetration levels were passing 60% national levels and Finland became the first industrialized world nation where the number of mobile phone subscriptions grew bigger than total fixed landline phones. An enormous change was happening and early evidence of it was starting to emerge in those most advanced markets.
TODAY 4.6 BILLION
Fast forward to today, and in December 2009, thirty years later, mobile phone subscriptions have reached 4.6 Billion people, and there is a mobile phone subscription for two thirds of the planet. Even in the developing world there is more than 50% penetration rate with mobile. We are now adding half a billion new subscribers per year, and the industry sells over a billion new phones annually. Mobile phones have become the most widely spread technology on the planet, with more phone subscriptions than landline phones, more than TV sets, and more even than FM radios worldwide.
If we plot the growth of the industry, in terms of customers, the mobile industry grew at a sustained compound annual growth rate of 130% for the first whole decade (ie more than doubling every year) up to 4 million users; then at the breathaking rate of 68% annual growth rate for its second decade to 740 million users, and now still an amazing 20% rate this third decade to reach 4.6 Billion users.
For contrast, the landline phone business took over 120 years to reach 1 billion subscribers. Radio achieved a billion receivers in use in about 80 years. Television took 65 years to reach a billion. The internet took 38 years. Personal computers reached a billion units in use in 33 years. But mobile reached a billion users worldwide in just 22 years.
THE MOBILE INTERNET
That NTT Nippon Telephone and Telegraph company was privatized and then it spun off its mobile division, which was branded NTT DoCoMo. But this young hungry growing company has continued with the innovations for this industry.
On the eve of the 20th anniversary of mobile phones, 1999 saw perhaps the most important innovation to this mobile telecoms industry, when NTT DoCoMo launched the world's first dedicated mobile internet service package. This is what we might think of a 'portal service', in what they called i-Mode in Japan. This was a radical innovation, and industry-shattering. They brought an internet-like experience to phones, but with many gigantic improvements. The most obvious is that every item or service on the i-Mode service can be billed for (while you may think, 'we can do that on the internet as well' - that is not true. None of the content on the internet can be billed through the internet. You have to set up a Paypal account, only about 10% of internet users have one, or you have to provide a credit card etc. But on the mobile internet, all you need is a phone account, and you can pay. This is a radical improvement over the legacy internet).
This was the birth of the money internet. Every officially authorized content brand or provider on i-Mode had an automated billing relationship by which they could charge micropayments and get customers to pay for content and services, typically charging 100 to 200 Yen per month - roughly between 1-2 dollars. I heard from my dear friend Kei Shimada of Infinita who commented via email about this blog, and gave the background info, that Mari Matsananga, the direct assistant Natsuno-san, the creator of i-Mode, was tasked with deciding how much to charge for i-Mode. They targeted it at young adults and teenagers (heavy users of mobile) and used their average monthly spending on teenage magazines as the benchmark - which was about 100 to 300 Yen (1-3 dollars). That became the pricing range for i-Mode services.
MOBILE INTERNET USE STATS
And ever since i-Mode, Japan grabbed and has held the lead in global statistics for mobile internet use in the Industrialized World countries, whether in proportion of internet-capable handsets; or percent of mobile subscribers to the mobile internet; or total mobile internet traffic; or the shift from the PC based internet to the mobile internet. So if you think the iPhone is cool in causing a shift from laptops to the iPhone, that phenomenon was first observed in Japan.
To illustrate how these matter, since 2006, the Japanese regulator has reported that the majority of all internet use is from mobile phones, not from personal computers. And what of usage? Since 2008, the Japanese regulator reports that the majority of internet use has shifted also to mobile. So in Japan, obviously all internet pages are by default formatted for the small screens of mobile phones.
So how did this "another crazy Japanese innovation" fare in the rest of the world? Yankee Group told us earlier this year, that 29% of all mobile phone users on the planet now surf on mobile web pages. So at the start of this year, it meant there were 1.1 Billion users of the mobile internet worldwide (if the same rate holds, that is 1.3 Billion active users of the mobile internet by the end of 2009), and yes, that means there were more users accessing browser-based content on a phone, than the total population of internet-conneced personal computers on the planet. In just nine years, the 'pocket' internet had grown to have more users worldwide than the 'original' PC based worldwide web. Remember the PC based equivalent, the Worldwide Web, was launched in 1989, onto a platform of the internet, to an established base of personal computers. It took the WWW 17 years to pass a billion users. The mobile internet reached a billion users in almost half the time.
MOBILE INDUSTRY BUSINESS MODEL
But if the prototypical mobile internet service, i-Mode was a radical innovation, the parallel introduction of a new mobile internet business model was pure genius. NTT DoCoMo said they would pay back 90 cents out of every dollar to the content owners of any mobile service, content or application, when charged through the i-Mode service. So if a Disney screen saver cost 200 yen, about 2 dollars, then Disney would get 1 dollar 80 cents, and DoCoMo would only charge 20 cents for that billing transaction. Fast forward to today, and Apple is cheered by applications developers, for its developer-friendly revenue-sharing model, where Apple takes 'only' 30 cents for every dollar charged on an application sold through the store. NTT DoCoMo a decade earlier already offered a far better deal to content owners and developers.
At this time most carriers/operators around the world were thinking the business model on the emerging mobile internet would be a 50/50 split. But the industry leader NTT DoCoMo boldly promised a 90:10 split. Content owners and application developers and various partners flocked to the i-Mode service. The backlog for accepting new partners grew to even 3 months at DoCoMo as tens of thousands of Japanese internet companies wanted to get authorized to become official i-Mode partners. Wired magazine reported in 2001 of the first profitability turnaround, of the famed loss-making Japanese internet giant, Cybird, as having turned profitable suddenly, only through its mobile internet arm. Hundreds, thousands were to follow the same success story.
The i-Mode revenue-sharing model was instantly copied in Japan by the two rival networks, KDDI and J-Phone (now Softbank). Then in neighboring South Korea and Taiwan, very similar models were adopted with carriers/operators there soon offering about 85:15 or 80:20 deals. In Europe in the most advanced markets like those in Scandinavia, soon similar deals in the 75:25 range or 80:20 were offered. And mainstream Europe was moving away from 50:50 deals to more like 60:40 and 70:30. Not surprisingly, the more friendly the revenue terms were for the content providers, the bigger the mobile internet success and adoption was in that country. Japan continued to lead and South Korea in a solid second place, but advanced parts of Europe where deals were better than 70:30 would also show very strong mobile internet adoption.
Now, many applaud RIM for bringing email to mobile phones with the full solution, of the email servers, etc, optimized for mobile use. RIM did do that, for the Western markets of North America and Europe. Again, Japan was there before, and this innovation too has to be credited to Japan and NTT DoCoMo.
So today, if you ask a Japanese if they would want to have email on a PC, they will first say, oh, I didn't know you could do that - as they obviously will all use email on their phones. And then they will ask - why would you want to have email on a PC? Think about it, if everybody had a Blackberry, then why would anyone really want to use a PC for email.
There is so much to the mobile innovations from Japan, one I want to mention is mobile books. Yes, books that are consumed on mobile phones. Most who have not heard of this, are usually laughing that it cannot possibly take off. Yet in Japan last year, nearly half a billion dollars worth of mobile books were sold (and yes, just earlier this week stats from iPhone apps revealed that books now form the biggest part of 'applications' on the apps store, bigger than games, in terms of titles offered, so don't laugh. Mobile books can be huge).
Back to Japan. Big? Mobile books outsell eBooks by 8 to 1. There are so many compelling reasons why printed text delivery of 'book format' works better on a phone than in traditional printing, in the whole value system of book selling, that all major global booksellers have rushed into this idea. Even me, a tiny private publisher of 3 electronic books, I made them mobile books, readable on smartphone screens.
But here is the truly weird part. Most of the mobile books are youth-oriented books, ie youth novels, young girl falls in love with married man, he won't divorce his wife, she gets pregnant, gets a sexually transmitted disease, commits suicide. You know, youth novels, very predictable storylines, simple characters etc. And written by the youth! What is worse, most mobile books out of Japan have actually been written on mobile phones!
Talk about repetitive thumb syndrome.. but this is the same generation that walks around with Playstation Portables and send 100 short messages every day and update their Facebook accounts whenever they go to the bathroom etc. They are totally comfortable with the small screen and keypad of a modern phone, and think nothing of turning their private diary or blog into a book - especially if some real book publisher is willing to pay them for that. And for the book publisher, it is a trivial cost to publish books on mobile, and minimal risk. If the young author is successful, then the books get printed also in paperback format. A true revolution for the 1st mass media channel, print and its oldest format, the printed book. And this too came from Japan.
And where there is media, there is advertising. There were many independent web services on the mobile internet that had some kind of advertising models. But then NTT DoCoMo took the fledgling tentative experimental industry, and turbo-charged it. Japan saw the first national giant ad agency dedicated to mobile advertising, in D2C (often called simply D2), the 50/50 partnership between NTT DoCoMo the biggest mobile operator of Japan, and Dentsu, the biggest advertising agency of Japan. Today Japan's mobile advertising market is both the biggest in total revenues, and most innovative, and D2 has been a major force in enabling that. Japan was the first country to launch engagement marketing concepts on mobile, stuff that Alan Moore and I wrote about in our book Communities Dominate Brands in 2005. Most of the innovative ideas of mobile advertising globally have come out of Japan. Thank you Japan.
Most of you reading this blog are employed adults working in the media, IT or telecoms space, and will have an advanced mobile phone in your pocket. You may not even have noticed, that you migrated to the third generation recently. Most smartphones today, including the iPhone, the Blackberry, and of course the main top-end phones from Nokia, SonyEricsson, Samsung, Motorola and LG tend to be 3G phones. Your N-Series or E-Series Nokia are 3G phones. And you might not even notice, that often when you make voice calls, those are handled on the 3G network. And most of the time when you access Google or your email or get the sports scores, weather report or stock market update, you are actually using the 3G network. More than half of all mobile phone users in Europe and advanced markets of Asia now have a 3G phone on a 3G subscription. This mostly silent revolution has been the rapid expansion of the 3G technology. And once again we go to Japan.
On October 1, 2001, NTT DoCoMo used the WCDMA standard to deploy 3G commercially and the era of the third generation of mobile formally commenced. By the end of the year South Korea had launced commerically on the rival CDMA2000 EV-DO standard, and within a year, Japan had all three networks with their 3G networks in commercial production. Europe would have to wait until March of 2003, when Italy and the UK received their first commercial networks on 3G. The US had its first commercial network on 3G, Monet, but that went bankrupt and the first viable 3G network in North America would be that on Verizon a lot later.
While the technology press obsessed about such technologies as the iPod, the Blackberry, the iPhone and the PlayStation Portable, a 3G revolution silently took over. Today the installed base of 3G phones is at over 800 million in use, and of paying subscribers on 3G telecoms price plans and subscriptions, we are at about 600 million customers who pay for 3G access, and who produce annual revenues of about 325 Billion – yes that was right – 325 Billion dollars of annual revenues. Abi Research has estimated that this year 2009 will become the first year when more 3G phones are sold worldwide than 2G phones and my consultancy, TomiAhonen Consulting tracks the revenues and projects that within wo years half of all mobile industry service revenues will come out of 3G. Thank you Japan!
While NTT DoCoMo was very visibly launching 3G, its smaller Japanese rival, J-Phone (later brought by Vodafone, and then sold to Softbank), was developing a technology innovation that would have an even wider impact than 3G, the cameraphone. The idea at first seemed quite bizarre to even the most friendly enthusiasts, and seemed positively suicidal to most analysts. A completely 'only in Japan' type of innovation that could not spread beyond the island nation. Cameras were mostly still film-based in 2000, and still most mobile phones in use in most big countries like the USA were analog phones of the first generation. The screens of most phones were tiny and only text-based, in monochrome. Who would want to view any pictures on those? And the early cameras were even worse – the first cameraphone by Sharp, that J-Phone released, had a resolution of 0.1 megapixels, yes you read me right, not 1.0 megapixels, but 0.1 megapixels. 300 pixels by 300 pixels. That is literally the size of a postage stamp - a small postage stamp. But still, J-Phone believed this would be popular with consumers, and with a handset manufactured by Sharp, released the first consumer cameraphone in November of 2000.
(The picture is from the website by Impress at this link http://k-tai.impress.co.jp/cda/article/showcase_top/3913.html - thank you Kei for finding that link)
The early phones and digital cameras had very little overlap. The camera needed its lens and shutter and sensor construction, none of which were parts of a phone. And the camera needed a big screen, in color, and a lot of memory to store the images – pictures were far more memory-hungry than the phone numbers we stored in our phonebook. Meanwhile the mobile phone was shrinking and becoming overloaded with electronics, calendars, clocks, basic video games like the Nokia Snake. The battery life was a problem as was CPU processing power. Meanwhile the big cameramakers like Nikon, Minolta, Canon and Konica, were releasing 'proper' digital cameras with camera resolutions of 3 megapixels, even 5 megapixels.
But despite all the conventional wisdom, cameraphones took the world by storm. By 2004, just three years later, cameraphones already sold more units than stand-alone digital cameras by the big camera makers. By 2006 more cameraphones sold than stand-alone digital cameras and film-based cameras combined, and since then pioneering giants of the camera industry, Minolta and Konica, have pulled out of the business. Today about 2.5 billion cameraphones are in use, and for almost all of the planet, the only camera type owned is a cameraphone.
If you want to track a truly breathaking spread of a new technology, consider that of the cameraphone. TV took 65 years to reach a billion receivers in use. The personal computer 33 years, the mobile phone 22 years. But cameraphones reached a billion devices in use, in only 7 years. Domo Arigato Japan!
A related innovation was also introduced by J-Phone, the picture message. What we mostly know as MMS multimedia messaging, was originally offered in Japan by J-Phone as 'Sha Mail' and also dismissed as a crazy idea. Yet as cameraphones spread, and being connected, they did open the door for new communications sending pictures. Today picture messaging has 1.4 billion users worldwide - yes that is more than all users of email globally, and in advanced markets like Norway the usage has passed the level of one picture message sent per week (four MMS per month) across the whole subscriber base nationally. Globally picture messaging delivers over 25 billion dollars of service revenues to the mobile telecoms industry and MMS seems particularly suited as an advertising media channel. Were it not for the immense success of SMS text messaging, we would hail MMS as a massive global success in only eight years.
While NTT DoCoMo was launching 3G, and J-Phone were merging cameras with phones, the third Japanese mobile phone operator/carrier, KDDI saw its opportunity in location-based services (LBS). They observed that many Japanese who commuted to work would tend to do most of their shopping and other chores near the two train stations either the one at home or at work. And the cellular network offered even back in 2001 accuracy to the degree that you could position phone users by a network cell radius, that was roughly the reach of the shops, restaurants and offices near any train station.
KDDI deployed their first LBS solutions to give localized advertising and information, essentially for all within walking distance of any one train or underground station. And in the process they embarked upon a journey into LBS that has produced the most amazing location-based service portfolio with the best reliability and accuracy, on the planet today. Their mapping solution called EZ-Navi is so detailed today, that all of Tokyo's buildings have been rendered in 3D, so the service can not only show you a map pinpointing where you are, but show the whole street view in 3D images, so you can see which building is where...
KDDI has been a continuous journey of service improvement. They were the first to offer GPS based mobile phone navigation as far back as in December 2001 with their EZ-Navi service and the first two GPS phones on KDDI were by Hitachi and Kyocera. Today the KDDI location-based service portfolio is second to none. The LBS services soon included parcel tracking, friend-finding, personalized weather, tourist guides and yes, location-based advertising. And games, lots and lots of location-based games, with the location-based treasure hunt Mogi as the most widely referenced. Alas, inspite of all the enormous expenditure in the perfection of the technology, LBS has not proven a commercial hit, and while an interesting innovation, and copied in almost every country and every network, the location-based services turned out to be more of an illusion of promise, than any commercial success.
The hot new story in the tech and telecoms press today is "Apps Stores" after Apple released their iPhone oriented mobile data applications shop in June of 2008. Since then there have been a whole slew of apps stores including those, some by handset makers like Nokia Ovi or RIM Blackberry, some by operating system like Windows Mobile and Google Android, yet others by mobile operators/carriers like Verizon and China Mobile
It would be easy to think this was an Apple invention, but once again, we need to look to the Land of the Rising Sun. It was yes, Japan, and NTT DoCoMo who launched the first applications store for mobile phones, branded i-Appli, all the way back in 2001.
Do you like that WiFi connectivity on your smartphone? Many in America first had WiFi on their phone with the original iPhone in 2007. Europeans had their first WiFi smartphone back in 2005 with the 9500 model of the Nokia Communicator. But the first in the world to embed WiFi on a mobile phone was NTT DoCoMo who did it for their premium business phones already in 2003.
Do you use Skype? Want Skype on your phone? Yes, that is now becoming possibe on some networks in some countries. Who had that technology first? It is called VOIP Voice Over Internet Protocol. The first mobile phones and service using VOIP comes from Japan. It was KDDI who launced it in 2005, branded as "Metal Plus".
Felt the ploink-ploink sound of basic ringing tones is 'not real music' and you want to hear Shakira or the Black Eyed Peas or Camillionaire or yes, Abba on your phone? That idea to take real samples of real songs, and using those as ringing tones is what the industry calls 'true tones' or 'realtones'. Who did it first? The Japanese. KDDI released their first Chaku-uta real tone ringing tones and compatible handsets in 2002.
Did you notice that fashion brands are rushing to release branded phones? Armani, Prada, Dolce & Gabbana, even watchmakers TAG Heuer are releasing branded phones. Who can we thank for this innovation, to bridge fashion with phones? Not the iPhone. That was NTT DoCoMo with the first Benetton branded phone in 2005.
If you are in the advertising industry you probably have heard of the QR Codes or 2D barcodes, square squibbles that look a bit like an out-of-focus thumb print. They are now appearing all over the planet in innovative ad campaigns. A new way to jump to web pages without any typing, using a camera phone. They say this is the next big thing in consumer interactivity. Who can we thank for this? The Japanese. NTT DoCoMo launched QR Codes commercially onto phones in 2005 and I was very privileged to be one of the first Westerners to see this technology even before it had launched, on a private screening by my dear friend, then with NTT DoCoMo's London office, Voytek Siewierski. He said I'd be impressed, and boy was I. I liked it so much that since 2006 I have had the 2D barcode on my business card 'just like Japanese mobile industry executives' haha.. The original concept is actually quote old, Denso Wave used to be part of Toyota's tech division and developed the QR code back in 1994. By the way, in just two years from launch, over half of Japanese were using the feature, and in three years, it had shot past three out of every four mobile phone owners. Expect this to really become big in your neck of the woods as well.
And if you believe your money is shifting from your wallet and credit cards, to your phone, like 46% of banking accounts in Kenya already are mobile accounts, then you probably also can foresee a future of the "mobile wallet", where our phone is not just our communications and media and memories, but also our cash, our bank account, our credit card; but also collecting our loyalty card points for our purchases and our frequent flier miles for our journeys; and furthermore to be our integrated identity card, our passkeys to work and digital keys to our home door locks. That mobile wallet concept is becoming reality in many of the most advanced markets such as South Korea and yes, Japan. The world's first commerically launched full mobile wallet service is called O-saifu Keitai, and yes, it was launched by NTT DoCoMo in 2004. Part of that is the FeliCa payment system, which you can use in tens of thousands of points-of-purchase all over Japan.
IDLE SCREEN LIVE CONTENT
Wow, how could I forget this? After I posted this blog I attended the GSM Association Mobile Asia Congress to present, and saw presentations by the CEO's of NTT DoCoMo and Softbank. These presentations reminded me of two more huge innovations from Japan that need to be added. Idle Screen. NTT DoCoMo pioneered the live content news feeds to the idle screen of the phone. They call it i-Channel and have launched it now also in India on the Tata network where the most popular content is Cricket Scores. Other markets have copied the idea too, but the first idle screen news feeds were from NTT DoCoMo.
FLAT RATE PRICING
And flat rate pricing. Where would Apple's iPhone impressive mobile internet use be, if it wasn't for flat rate pricing. But that was not an AT&T or Apple invention, no that idea traces its roots to the KDDI network in Japan early in this decade. Flat rate pricing, how could I forget that.
So you like YouTube on your phone? Great idea? We have had video services on phones on many networks for a long time. The very first to provide that functionality? It was KDDI in December 2001, who launched EZ-Movie on 'movie ktai' phones, and the first video clips were only 15 seconds in length. The first video-clip enabled KDDI phones were manufactured by Toshiba. (thank you Kei for reminding me of this)
When I visited Japan on one of my many visits, my dear friend Lars Cosh-Ishii of Wireless Watch Japan (and Mobikyo, and MoMo Tokyo) showed me the Cameraphone Dictionary. At the time it was a radical high tech solution, using the cameraphone to scan images of any printed page in English, and momentarily, displaying the same page, translated into Japanese, on the cameraphone screen. Cool. Super high tech. Yes, today this idea is copied many times over, but this kind of innovation is coming from Japan all the time.
How far can it go? I just blogged a couple of months ago, about a new Japanese service provider, AgriHouse, who offer a gadget that lets your plants communicate with you, when they need water, they send you a message to your phone. Connecting plants! No, not connecting plants, translating plant needs into human communications, wow, this is cool.
The mobile phone is the most widely spread technology on the planet. It is our voice calls, our text messages, our Twitter and Facebook updates, our YouTube viewer. It is our camera, our video recorder and image viewer. It is our web browser, search engine and breaking news resource. We get advertisements and coupons on it. We use it to store our critical phone numbers, our anniversaries and birthdays, addresses and all sorts of personal information from banking passwords to health data. The phone has replaced our wristwatch. We use it even as our alarm clock. It is the last thing we see when we go to sleep, and it is the first thing we see when we wake up.
Mobile is such a compelling media, that over half of us now sleep with the phone ringing turned on at night, so mobile can literally reach us even when we sleep. No, I will call your "sleep" and raise you "death". Yes? We reach dead people with mobile? Kind of. Follow me on this. Japan became the first country where they now offer QR Codes used on grave stones in cemetaries. So now, the dear departed can have mobile internet pages made in their memory. You can access the pages when you are at the graveyard, and you can leave your thoughts and prayers and greetings, via your phone of course. Only mobile allows us to connect plants, to reach us when we sleep, and yes, even let our loved ones connect with our memory, after we have died. What a technology! (and my thanks in particular to Kei Shimada the founder and CEO of Infinita of Japan, for helping with several specific dates and details)
Thirty years ago we said goodbye to an automobile industry icon, when the original VW Beetle stopped production. Another icon the sporting legend Muhammed Ali announced his retirement from boxing. On TV we said goodbye to Battlestar Galactica, and saw the last season of John Cleese as the bumbling hotellier of Fawlty Towers. This was the last year the original three Charlie's Angels were together. It was the last time we saw the most invincible Bond Villain, Jaws, - remember that giant with the metal teeth - on the silver screen.
Still through all of that, Gloria Gaynor consoled us, as she sang, I Will Survive. But there were transitions into something new, like Archie Bunker went from All in the Family to Archie's Bunker's Place, and SOAP spawned his own series for the sarcastic butler Benson. Previous superstar TV icons went to the big screen, with Star Trek, Superman and the Muppets all having their first movies out that year with countless sequels to follow. Sigourney Weaver would create her iconic Ripley to play against that iconic Alien monster in so many space monster remakes. And a successful pop quintet had a stunning break-up when their youngest member of the Jackson 5 decided to go solo and we heard Michael's hit Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough. That year, 1979 was the commercial break-through of rap music, when Sugarhill Gang gave us Rapper's Delight (sampling the earlier hit of the year, Chic's Good Times). And they thought rap music was only a fad..
Meanwhile an iconic personal entertainment gadget was born with Sony's Walkman launched in Japan, as well as the first videogame cultural icon, Pac Man also first appered, initially in Japan in 1979. And NTT launched commercial mobile telecoms as an overpriced executive carphone service. December 1, 1979, 30 years ago. Who would have thought that the most influential change of them all, was that last one. Mobile phones. We cannot imagine life without them anymore.