Posts tagged “ketai”

Calling out, around the world?

(originally published at Core77)

Subway ad for Suica, transit fare payment by mobile phone, Tokyo, 2008

Why Japan’s Smartphones Haven’t Gone Global is a toe-dip into the case study of factors that have limited export of Japan’s cutting-edge mobile phone innovations.

Yet Japan’s lack of global clout is all the more surprising because its cellphones set the pace in almost every industry innovation: e-mail capabilities in 1999, camera phones in 2000, third-generation networks in 2001, full music downloads in 2002, electronic payments in 2004 and digital TV in 2005.

Despite their advanced hardware, handsets here often have primitive, clunky interfaces. Because each handset model is designed with a customized user interface, development is time-consuming and expensive, said Tetsuzo Matsumoto, senior executive vice president at Softbank Mobile, a leading carrier. “Japan’s phones are all ‘handmade’ from scratch,” he said. “That’s reaching the limit.”

Kawaii Superheroes

We saw these kawaii decals for sale in Tokyo. According to the in-store display, they are intended for mobile phones and iPods, but could go on anything.

I was amazed to see the familiar and consistent visual brands of Marvel superheroes so dramatically localized, reflecting the Japanese kawaii (“cute”) aesthetic by infantilizing Wolverine, Spiderman, and the Hulk.

Keep Your Hands Off My Power Supply

“Anti-Groping Appli” by games developer Takahashi

was released in late 2005 but has only recently climbed up popularity rankings, reaching No. 7 in this week’s top-10 cell phone applications list.

The application flashes increasingly threatening messages in bold print on the phone’s screen to show to the offender: “Excuse me, did you just grope me?” “Groping is a crime,” and finally, “Shall we head to the police?”

Users press an “Anger” icon in the program to progress to the next threat. A warning chime accompanies the messages.

The application, which can be downloaded for free on Web-enabled phones, is for women who want to scare away perverts with minimum hassle and without attracting attention.

In 2000 I made my first trip to Japan to help our client understand the role of mobile phones (“ketai”) in Japanese culture (in order to discover unmet opportunities for the company with their own customer base). We learned a great deal (both from participation and from observation!) about the indirect manner of communication (for example, the absence of “no”) and heard many stories about how the mobile, through its email capability, had enabled ways to circumvent this. People told us stories of negative feedback from a boss to an employee, or a relationship breakup taking place via the phone, and how that was acceptable.

If it’s culturally difficult to scream “Take your hands off me, you @#$%^$ freak!” on a subway train, then this application makes sense. It seems to acknowledge a need and a culturally-appropriate vector for responding to that need.

Steve in Tokyo in 2000


About Steve