Have I complained about how far the US is behind Japan and the rest of the world in cellphone technology lately?
Thanks to early investments in high-speed mobile networks, Japan’s cellular telephone industry is about a year and a half ahead of America’s.TV, GPS, music, e-wallet, a society that texts rather than talks so you are never annoyed by others, they have it all. I guess I can look forward to those things one and a half years from now, well except for the lack of annoying cellphone users part.
Subway riders tap messages to friends, listen to music and play games on their handsets. More than half of Japan’s cell-phone users own speedy 3G broadband phones (versus a puny 5 percent in the United States).
The Japanese have enjoyed analog TV on their mobile phones since 2003, but the quality was erratic and users would lose the signal on moving trains. Earlier this year, the carriers unveiled a new digital TV standard, devised solely for mobile devices. The quality is excellent. My phone not only played seamless television but let me record, TiVo-style, up to five hours of TV on a one-gigabyte memory card.
In Japan, 90 percent of all downloaded songs are enjoyed on mobile phones, rather than to PC-tethered devices like the iPod. I followed along, downloading the J-pop hit “Super Sonic” from singer Koda Kumi for 262 yen ($2.26) from the mobile music store Chaku Uta, and made it my ringtone.
Vodafone allows subscribers to use a national electronic cash network called Edy. Edy reader next in a café to buy coffee and a pastry. It automatically deducted money from my account. Thousands of stores, vending machines, train stations and taxicabs accept e-money in Japan—and the mobile carriers will soon add a credit-card function, so you can buy now, pay later and leave your wallet at home.
Unlike a majority of new Japanese phones, Vodafone’s 905SH doesn’t have a GPS chip or mapping software to help users negotiate the baffling geography of Japan’s cities. I nevertheless got to try out that feature while utterly lost one day in Tokyo’s Ikebukuro entertainment district. As we set out for dinner, our friend Patrick whistled up the “ez navi” GPS software on his AU phone and tapped in the coordinates of the restaurant where we had reservations. Holding up the phone like a "Star Trek" tricorder, we walked past the incomprehensible street signs, following the blinking green line on the screen to our destination. Captain Kirk would be proud.