State Of The Market
Japan's mobile phone market has experienced a period of redefinition last year. The initiation of digital terrestrial TV broadcasting, operating via a satellite system called One-Seg, was completed in April 2006. Yet, in spite of a concerted marketing push to promote the concept of watching digital TV on one's phone as an alternative to Internet browsing and e-mail, simpler phones - such as Willcom's Nico II, which lacks a TV-viewing option and is even camera-less - have continued to prove successful alongside the new wave of One-Seg models. The Big Three providers in the Japanese market are Softbank (formerly Vodafone), KDDI's "au" service and NTT's "DoCoMo" property. Of these, KDDI is attracting the most new users, while NTT still has the majority of subscribers.
December saw the launch of KDDI's digital radio service, an initiative designed to provide digital audio content - both streaming and recorded - to "au" phones. KDDI is launching its MUSIC-HDD range of phones (which we review here) to complement this service. As of October 2006, Japan has a mobile phone customer base of 94 million (which translates to a population penetration rate of 73.8%). The battle being fought by Softbank, KDDI and NTT rests largely on the design of their respective technologies. Here we test four of the most popular cell phones in Japan.
Softbank 705SC (Samsung)
Although flip-open phones remain the most popular type of mobile device in Japan, slide-open models have come into fashion of late. Samsung's 705SC, at just 0.51" thin, is advertised by Softbank as "the world's slimmest sliding phone." Whether or not that is actually the case, the 705SC is certainly sleek. It holds a 2.0 megapixel camera, can read most Microsoft file formats, and - importantly - supports MicroSD memory cards.
MicroSD as a removable memory source for mobile phones is fast becoming the standard in Japan. 2 GB MicroSD cards retail in Japan for as little as $95, and phones such as the 705SC, which offer direct playback and folder storage of most audio formats and effectively renders standalone MP3 music players obsolete. With falling MicroSD prices in Western markets, the SD Card Association expects a global replication of its results in Japan.