iPhone’s disappointing lack of effect on keitai UX

Softbank and DoCoMo have released their summer lineup of mobile phones, one year after the initial release of the iPhone. I was truly optimistic. When the iPhone hit Japan last year I was excited at the prospect of a shakeup for Japanese mobile handset makers. I hoped they would be forced to abandon their horrid nested-interfaces and cookie-cutter handset designs, and truly begin to innovate. I was confident in the Japanese ability for kaizen.

Alas, disappointment. It looks like the manufacturers have continued their tired annual practice of simply stuffing their handsets with even more features rather than working on making the current plethora of features easier to access and use. I haven’t played with the new lineup myself but @nobi, who was at both press conferences, agrees that the keitai UI paradigm needs a rethink.

Granted, some of the features this time around seem pretty desirable: a 10MP CCD digital camera; solar panels for recharging; and waterproofing. 1 But it looks like it is up to DoCoMo’s new Android phone to challenge the iPhone in Japan.

Perhaps the comparison between the iPhone and “regular” keitai is not exactly fair. Keitai handsets compete by packing tons of hardware features (eg. digital cameras and 1seg televisions, electronic transit passes and wallets using IC chips, etc) into a tiny package.2 The iPhone on the otherhand competes on the basis of its user-experience and its AppStore with 35,000 apps. Many Japanese view their keitai simply as a phone that increasingly replaces numerous other personal consumer technology including their computer. The iPhone on the other hand is an extension of the computer. It must be the only mobile phone in Japan that requires a home computer to be operated. We may be comparing (ahem) apples and oranges, software and hardware.

Of course, this may all change upon the release of iPhone OS 3.0 which will allow hardware attachments. Imagine a Suica or eWallet attachment for your iPhone. In the meantime, I will be curious to see if the Android phone takes off outside of the otaku set, something I find to be highly unlikely, if for the simple fact that it has failed to do so in other countries.

  1. Something all personal electronics should have IMHO.
  2. Whether people actually use these features or not is beside the point.
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