Friday, January 12, 2007

I pod therefore I am

Bruce Wallace of the LA Times takes a few moments to smack the provincials upside the head.

In Japan, barely a ripple
Los Angeles Times

TOKYO — Tomoaki Kurita presides over racks of cellphones lined up outside his shop on a busy sidewalk in Harajuku, Tokyo's catwalk of youth street culture where people attracted by the riot of phone options can stop to flip open and fondle the latest models of what the Japanese call keitai.

From behind his busy counter, Kurita giggles when asked about the excitement in America over the arrival of Apple's iPhone, which can also be used to download music and surf the Internet.

"Sounds like business as usual," he says.

On the day when stock markets swooned and techies buzzed over Apple Inc. Chief Executive Steve Jobs' long-awaited entry into the mobile-phone market, Japanese consumers could be excused for wondering: Why the fuss?

Yes, the iPhone seemed to reaffirm Apple's ability to wow with design. Its finger-driven navigation might bring a new level of sophistication to the way cellphones operate. But many Japanese had a harder time buying Jobs' line about "reinventing" the phone.

"Every once in a while, a revolutionary product comes along that changes everything," Jobs said as he unveiled the iPhone on Tuesday at the Macworld Conference & Expo in San Francisco.

But the revolution is already well underway in Japan, where cellphones are used for everything. Besides downloading music and surfing the Net, Japanese use their cellphones to navigate their way home by global positioning system, to buy movie tickets and to update personal blogs from wherever they are.

They have been a natural extension of daily life here for the last few years, spurred by Japan's decision to be the first country to upgrade to third-generation mobile-phone networks, or 3G, which increase broadband capabilities and allow for better transmission of voice and data.

Apple's iPhone, by comparison, will operate on a second-generation network...

Why is the story of Asia's huge advantage in terms of personal communications technology not more of a story? Why aren't the great minds poring over it night and day as they declare the Japanese model dead? And why don't Japanese commentators draw more conclusions about the importance of deregulation AND unified government development goals for the fast expansion of a new technology?

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