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Page last updated at 17:34 GMT, Friday, 23 October 2009 18:34 UK

Japan is 'Galapagos of mobile industry'

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Richard Taylor discovers some of the more unusual mobile phones available

Richard Taylor
By Richard Taylor
Editor, BBC Click

If you ever doubted the mobile phone was reshaping the world, well... where have you been all this time?

The "Keitei" as it is known is not merely an accessory here - it has become the must-have personal companion for almost every Japanese adult.

"Japan is considered the Galapagos of the mobile industry," says Kei Shimada, CEO and founder of Infinita.

"We've evolved heavily on our own, we've put certain features and functions which would probably only work in Japan."

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That means phenomena you just wouldn't see elsewhere - like commuters heads down reading Japanese novels and manga on a three-inch screen.

And the e-wallet smartcard - allowing the purchase of goods by just touching it against a sensor - is now standard issue on virtually all handsets and soon GPS will be too.

So if you are in the market for a mobile, how on earth do you differentiate one from another, when there is a kaleidoscopic array on offer?

One way is to choose a defining feature.

Phones' features vary from integrated e-books, high definition video cameras, and phones that can live stream TV from eight terrestrial channels.

Satisfying demands

And as you would expect, all of these innovations are backed up by blisteringly fast mobile networks.

In Tokyo, the Emobile network has just launched HSPA+ which offers a staggering 21 megabits per second (mbps) download speed.

If 21 mbps sounds too good to be true, you would be right.

In practice you might get 16 or 17 mbps, and that is if you are right next to the network base station, there are no more than three people using the network, and the wind is blowing in the right direction.

In more normal circumstances you might achieve three or four mbps.

But still, with the ability to stream high definition internet video, that should be enough to satisfy all but the most demanding of internet gluttons.

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"Sure, videos are one area where high-speed internet connections would enhance the user experience," says Kei Shimada.

"But moreover if you have a high-speed internet connection you would be able to upload your content and information to the cloud and not have to have big hard drives or solid state storage on the handset itself."

In Japan, it is easy to see a truly interactive mobile future - one where you are able to use your phone to automate domestic tasks and make sure they are being done by using your handset to control a roving webcam.

Indeed, the line between home and mobile communications will start to disappear altogether.

Your TV would recognise your mobile as soon as you are in the same room.

Because your preferences are stored online, it can tailor the content too. You pick up on what you were watching on the way home or it intelligently suggests something for you to watch.

Today, these are just conceptual scenarios but you can bet that it won't be long before they are reality.



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