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Last Updated: Saturday, 6 September, 2003, 08:15 GMT 09:15 UK
Japan signals mobile future
Japan leads the way in mobile phone innovation, as BBC ClickOnline's Richard Taylor reports from Tokyo, one of the most connected cities in the world.

3G phone in Japan
3G mobiles have become a reality in metropolitan Tokyo
If you want to gaze into the crystal ball for mobile technology, Tokyo is most definitely the place to come to.

In this city it seems like everyone is constantly on the move and a mobile phone has become an indispensable tool of everyday life.

It might help explain why most Tokyoites appear to be surgically attached to their mobiles.

The mobile culture is so deeply entrenched here that there are even charging stations where you can breathe life into a dying mobile phone battery.

This obsession may also help explain why Japan is at the leading edge of mobile developments.

Five years ago, while the rest of us were still struggling with voice calls, the Japanese were streaming ahead with data services like iMode.

Constant evolution

One of the first ever data services, iMode was developed by NTT DoCoMo, an enterprise which has become synonymous with innovation.

For the first time, phones could be used to do everything from checking the weather to playing video clips.

Matthew Nicholson of Japanese mobile firm Jphone
The camera phone phenomenon that we see in Japan right now will be repeated throughout the world
Matthew Nicholson, Jphone
It proved wildly popular, and fuelled the drive towards the third generation of mobile services.

It is approaching two years since 3G became a reality in metropolitan Tokyo, and though take up has been modest all the networks now offer the hi-speed service to virtually the entire population.

"Of course we're hoping to be successful with our 3G offering," said Takumi Suzuki of NTT DoCoMo.

"Looking into the future we see ourselves developing richer and faster mobile communication tools to give mobile phones users a more pleasurable experience."

Even today the network operators are finding different ways of working the benefits of 3G into people's lives, such as video conferencing between a mobile caller and a laptop user.

With the high-speed networks delivering ever more services, the types of devices are constantly evolving.

At first, 3G phones were clunky and ran out of juice quickly. Today they are slimmer, lighter and sport respectable battery life.

Smile for the mobile

Cashing in on the Japanese passion for capturing that special moment, camera phones are now the order of the day.

Japanese holding up cameras and mobiles
Camera phones already popular in Japan
The quality has improved to such a degree that here you can take your photo and then go to a booth and get a reasonable quality print.

Camera phones are just beginning to make inroads elsewhere in the world, and industry insiders expect the trickle to become an explosion.

"The camera phone phenomenon that we see in Japan right now will be repeated throughout the world," said Matthew Nicholson of Japanese mobile firm Jphone.

"Just to give you an example, our parent company introduced a service called Vodafone Live, which has the picture messaging function, and they've already reached 1.5 million users within their operating countries.

"Sending and sharing pictures is a universal human trait so just making it easy for people to send pictures, and having handsets that take good pictures, that's really the key. We're only going to see that trend accelerate in the future."

Besides camera phones, development is continuing on other fronts. Games are becoming more sophisticated.

And if you are not tempted by any of those then, for the fashion-conscious there is the Wristomo.

The ultimate in street cool, this wristwatch phone is straight out of James Bond. It has e-mail, internet and synchronisation with your PC.

They sold out within hours when they were launched in Japan in July.




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