Lightweight mobiles in vogue in Japanese market
But will we see the like over here?
While the Japanese economy is still staggering towards an unsure future, enough new technology is on view in the 500 or so shops in the Akihabara market in downtown Tokyo to demonstrate that innovation is on a surer footing. A sort of a super Tottenham Court Road, each side of the 500 metre street is lined with electronics stores selling every kind of computer gizmo you can imagine, and even some you cannot. DVD is big in Japan and while the prices of these products remain high pre-Christmas, there is every sign that they will drop over the next nine months. There is a mixture of DVD products, from standalone, portable viewers to home appliances. Two personal systems caught our attention because of their futuristic look. When the Sony Walkman arrived in the West, the early adopters had to bear some criticism because people walking in the street with headphones looked kind of weird. DVD “personal theatres” as they are called, look weirder. A pair of futuristic specs are worn over the face, with earpieces hanging off the ends. Wear the spectacles and you have a stereo image of a screen on which you can watch your movies, complete with surround sound. However, while you might see people wearing these specs on the Tube, it’s doubtful you will see them on the street. Unlike the specs in Star Trek: The Next Generation, you can’t see anything but a movie once they’re on. Mobile phones are still big business in Japan. Thirty per cent of the population own a handset and the number is still on the increase. While sales of PHS (Personal Handyset) systems are showing signs of flatness at six million this year, cellular phone sales continue to rise to stand at a figure of 40 million in 1998. There are some neat designs around two. One Kyocera handset is light enough to float in water, while another will allow a rudimentary type of video conferencing. The PS-801, a PHS system, weighs 79 grams and measures 112 x 40 x 18 mm, while a cellular model, the PDC, weighs 69 grams and measures 125 x 40 x 19 mm. But whether we will see these designs ever materialise in Europe is doubtful. According to engineers at the company, our hands are too big for the buttons. The size reductions are due to the use of a lithium battery, more circuit integration, noise reduction, the use of a .7 mm glass multi-layer board and a three rather a five volt system. Power consumption is around 35 per cent less than conventional systems. One PDC handset, the DataScope for Docomo, is described as a data communications terminal on which you can receive and send electronic mail. It weighs around 190 grams and flips open to reveal a keyboard. A shield around the keyboard can be removed and the whole unit can then be inserted into a PCMCIA slot in a notebook PC. Another Kyocera model includes voice recognition software. The company says that its Visual Phone, which is currently only available in monochrome, will appear next year with a full colour display. Kyocera is a partner with Motorola on the Iridium project and claims that its handsets will be introduced on the 1st January next year. While the Iridium project has undergone some delays, we were able to test one of the Kyocera handsets and connect to London from Toba. The company will have two models and a pager available. The single mode Iridium handset will have 18-language support, talk time of aorund 100 minutes, a standby time of 24 hours and weighs 430 grams. The dual mode system will be introduced first with a GSM handset but PDC, CDMA and AMPs handsets will also be made, says Kyocera. The company claims that much more compact handsets will be available within 18 months. These units will be distributed through Kyocera Electronics UK, confirmed Phil Murphy, the general manager of the subsidiary. Back in Akihabara, it was noticeable that PC technology seems to be gaining the upper hand over consoles in the domestic market. Stores were selling a multitude of USB devices, while some of the latest 9.1 Gb drives were on show, with street prices of around £300. While the shops were selling many kinds of mini-disk systems, these were all heavily discounted, suggesting that sales were not as good as the manufacturers had hoped. On the other hand, what crowds there were flocked around miniaturised radios and TVs. One Sony system, weighing only a couple of ounces with batteries, provided stereo FM/AM reception complete with Mega Bass, a built in clock, and 90 minutes auto power off, all for around £30.