Cell phones in Japan

One of the things that's always interesting about visiting Japan is looking at all of their cell phones. I've seen some great things here on this visit.

One was a very cool phone that flips open on the long side, something like a Nintendo DS - and in a piece of cool mechanical engineering, it can flip open on the orthogonal edge, just like a conventional flip phone. It has a lovely hardware implementation of OpenGL/ES and does truly impressive 3D graphics. Fluid frame rates, great modeling and texturing, ... a great handheld game machine. The games I played were great - and Java! Distributed multiplayer gaming - challenge your friend to a road race while you're both commuting on the train - and on different trains.

One of the games was a bowling game that you play roughly the same way that you'd use a Nintendo WII: you hold the phone as though it's a bowling ball, and you go through the motions of throwing the ball. You use a button press to release the ball. When this happens, it does the physics. But the phone doesn't have accelerometers to measure how you move the phone. They used one of the most glorious hacks I've seen in years: images are captured by the camera as you swing it in your hand, which are then analysed and correlated and motion vectors are computed from the interframe deltas.

The most impressive thing I've seen is the use of cell phones for money. I see people all over Tokyo paying for everything from groceries in minimarts to airplane tickets by holding their phones up to cash registers. This is done by having a proximity stored-value smart-card chip embedded in the skin of the phone. These cryptographically secure chips can do transactions with point-of-sale terminals instantaneously, no matter how slow the network is, or even if it is down. It is very much like the stored-value smart-cards that have been used around the world for years. But having them embedded in the skin of a cell phone has some great advantages, stemming from the Java APIs that allow direct communication between the stored-value chip and the phone. This allows a variety of banking and commerce applications to be built. For example, to put more money into the stored-value chip, you don't have to go to a bank kiosk, you can do it directly over the network from the phone. You can also do Quicken-style check-writing and budgeting - directly from the phone. All Java apps. As a bonus, if you lose your phone (or it gets stolen) you can call up the phone company and (after a few security questions) they can lock the phone remotely and use the network's location-awareness capabilities to tell you roughly where the phone is. (Privacy freaks: explode now...).

Plus... You can use your cell phone to book airplane (and train) tickets, and use the cell phone itself as both the ticket and the boarding pass. Zero paper. To check in, you just swipe your phone on a reader as you're dashing to your seat. Very fast and secure.

[Update in response to flavin's comment about the design of JavaME: In fact, the situation is quite the opposite: the evolution of JavaME is heavily driven by the capabilities of international carriers and phone manufacturers. It's a huge frustration to American JavaME developers that they can read about all of these cool APIs (like OpenGL/ES), but the available systems don't support them]


In the US, I think only AT&T allows you to use its SIMM card on cell phones purchased in Japan. Anyone cares to differ? Thanks.

Posted by W. Wayne Liauh on November 07, 2007 at 07:57 AM PST #

i knew this, is really amazing

imagine if you, someone from US is surprised, imagine me from Chile, i feel like at least 20 year behind almost... they are really amazing

Posted by flavin on November 07, 2007 at 10:01 AM PST #

I've heard it mentioned a number of times by speakers here at the Tokyo Tech Days that Japanese cell phone technology is far more advanced than in the US.

Leaving the Tech Days venue yesterday I had the disturbing observation that everyone in Sun acknowledges that the technology is far more advanced here, yet we are reliant on Sun and J2ME for our mobile applications development.

Sun have the unenviable task of supporting J2ME across a wide range of devices with a range of capabilities. Given the lagging state of mobile technology in the United States and Europe I can't shake the feeling that our reliance on J2ME may start to hold us back here in Japan at some stage in the future.

Just a funny feeling I got from Tech Days.

I'm keen to know how Sun plans to cater for the thriving Japanese market and how much NetBeans support for Japanese devices we are likely to see in the future.

I am sold on the NetBeans IDE, but until there is a DOJA Plugin (for i-mode development) I'm afraid I'm stuck with eclipse.

Posted by Kobutapapa on November 07, 2007 at 10:32 AM PST #

You should check out the new w910i from SonyEricsson. It has OpenGL-ES AND an accelerometer, both accessible from Java ME (JSR239 and JSR 256). Really, really cool phone with loots of possibilities. Hope these features will make it into the mainstream phones...

Posted by Erik on November 07, 2007 at 04:13 PM PST #

Funny, I was just thinking of such things, yesterday. Especially with Google entering the market, this is going to be developer's focus for the future. I actually have an idea I want to implement which takes advantage of touch screens, since we'll see more and more of them in the years to come. I want to implement a biometric(fingerprint) identifier, so that when you make a transaction, YOU are your PIN, or at least your fingerprint is. This gets encrypted, sent over the wire/airwaves, confirmed by your CC's issuing bank, and authorized. Cuts down on fraud, and being able to store multiple cards on your phone(in encrypted format,of course, protecting you against theft or loss), will eliminate having to carry a stack of cards with you, and having to thumb through them to select a specific one. PhonePassTM or CellPassTM, as you like it. The cell gaming is heckuva intriguing, too. Would help you kill time, while you're shooting to work on Caltrans. :)

Till next time,
Rod of futurelight

Posted by rod sandcones on November 07, 2007 at 10:37 PM PST #

I dont know what you think of Android but please help align the Android and Java FX mobile efforts. I think that will help Sun a lot in terms of being able to share some of the costs of getting a consumer product out to market. I was with Sun during the picoJava/MAJC days and know how (understandably) hard it is for Sun to get their heads around designing and selling a compelling consumer product. I consult for carriers who have implemented BREW and I see the benefit of a complete ecosystem - the drawback being the lock-in and license costs. With an open source Java FX solution I think Sun has a chance to surpass what BREW offers in terms of platform capability minus the drawback of lock-in.

Posted by smathew on November 08, 2007 at 12:27 AM PST #

think Sun has a chance to surpass what BREW offers in terms of platform capability minus the drawback of lock-in.

Posted by oyun on November 08, 2007 at 05:35 AM PST #

Well I don't think it's a matter that Japan is more or less advanced
than US or Europe.
Actually the Java technology is an US technology created by Sun, and
other technologies that make that kind of phone interactions possible, and it
cames from many countries too.

What is the really strong point about all this is the ability of
Japanese people and the industry to try and implement that technologies in
the normal life. That's the point we, in western countries need to
learn. Don't think only about "how technologically advanced is Japan"
that's not the fact. Instead "What slow are we to implement a
technology we already have or even we created..."

Posted by Pietro Zuco on November 08, 2007 at 12:27 PM PST #

I've been in 東京 (Tokyo), Japan, past August for the first time. I'm studying Japanese and I'm also an information technology scientist... Japanese technology is \*great\* (かわいい, kawaii = cool)! I've seen live the robot ASIMO... cell phones you described and it seems that they always do R&D in actual products: it's easier and faster if you can apply new technologies to actual products: you can really test it!
I'll be back in Japan for more time (1 month maybe) next year for sure!

Posted by Marco Bresciani on November 09, 2007 at 05:47 AM PST #

(Not-so-)Wrong previous URL...

(\^_\^) <-- Japanese smily

Posted by Marco Bresciani on November 09, 2007 at 05:49 AM PST #

Gosh... I feel stupid... :-(

Posted by Marco Bresciani on November 09, 2007 at 05:50 AM PST #

So iphone is NOT cool at all and is actually very naive compared with a JavaME phone. You cannot even add a tiny application to it - how bad is that! Sadly, the many people are just easy to be cheated and hyped.

Posted by Jack Jia on November 10, 2007 at 03:48 PM PST #

Marco ...
かわいい, kawaii != cool

Kawaii means CUTE

Posted by Know more Jap on November 11, 2007 at 11:04 AM PST #

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