(Nikkei BP Group)
(No.1 High-Tech News Site in Japanese)
| Mobile Gear Focuses on Communications More Than Multifunctions
January 18, 1999 (TOKYO) -- Easy-to-use electronic mail functions have
become the focal point for expanding the market for mobile communications
devices in Japan.
|Led by NTT Mobile Communications Network Inc.'s (NTT DoCoMo's) "Pocket
Board," mobile information terminals have debuted in rapid succession.
To date, however, Windows CE-based terminals and mobile phones with
email capabilities have focused on multifunctionality. But now they
are competing based on the ease-of-use of email functions.
The attractive point of the mobile information terminals is to enable
users to communicate whenever they want. This point is expected to draw
non-PC fans into the Internet world.
Sales of Email Terminals Brisk
NTT DoCoMo's Pocket Board is a best-seller (Photo 1). It was released
in December 1997, and since the spring of 1998, sales have increased
rapidly. About 80,000 units were shipped from April through September.
Photo 1: NTT DoCoMo's
The company has been shipping more than 10 kinds of mobile information
terminals. The Pocket Board reportedly comprises more than a half of
the total shipments.
The Pocket Board is designed with easy-to-use email functions. It sells
at a low price of 12,800 yen (US$115), which boosted its popularity
in the market.
Many of mobile information terminals are equipped with a Web browser
and/or a color screen, and as a result, are priced high and are complicated
to operate. By contrast, NTT DoCoMo has developed an easy-to-use communications
terminal and succeeded in attracting users.
The Pocket Board cannot perform direct dial-up connections to the Internet,
but can send and receive Internet mail if the "10-yen mail (about 9
cents)" service is used. The "10 yen mail" service enables the users
to send and receive one Internet mail message with data equivalent to
about 1,000 Japanese characters for only 10 yen.
It also allows communications with users of "Short Mail," a text communication
service provided for mobile telephones, and with pager users. In September
of last year the "Paldio E-Board," a version provided for personal handyphone
systems (PHS), debuted.
Encouraged by the success of the Pocket Board, Sharp Corp. launched an
email terminal dubbed "Communication Pal MT-200" in December 1998 to
pursue NTT DoCoMo's market entry (Photo 2).
Photo 2: Sharp's Communication
It incorporates not only a mobile telephone interface and cable, but
also various functions inherited from the "Zaurus" series, Sharp's PDA
line, including a Web browser and schedule management. Sharp aims to
create demand for replacements among users who are not satisfied with
the Pocket Board, which can only do email.
The MT-200 can be used for direct dial-up connection to the Internet
and send/receive of attached files such as images. It does not have
a handwritten character recognition feature, but is equipped with a
pen-input feature. It is also capable of attaching hand-drawn illustrations
to email and sending faxes.
Mail Features Also Appear in CE Terminals
If the Pocket Board is defined as an email terminal for private use,
the "Mobile Gear II MC-R510" from NEC Corp. could be positioned as a
more business-oriented communications terminal.
It is a Windows CE terminal based on the "Handheld PC" (H/PC) specifications
proposed by Microsoft Corp.
The H/PC was originally designed as a PC companion to access data transferred
from a PC at a site outside the office. But NEC made it also function
as a standalone email tool. Adding a function to connect to a PC and
internal LAN, NEC has clearly defined it as a communications terminal.
The "PERSONA HPW-230JC," a Windows CE terminal released by Hitachi Ltd.
in November last year, is also a model designed with enhanced email
and other features. The biggest difference from the Mobile Gear II is
the communication interface.
The Mobile Gear II incorporates a built-in interface for digital mobile
telephones available for both 9,600bps line switching and 28kpbs packet
switching. The PERSONA embeds an interface for a 9,600bps digital mobile
telephone and an interface for a 32kbps PHS.
Zaurus to Get Stronger Communication Functions
Compact-sized terminals with pen input such as Sharp's Zaurus are switching
from personal information management (PIM) applications to a focus on
So far, 1.5 million units of the Zaurus series have been shipped. The
"Zaurus Color Pocket MI-310," the latest model of the series, incorporates
a built-in telephone line modem and a "CompactFlash Type II" slot (Photo
Photo 3: Sharp's Zaurus
This model has a PC card slot into
which the PC
cards of a PHS can be directly inserted.
The menu panel has been redesigned to enable users to select email send/receive
buttons immediately upon turning the power on.
Lotus Development Japan Ltd. already released software to exchange contents
between its "Notes Domino" groupware and Zaurus. Thus, the Zaurus has
been targeted as a business communications terminal. It is possible
to access attached files created in mainstream business software including
Word, Excel and Ichitaro on the Zaurus screen.
Mobile Phones with Email Capabilities Become Compact
In the field of mobile phones with email capabilities, products with
multifunction features and shaped like the Zaurus were originally in
the mainstream. But, recently functions have been narrowed down to email
capabilities, and as a result, lightweight and easy-to-use products
have come onto the market.
For example, the "MOEM-D" from NTT DoCoMo is a phone enclosed in a 175-gram
compact body with a liquid-crystal display (LCD) screen to display 180
characters (Photo 4). It is distinguished by the "Mail One Shot" key,
which serves to simplify operations. Simply pressing this key enables
the users to operate line connection, mail receipt and line disconnection
functions at one stroke.
Photo 4: NTT DoCoMo's
If mails are written and saved in advance, they can be sent automatically.
The product can automatically send and receive mails at a fixed time
every day. It also has a function to dial a telephone number written
in a received mail text if a user points to the telephone number with
Thus, mobile information terminals are evolving into communication-oriented
gear, and they are attracting users who have no previous interest in
a PC or the Internet.
By targeting such users, online services such as flight reservation systems
are expected to appear in rapid succession in the future. Also, it is
possibile the spread of communications terminals will trigger Net business
in the future.
Related story: Corporate Mobile Gear Mart to Rise 90 Pct in Japan
(Jun Honma, Staff Editor, Nikkei
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