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(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

    Photo 1: NTT DoCoMo's Pocket Board

    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.

    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.

    Photo 2: Sharp's Communication Pal

    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).

    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 communications functions.

    Photo 3: Sharp's Zaurus Color Pocket
    This model has a PC card slot into
    which the PC cards of a PHS can be directly inserted.

    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 3).

    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.

    Photo 4: NTT DoCoMo's MOEM-D

    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.

    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 the cursor.

    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 Multimedia)

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    Updated: Fri Jan 15 15:41:47 1999 PDT