February 2007


[Digital Nations in the making: Update Page 11 – Mobile phones]

It’s interesting to see that last week’s cover story in the Economist (17 Feb), “The end of the cash era” has a follow-up to my last blog posting on the use of mobile phones in Japan. I noted there how the keitai is being used widely as a ‘cash wallet’ to buy tickets, coffee and much else.

The Economist briefing report on The future of money (Pages 75-78) has an excellent survey on what’s happening with smart cards and and how the Japanese ‘bitWallet’ Edy system – owned by Sony and DoCoMo (the country’s biggest mobile operator) – has already been migrated to over 4.5 million mobile phones for making payments.

Based on “near-field communication” (NFC) technology [See video below], the inserted chip allows paperless transactions to be completed at 43,000 stores – all in under a second by a swipe of the handset. No more wating then in the till queue for your fruit bar or quick fix snack!

Studies by Visa in the US have shown that Americans generally are two times as likely to carry a mobile as cash  and four times as likely if they’re aged 18-24. So in the technology convergence stakes, the coming of e-cash could put mobiles still higher up the list of devices available  in everyone’s pocket, handbag or briefcase.

Isn’t it time we put some more effort into thinking just how best we could use them for attracting and supporting adults back into learning?

[Digital Nations in the making: Update Pages 11 and 32 – Mobile phones; Pages 83, 92 – GIS]
 I’m just recently back from two weeks in Japan visiting Hokkaido in the north and Kyoto. The second largest economy in the world, it’s a fascinating country combining a willingness to embrace and shape the future with a strong sense of tradition and reverence for old ways.

I travelled out when the news stories about Apple’s iPhone and its touch screen features were at their height so it was a good opportunity to catch up on developments and the use of mobile phones over there. The Japanese have a strong record for innovation with mobile technology and were the first to introduce camera phones in 2000 and to upgrade to third generation (3G) broadband networks to allow widespread downloading of music and video.

By the end of last month the Japan Times (February 8th) reported that over 100 million people (78% of the population) owned a handset or keitai, as they are called. According to the Philadelphia News (21 January 2007) Japan is “far ahead in reinventing use of cell phones.”

As you would expect there’s plenty of use for texting, snapping photos and web browsing, but keitai are also a tool or ‘second self’ for watching TV, accessing trains, storing data, updating blogs, downloading games and paying for cinema tickets, books, coffees etc.

For the sheer variety of sizes, shapes and features of Japanese phones take a quick look at this recent video from mutant’s musings (3 January 2007) of available phones and for comparison with the iPhone’s features see comments from Japanese on the street in this short CNN video.

The Wikipedia entry lists 27 additional features now on many keitai including a pedometer, MP3 player and ‘read aloud’ system – 10 more than I listed 12 months ago when doing a final draft of Digital Nations in the making! Despite some very attractive features the iPhone simply doesn’t compete for versatility.

A couple of news items caught my eye. The first was the announcement (Japan Times January 11th) by KDDI Corporation, Japan’s second largest mobile operator that it was launching a new child’s handset which would allow parents to track their children’s location and movements every five minutes.

This uses GPS (Global Positioning System) satellite based technology and is already being copied by the country’s two other main operators DoCoMo and Softbank. It’s an example of the use of GIS (Geographical Information Systems) that I wrote about in Digital Nations in the making and is getting mainstreamed now because there is apparently a likely income stream from anxious parents.

The other development was a fascinating story, Big Books hit Japan’s Tiny Phones of how mobiles are being used to write novels by mostly high school girls with no previous experience of writing. The first mobile phone novel was written six years ago and the trend has accelerated recently with writers posting to very popular community sites, like Magic iLand. The novels, 200 – 500 pages in length, can be downloaded by readers to their mobiles for about $10 each .

Young people in Japan have taken to new technology perhaps more quickly than they have elsewhere. Could they be setting trends in the use of mobiles for the two young girls in Manchester in the photo below, who are already proficient in using digital cameras?  Do mobile novels have any potential for adult education in the UK, with for instance tutors with Skills for Life and ESOL learners exploring their use for publishing short stories?

Young girls in Manchester taking digital photos at a wedding reception.