Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Mobile Perspectives

Japan is renowned for its novelty phone covers!  
Opinions are based on experience and perspective. Often statistics about mobility are rolled up and based on a particular geography or demographic. Getting some perspective from a variety of geographies can be a breath of fresh air and allows alternative ideas to be considered. They say travel broadens your horizons, so on recent trips to Japan and Thailand I couldn't help but have a little look at mobile and see if I could learn a few things. 

As soon as you land in Japan turn on your phone and you are met with a plethora of available wireless connection options. While this is nothing unusual for an international airport, what is unusual is that you can get great wireless coverage over most of Tokyo and for that matter Japan. This is greatly different to many other cities and countries. With its dense population it makes a lot of sense to offer this service and it sure makes life easy for tourists! The leading Japanese Telco NTT DoCoMo is partially government owned and therefore reminds me somewhat of Australia’s own Telstra. Likewise the ubiquitous use of mobile phones is common across Japan, Australia, and Thailand. While Japan is famous for its mobile phone culture and holds many firsts in terms of technology surprisingly Japan’s mobile phone penetration is somewhat lower than that of Australia and Thailand (thanks Wikipedia). Not that you notice much difference if anything the greater populations mean you see more phones along with more people, and to be clear, all 3 countries have more phone subscriptions than people. 

In Japan you do notice a lot of different phone models and manufacturers than I have seen in other countries. Having previously worked for a Japanese hardware manufacturer I was familiar with some of these alternative handsets. In the Japanese market for example you will see handsets designed for the elderly. In contrast I predominantly saw Apple and Samsung devices in both Australia and Thailand. Over the years of visiting Thailand I have seen a trend that seems to follow more closely to the US. Not that long ago Blackberries and BBM was all the rage, now it’s Line and Instagram. 

Japan is a very mature mobile phone market, I first visited Japan in around 2001 and can recall sitting in hotel lobby jealously watching people surf the net from their phones. Japan of course has a beautiful somewhat unique culture. Even phone usage has its own term “keitai”. You notice that phone etiquette in Japan is much more mature than in the West. For example people are very conscious of talking on phones on public transport. In contrast while in Thailand I was in a car doing 150km/hour while the driver talked on his handset. 

Along with phones mobile gaming is huge in Japan, much more so than in the West where gaming tends to be dominated by consoles or PCs. Therefore when you are out and about you see a lot more mobile computing devices or game consoles than you would do in the West. Shopping for phones and accessories is quite different across Japan, Australia, and Thailand. In many ways Australian shopping is like a somewhat smaller version of Thailand’s. Both Australia and Thailand have large shopping malls and each mall will have a collection of shops belonging to Telco’s and handset manufacturers. In Bangkok it seems each mall may have an entire floor devoted to mobile. Here you will see all the manufacturers with their own shops often side by side along with an abundant sea of smaller independent accessory and repair shops. Bangkok also has famous phone shopping locations such as MBK or China Town where you can literally get any kind of handset, cover, accessory, or repair work. In contrast Tokyo’s greatest shopping is outside of the malls and different parts of the city are renowned for different items, Akihabara being most famous for electronics. 

In Bangkok each mall seems to have a mobile phone floor with each manufacturer and Telco represented.  
For many years Japan led the way when it came to mobile payments, wallets and the like. Japan’s love of gadgets, vending machines, and automation drove much continuous innovation. The use of mobile technology for payments has grown somewhat recently in Australia with Banks now allowing phones to replace cards in many instances. In Thailand the amount of services offered by Telco companies was more mature than we have here in Australia. For example walk into a True shop in Thailand and you will see banking style services in full swing. 
Shopping in China town you can get any kind of mobile phone accessory, cable, repair job, phone cover, you name it they have it or will make you one. 

If you get the opportunity when traveling to have a quick look at the mobile industry and compare it to your home country we would love to hear from you. Sharing ideas within the community makes us all grow collectively.