Saturday, January 30, 2010

Workaround for emoji on Docomo android phones

I recently receive a question from a reader about getting emoji(絵文字)working on android in Japan.  Here is the only way I know how to make it work: use Docomo's service.  The service costs 210 yen per month and allows you to have a email address.  Currently, there is a 30-day free trial available.

While Gmail does support emoji from a PC (enable extra emoji in labs to get a full set of Japanese emoji based on AU's emoji), it is not available on the HT-03a, either through the native application, the mobile Gmail site, or the PC version of the Gmail site when viewed from the HT-03a. (More on emoji and Gmail in a future post - I've noticed that, in certain circumstances, emoji can be displayed on the HT-03a but not sent)

While Docomo provides a mobile application for Windows Mobile smart phones, is designed to be accessed from the browser of android handsets.  However, several developers have put together android apps to send mail.  Two popular ones are IMoNi (芋煮, boiled potatoes or "IMOdeNotIfier")and emoji-roid (絵文字ロイド, I'll resist the urge to make butt jokes).

Though I have not tried out, I believe an alternate IME is needed to input emoji.  There are two that I know of that provide this option.  One is Simeji, which relies on ImoNi to input emoji, and the other is OpenWnn, which its own dedicated emoji input menu. (More on the IMEs in a future post.  Simeji is actually based on OpenWnn now.  Here is a link to the latest developer version.)

Sounds great, huh?

Two things that people frequently complain about with Docomo's android phone is 1) no address and 2) no emoji can be fixed.

Sound too good to be true?

Well, it is, sort of. is not pushed to the phone, so you have to manually check for mail - or use one of the above apps which will periodically check for mail - so while it is a solution for emoji, by using this as your primary mail, you will not instantly receive mail.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Docomo announces April launch of Sony Ericsson Xperia X10

On January 20, a Docomo employee told us (among other things) that the Android-powered Xperia is coming in March.  Turns out it is coming, but in April, according to a January 21 press release.
NTT DOCOMO, INC. today unveiled its docomo Smartphone Xperia™, manufactured by Sony Ericsson Mobile Communications and known as the Xperia™ X10 in markets outside Japan, which is scheduled to go on sale in Japan this April.
The press release touts several features, including what sounds to be a much improved IME, as well as several other features, such as "Timescape" contact organization and facial recognition.

Detailed specifications are listed here (pdf).  It will have 1 GB of ROM, which is significantly more than the current HTC Android phones, but much less than the iPhone, support a 16 GB microSDHC card, and have a proper 3.5 mm audio jack.  The OS is currently listed as being Android 1.6 "Donut," but I believe it will ship with 2.0.  At least that is what I have been told.  In fact, the PDF indicates that the specification are subject to change.

It also sounds like Docomo is getting serious about smart phone users.

Coinciding with the docomo Smartphone Xperia™ launch, "docomo market" will start up as a new mobile web portal for smartphone users. The portal will introduce recommended content and applications, including original offerings from DOCOMO, to help smartphone users in Japan discover new mobile experiences.
Thanks to reader chyro for providing the link to the press release.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Docomo to push Android 2.0 update to HT-03a users, allow IMEI registration

UPDATE3: If anyone is still looking into this post for info on Docomo allowing IMEI registration, it obviously didn't happen and was likely related to the, at the time upcoming, gov't. discussion on mandating SIM unlocking. Better information can be found with the unlock label.

UPDATE2: see my most recent comment.
UPDATE: regarding IMEI registration, this post has some additional information.

Good things are coming from Docomo, according to some random shop employee.  Last night I had some business to take care of at a Docomo shop, and over the course of the visit, I got the impression that the guy behind the counter actually seemed to know what he was talking about.  So I started asking questions:

The Questions

  • When is the Sony Ericsson Xperia going to be available?
  • Will HT-03a users get Android 2.1 as an OTA update?
  • Is it true that non-Docomo phones (that don't have an IMEI registered with Docomo) cannot connect to the the biz-hodai (flat rate data) APN due to IMEI filtering?
The Answers

SE Xperia

March April, though it is still not currently listed as one of the upcoming phones, a press release (Thanks chyro!) announced the Xperia the same day I originally posted this.  It seems the delay is related to updating the UI to work with Android 2.0, as opposed to 1.6, which was the version originally slated for this phone.

Android 2.x on HT-03a

NO, HT-03a users will not get 2.1.  The next update will be 2.0 and it is scheduled to be pushed over the air in February.  It seems the reason to go with 2.0 is that the Xperia will also be running 2.0 (with a flashy GUI on top).

IMEI filtering/registration

NO COMMENT on filtering.
NO, Docomo will not register IMEIs now.
BUT, beginning in February or March of this year Docomo will begin allowing IMEI registration of unlocked, non-Docomo phones.  The employee said there was just a meeting where he was told about the coming change in IMEI registration policy.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

How to cancel Yahoo BB

This post will be long and customarily rambling, so I added an overview.

Don't be evil

This is Google's famous corporate policy, though be it much maligned and misinterpreted.  As Google becomes more powerful in terms of the sheer amount of data it has collected, this phrase is often discussed in tech circles, especially now that Google has all but committed itself (if they follow through on their threat) to leaving the Chinese market.  I am not going to get into a discussion of what Google's motives are, but want to point out a prime example of when a "good" company goes "evil."

Obviously, the use of the words "good" and "evil" is over simplified and subjective, and I am not so stupid as to think that the purpose of conducting corporate business is anything other than generating share-holder revenue.  However, I am so naive to think that the amount of acceptable "evil" conducted by a corporation in the pursuit or revenue should not be dictated by methodical calculation of risk and benefits but rather from a higher moral/ethical point of view.  Yeah, I am that naive.

Good company gone bad: Yahoo Japan (aka Softbank)

Why did I consider Yahoo Japan to have been a "good" company?  Without checking wikipedia, I recall Yahoo BB internet and phone service hitting the market around 2000, give or take a year.  At the time, NTT's prices for land-line phone calls were ridiculously expensive.  Yahoo came storming in, offered a reasonable price, and quickly grew a large customer base.  Though I wasn't a customer at the time, I thought this was excellent.

Consumers finally had a choice for local phone service, even though NTT still owns the lines and must be paid for said lines, the end result was a less expensive option.  Of course Yahoo Japan was not in the public service business.  Mr. Son saw an opportunity to make money and took full advantage of it.  The result was both good for the consumer and for Yahoo Japan's bottom line.  In the same fashion, years later, Vonage literally forced US telco's to drop their prices, and even if Vonage finally foundered and failed tomorrow, it would be long remember for this contribution to US consumers.  Likewise, credit must be given to Yahoo Japan for accomplishing a similar feat in Japan.  (Yes, I give credit where credit is due.)

Fast forward to 2008: Softbank informs customers of it's new "evil" cancellation policy.

Yahoo BB is the only ISP in Japan that I am aware of that does not allow one to simply call and cancel their contract.  Even once the cancellation process is complete, Yahoo BB is the only ISP in Japan that I know of that will charge you for the full rest of the month.  For example, if one calls Yahoo BB on the 15th of the month and requests service to be immediately disconnected, charges will be incurred for the rest of the month.  To make matters more interesting, if the cancellation procedure is not completed by the end of the month, the customer will be charged for the full next month.

Yes, it is entirely possible to pay for an extra 1.5 months of unused Yahoo BB service after requesting cancelation.  I consider this "Evil."

How to Cancel Yahoo BB service

  1. Do your research by searching the web first (unlike me).  Here is a completely correct set of instructions in English.
  2. Call Yahoo BB and ask to cancel.
  3. Yahoo BB will send you a cancelation form that must be filled-in and sent back
  4. Service will be billed in monthly increments until this is received by the Softbank BB cancellation center.
Why Softbank's cancellation policy is evil.

  • It is not made explicitly clear at the time of cancellation that you will continue to be billed until you send in this form.
  • If you have already moved, Softbank (for reasons they refuse to explain) cannot send this form to your new address, even though they have it on file.  They will only send it to your old address.
  • In some cases Softbank may not promptly send the form.
  • Time is required for the post office to forward this to you.
  • By the time you get the form and send it back, it is entirely possible that Softbank will receive it on or after the first of the next month and will charge an additional month. (X月分のご利用料金までご請求させていただきます。)
  • This policy is entirely designed to squeeze one last month or more of service fees from as many canceling customers as possible in order to increase revenue with little calculated risk of alienating customers because said customers were canceling service anyway.
Why Softbank's cancellation policy in not illegal

No bullet points needed.  Simply put, this cancellation policy is written in the initial contract.  The customer agreed to the contract and is bound by its terms.  I am not a lawyer and do not know if in places like the EU or the US, terms such as these are allowed or not.

How not to pay for an extra month of service

In my case, by the time I received the cancellation form (over half a month after I requested cancellation), there was not time to get the form back prior to the first of the next month.  As such, I would not only be charged for over half a month of unused service, but of a whole extra month, DUE TO NO FAULT OF MY OWN.  Yes, it was my fault for not knowing the terms of cancellation of my contract, but even being ignorant of these terms, I requested cancelation well before the end of the month.  I would go so far as to say Yahoo BB was negligent for not delivering the required forms in a timely fashion.  Wait a minute, I actually did say that.  But I get ahead of myself.
  1. Call Yahoo BB and explain the situation.
  2. Point out that you were duly diligent in timely requesting cancellation.
  3. Point out that Softbank was negligent in not timely providing the forms required by contract.
  4. Politely refuse to pay for the extra month of charges that were incurred due to no fault of your own.
  5. Be persistent.
  6. Ask to speak to a manager.
  7. When not given to a manager, less politely refuse to pay.
In the end, after two phone calls, I succeeded in having my cancellation processed by phone and not having an extra month of unused service added to my last bill.
I conducted these conversations in Japanese.  If you speak proper Japanese - I mean teinei and keigo - call in Japanese.  Be polite.  This is Japan, after all.  But if you run into trouble, continue the conversation in polite Japanese, but let your non-Japanese mentality rear its gaijin head.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Possibly possible to SIM unlock HT-03a running Docomo's 1.6 firmware

The regular IMEI-generated lock codes worked to unlock HT-03a handsets running Android v. 1.5, but no longer work for v. 1.6.  The OTA update pushed by Docomo also relocked unlocked handsets.

Via The Blog That May Suddenly Disappear, we found a company that claims to be able to unlock Docomo's 1.6 firmware... for about $100US! (¥10,000, actually)  It takes three days.  If you are running 1.5, they'll unlock it for ¥8,000 and then upgrade it 1.6.

At least that is what we think they are saying.  Or maybe you'll still need to pay ¥10,000, since it seems they would have to first upgrade to 1.6 and then unlock.  My guess is that they will not flash the Docomo 1.6 ROM onto it, but some more standard ROM.

Actually, now that I think about it, that is probably what they are doing to get 1.6 unlocked in the first place...

Anyways, the site is an awesome retro, circa 1995 thing that I am surprised doesn't make use of the (thankfully) deprecated <BLINK> and <MARQUEE> tags (which we resisted the urge to use here), though it does have some blinky flashy animated gifs.  They also provide a machine translation "hear."

Use these guys at your own risk!!