Monday, March 29, 2010

Softbank announces HTC Desire (android) and doubled network capacity

Softbank made two big announcements yesterday. First (pdf), we now know which android phone is coming to softbank, the HTC Desire (X06HT). This phone is very similar to the Google Nexus One, which is also made by HTC. The largest difference are the lack of a trackball, the addition of the HTC Sense UI on top of the Android OS (version 2.1), and apparently both a CDMA and GSM radio. (See comment from Matthew.)

Softbank plans to offer the Desire from around the end of April. While I didn't see a price in the press release, according to cnet Japan, the phone will likely need to be priced at around ¥20,000 (presumably with subsidy and 2-year contract).

Next, Softbank announced (pdf) several steps to answer the many customer demands for an improved network.
  • Doubling the number of base stations by the end of fiscal 2010 to better reach areas with weak on no coverage.
  • Free home and business mini base stations, including any necessary hardware, for customers who cannot receive a usable cell signal. Application will be accepted from May 5, 2010. At the very least, an analog phone line is required for this service.
  • Free wifi routers for businesses considering providing access points for customers.
I am obviously not a fan of softbank, but I do give credit where it is due. Congratulations to softbank for listening to customer complaints about your network (I hear it can be quite bad for people in rural areas) and for doing something to increase the number of wifi access points in Japan, which are virtually nonexistent.

Regarding access points, a wifi router with a 3G WAN connection would be extremely simple for a cafe owner to setup, and, if the price is reasonable for the business, maybe we'll soon see more free wifi at coffee shops.  I do wonder how this will affect Yahoo BB access points, which are not free.

B-mobile SIM details emerge: capped sustained transfer

I was able to talk with someone who has knowledge of the upcoming b-mobile SIM U300 for cell phone data transfer. b-mobile will make a "best effort" to provide a 300 kbps data rate for burst transmissions, but any transfer that requires a sustained connection near the 300 kpbs limit will be throttled after a short amount of time, perhaps only a minute or two.

Activities such as browsing the web, sending an email, or using google maps should not impose any artificial cap on bandwidth. However, sustained use of a VOIP client or watching anything other than a very short clip on youtube will likely be impossible.

While this is disappointing, it is not surprising. b-mobile is an MVNO - that is they are buying bandwidth from Docomo and reselling it to their customers. In the comments section of the previous post on this topic, Gregconquest went into detail about potential pricing arrangements between Docomo and b-mobile for this and subsequent products.  Suffice it to say that without bandwidth limits, b-mobile would not make a profit.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Future SIM lock regulations may not apply to existing handsets

The Yumiuri Shimbun posted an article today indicating that the upcoming discussion about requiring unlocking of handsets is focusing only on the next generation of handsets, those to go on sale from the end of this year.  So this means that current owners of Japanese phones may not benefit from any regulation that may or may not be enacted.  残念。

Full text of the article pasted below.






(2010年3月28日  読売新聞)

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Communication Ministry to hold meeting considering SIM unlocking

Durf just gave a heads up on this (his translation):
On April 2 the government will hold a public hearing on the possibility of doing away with SIM-lock restrictions.
The meeting will be held at the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications in the Central Joint Government Building's special meeting room 1, building number 2, 8th floor from 6 pm and is open to cellular industry reps, handset makers, and consumer groups.

There was discussion both here and at xda-developers about an upcoming meeting to discuss exactly this, and the possibility was raised that Docomo was considering offering ala carte SIMs due to the possibly of a SIM unlocking mandate.

But this is the government.  As Durf mentioned, they'll probably just talk about it.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Sony Ericsson Xperia X10 to go on sale April 1

NTT Docomo announced that the Xperia will go on sale on April 1st, but the price was not announced.
NTTドコモは、ソニー・エリクソン・モバイルコミュニケーションズ株式会社製「Xperia™」の日本市場向け新モデル、ドコモ スマートフォン Xperia™を、2010年4月1日(木曜)より発売いたします。
The rest of the press release is just filler espousing all the wonderful things you can do with the Xperia, that is, nothing we didn't already know.

I will be out of the country for the next week, so while more details are certain to be released shortly, alas, I won't be here to tell you about it.  But, I'm sure you guys will survive just fine ;-)

Hat tip to Justin Chan.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Hell freezes over: Ala carte SIM cards invade Japan

EDIT 2: See this post for information on bandwidth capping of this product.

For the first time, unlocked smart phones can be properly used in Japan for data transfer, but there is a catch.  The initial plans will be data only.  Voice is not supported, and the up/down speed is not all that fast.

Japan Communications announced yesterday the 通信電池 b-mobileSIM ("communication battery" b-mobileSIM) series.  The first offering will be the "b-mobileSIM U300," which will go on sale from April 5, 2010.

Data transfer speeds are advertised to be a "best effort" maximum of 300 kbps up and down using Docomo's 3G network.  But this is a step in the right direction and only represents the first offering for this product series.  We'll have to wait and see what comes next.

Three plans are available, each with unlimited packet usage for a set amount of time:
  • 1 year for 29,800 yen
  • 6 months for 14,900 yen
  • 1 month for 2980 yen.  
This is significantly cheaper than any unlimited 3G data plan from either Softbank or Docomo.  A credit check/"examination" with the Japan Approvals Institute for Telecommunications Equipment (電気通信端末機器審査協会 JATE)and the Telecom Engineering Center(テレコムエンジニアリングセンター  TELEC)is required.

Right now, it is fairly simple to use an overseas, unlocked GSM smartphone in Japan for voice.  Just swap in a SIM card.  But as many readers are aware, it is much more difficult to access the proper APN for the capped data plans.  It is possible on Softbank after jumping through a number of hoops, but completely impossible on Docomo.  Willcom uses exotic frequencies that few, if any, overseas phones support.

While this is not a perfect solution, this is good news for those who are content to use their T-Mobile G1 or Google Nexus One as a data-only device.  Japan Communication currently has no plan to offer service for the upcoming iPad, which uses a micro-SIM that is apparently there just to f*** with you.

And what is with the name "communication battery?"  From the press release:
1年間使える乾電池のようなものなので、日本通信はこれを「通信電池」というコ ンセプトとして位置づけています。
They are comparing their one-year plan to a battery that is good for about the same amount of time.  Sorry, but that just sounds dumb.  And I didn't know this, but apparently Japan Communication has been offering SIM cards since July of last year for people with Android developer handsets (which are unlocked).

You can subscribe to Japan Communications' mailing list for the latest news on the b-mobileSim series here.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Vodafone HTC Magic ships with malware

It appears that the micro SD card that shipped with a Vodafone-branded HTC Magic (same model as the ht-03a) contained the mariposa and conflicker bot net clients, as well as a password logger. This would not affect the phone itself, only a susceptible windows machine onto which the SD card is mounted, much like an infected USB stick.

Yikes. This is happening all too often these days. Sigh. As far as the mac is concerned, the only threats in the wild require the users to do something insanely stupid like download warez or a special "codec"for viewing p0rn and give root privilege to the installer. But I have a feeling this won't be the case much longer.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

More on the Xperia UI

Wired has a post up on the new UI.  I originally thought that the Xperia Mini would be a WinMo phone, but I was wrong.
Sony Ericsson’s new Android-based phone interface, like those from other cellphone manufacturers, integrates Facebook, Flickr, Twitter and other social networking services into one unified portal on your portable. The difference is that Sony Ericsson’s interface — UXP, formerly known as Rachael — actually looks useful.

The company plans to launch a slew of new Android-based phones this year. Top of the list is the Xperia X10 — which confusingly carries the same codename that UXP used to have: Rachael. It’s a device with a 4-inch touchscreen, a 1-GHz Snapdragon processor and 8.1 megapixel camera that will be available this quarter. The company will also introduce the Mini, a compact phone with a 2.6-inch display that will be available in a touchscreen-only version as well as one with a slide-out keyboard.

But it’s UXP that forms the heart of these phones’ experience. Sony Ericsson has been working on the UXP interface for more than two years, the company says.

“We have done extensive skinning of the Android platform. because we really wanted to make it a bespoke experience,” says George Arriola, head of user experience for Sony Ericcson.

Sony’s UXP interface attempts to do the same thing as rivals like Motorola’s MotoBLUR: namely, aggregate social networking feeds such as Facebook and Twitter into one stream, integrate that data with your phone address book and contacts, and personalize the multimedia experience.

“We took a very sophisticated PlayStation middleware and shrunk it to fit the Android OS,” says Arriola.
Continue reading at

Friday, March 5, 2010

Free Android apps useful in Japan

Here is a short list of free apps, in no particular order, that are useful for life in Japan.

Google Maps with PC-based "my maps" is still in "beta," a term I put in quotes because many of google's products seem to be in a perpetual beta state.  Often, multiple searches are required, which is a bit of a pain to do from a handset.  So, whenever possible, I prefer to search from a computer and save locations.  These can be loaded onto your phone from layers > more layers > my maps (see photo).

Google recently introduced walking direction for Japan, but if maps is in beta, these directions are in alpha, though they are essentially correct.  Just don't try and cross six lanes of traffic on foot outside of a crossing.

When it comes to Android in Japan, one of the most common complaints is the lack of infrared for transmitting contact information.  Bump provides an option, as long as the other person is using an iPhone, iPod Touch, or Android phone with Bump installed.  Unfortunately, the Android port does not include all the features of the latest iPhone version.

One of the things I don't like about infrared is that you cannot choose which of your personal information to share, but with Bump, you can.  However, Bump won't work unless you have an internet connection.  Bump encrypts your data and routes it through their servers to the other person's device, so if you are uneasy with a third party handling your personal information, then perhaps you would prefer a different option.

QR我風 (QR gafu???)
I'm not exactly sure how to read this, but it is another option for transmitting contact information without an infrared port.  The app displays a QR code on your screen that the other person can simply scan.  Your profile is not chosen from your contacts list, but rather manually entered.  You can register two different profiles, each with a separate name, phone number, email, and website address.

This app has the advantage over Bump in that it does not require an internet connection and can be used to transfer data to a standard Japanese cell phone.  If the other phone is capable of displaying a QR code, this app can also read in contact information.

There are a several free apps for getting train directions.  Most of them are a simple front end for accessing either google or goo.  Jorudan offers the only free self-contained app, which also has more features than the others.  While it doesn't give you the option to save a list of frequently used stations, it does save a long history, making recalling stations fairly simple.  It also allows you to specify connecting stations and is the only free app to provide schedules for individual stations.  Schedules can be displayed in multiple formats, including departure and arrival time.

While the app provides train delay information, the live feature is a real time feed regarding what other users are reporting (see photo).  It often happens that a train will be delayed but no official notice is published.

Traffic Status(渋滞状況)
If you get around by car more than by train, this app provides realtime expressway traffic information from the Japan Road Traffic Information Center.

World Weather Clock(世界天気時計)
This is a nifty widget that sits on your home screen and displays weather information for any city you choose.  There is an option for a large widget that takes up two spots on the home screen, as well as a small widget that only takes up one.  In the large widget, additional information can be displayed, such as the local time.  Clicking the widget will pop up a five day forecast.

The coolest feature of this app is that you can set a widget that displays information for your current location based on GPS.  You can manually update your location by clicking the widget and choosing update location.

Japan Weather Radar(日本のお天気レーダー)
This app displays current radar (as well as 3 hours previous) from the Japan Meteorological Agency, part of the Ministry of Land Infrastructure Transport and Tourism.

This is an alternative to the iWinn IME that comes with Docomo's HT-03a (HTC Magic/Sapphire MyTouch 3G).  I find it to be more responsive than the default IME.  However, it does not have as extensive a dictionary.  It was originally developed to give Android users a means for inputing Japanese before the first Android phone with a native Japanese IME was released.  At the time, it used a social IME to convert phonetically input characters to Kanji.  Now, Simeji uses OpenWnn for character conversion.  It also retains the social IME function, which can be accessed by pressing the mushroom button in the list of suggestioned conversions.  The main reason Simeji is popular with Japanese people is because it contains "flick" or "hanabi" style input for Japanese.  When flick is set as the input method, pressing a kana character on a keyboard pops up all the additional characters in the group (if that makes sense - pressing あ will pop up い う え and お in a shape reminiscent of fireworks).

Simeji also contains a launcher that allows you to quick launch preset apps by pressing the trackpad and flipping the phone up down right or left (see photo).

This is used for inputting emoji, but you need to be subscribed to

QR Code Scanner(QRコードスキャナー)
It's Japan.  Everyone needs a QR code scanner.

My Docomo Checker
Simple app for checking your cell phone usage from your phone.