Tuesday, April 15, 2014

F*ck the Swype keyboard for Japanese input and (yet another) general rant on Android IMEs

There are two redeeming qualities about Swype. The first is illustrated by the (albeit censored) title of this post: The ability to register swear words. The second, and the only reason I bought it, was for a dedicated key to switch languages (not to mention the idea of swiping to input Japanese was sexy).

However, my opinion quickly changed once I spent some time actually using Swype in Japanese. The Japanese input of Swype is just bad. This is for a number of reasons. I outlined some in this post half a year ago:
  • Very poor dictionary.
  • No way to register new Japanese words (that I can find)
  • Horrible Japanese swipe prediction to the point of being useless for anything other than very basic grammar.
  • No dedicated enter button to accept Japanese input when you don't swipe to enter it, which causes additional frustration.
  • No support for kunrei-shiki input when swiping.
To this I'll add more gripes.
  • A completely illogical ordering of suggestions, with the most simple suggestion often last. Typing something simple in hiragana will often bring up a slew of complicated words that are attempting to predict what you would type, had you continued to type. But you didn't keep typing; you entered two simple characters, and the characters you entered are often buried at the end of the list of all these characters that in no way, shape, or form whatsoever correspond to anything you actually entered.
  • That none of these issues have been addressed at all in any subsequent updates.
Switching to a non-latin script on Android keyboards can be horrendous. It's slowly getting better, though. Both the Google's Android Latin keyboard and their Japanese keyboard allow you to pop up the switch keyboard menu with a long press of the spacebar, which saves the action of pulling down the notification bar and locating the option to switch input methods since it won't be in the same location every time. (Note that you have to push the spacebar on the Japanese keyboard for a slightly longer time.)

I've recently installed the stock Android keyboard, which was actually a bit of a pain in the butt because it is listed as not available in my country on my Docomo Xperia A. I was a real fan of the Google Japanese godan input, so with the spacebar shortcut (which was previously not on the Japanese keyboard), I may go back to using it and just switch keyboards entirely every time I need to switch languages (every. single. time.)

I've also installed the Kii keyboard, which includes a dedicated, one-touch button for switching between English and Japanese, but it seems to lack anything but QWERTY input for Japanese. I haven't used it enough to form an opinion on it's Japanese dictionary, though it is hard to imagine that it could possible be as terrible as Swype's.

I'd consider purchasing Swiftkey if someone convinces me it has a level of support for Japanese that is on par with the Google's Japanese keyboard. Otherwise, I'd just be buying another English keyboard that sucks at Japanese. I already have one of those.

Another way to circumvent regional Play Store app restrictions

Finding a way to install software items that are not "available in your country" is a huge annoyance, especially when it's something like the stock Google android keyboard. Why would this app even be restricted at all? And, why would some phones with the same SIM cards have access to it while others don't? Well, there are a ton of potential reasons.

There is the country to which your google account is associated, which could be based on where you originally signed up for the account or the credit card registered. It is possible to change countries but not see an update to your Google Play account. Then there is of course the SIM card's country/network of origin (i.e., MCC and MNC). Another possibility is a firmware-level country code (that is be overridden by a SIM with a different MCC). Finally, there is also your current IP address.

Because the old "marker enabler" apps don't work anymore, simply using a VPN to get the IP address of a different country or yanking your SIM card may not actually work to give you installation privilege on a restricted app. Here is a workaround for installing restricted apps on your device.

This requires having an android device onto which the app can be installed, like a device from that country or a Nexus device

As you can see from the image below, when using the desktop version of the Play store, the Google android keyboard was only installable on my Nexus 7. It could not be installed on any other devices, including two Nexus phones (Galaxy Nexus and Nexus S, both of which had last been connected to the Play store with a NTT Docomo Sim Card).

Even though it is factory installed on the Nexus 7 (wifi-only version), once I reinstalled it, it became one of "My apps" and I was able to install it on any other device immediately. It should also now show up in the "My apps" section any phone that is associated to my Google account, even ones on which it was previously unavailable.

This should work for any app that is not completely removed from the play store in a particular country.

Friday, April 11, 2014

NTT Docomo officially announces new pricing plan

Not long after making the previous post, the new data plans were officially announced. They will launch on Sunday June 1st, 2014. Orders for service will be taken from May 15. The new plans can be applied to both smartphones and feature phones. The data plans can be shared between up to 10 devices within a single family, and individuals can split their data plan between two devices.

If you are a single person who uses up 7GB of LTE data every month and does not make many phone calls, you won't see any benefit from these changes. 7GB would cost you ¥7,000, more than it does now. However, if 5GB is enough, you will see savings. If you make any out-of-network calls at all, you will also see savings.

Kakehoudai 「カケホーダ」Unlimited domestic calling

This excludes numbers that start with 0180 or 0570, etc. that incur separate charges.
  • Smartphone: ¥2,700
  • feature phone: ¥2,200

Pake-aeru 「パケあえる」Shared data plans

All the new data plans can be shared (分け合える). The single person plans may be shared between two devices, so you have a phone with a voice and data plan of 5 GB, and the 5 GB quota can be used on both your phone and a tablet. There is a ¥500 share fee for each shared device/person added, and each device is also subject to a separate ISP fee, so that's ¥800+tax for each additional device added. Additional data can be added at ¥1,000/1GB.
  • Single person Data S Pack (データSパック): 2GB: ¥3,500
  • Single person Data M Pack (データSパック): 5GB: ¥5,000
  • Family Share Pack 10 (シェアパック10): 10GB: ¥9,500
  • Family Share Pack 15 (シェアパック15): 15GB: ¥12,500
  • Family Share Pack 20 (シェアパック20): 20GB: ¥16,000
  • Family Share Pack 30 (シェアパック30): 30GB: ¥22,500
There are also business plans that go up to 3TB (3,000 GB) that can be split between 1,000 separate devices for only 190万円 (about $20,000US) per month. That's Serious Business. (Actually, it works out to 3GB for ¥1,900/month split over 1,000 SIM cards, which is actually a good deal if QoS is there.)

In addition, there are discount plans offered to long term customers. To qualify on the Data S Pack (2GB plan), you will need to have been a docomo user for 16 years. Your' reward: ¥600 monthly discount. With the 5GB plan, you get that after only 11 years (or ¥800 after 16). The share packs become eligible for discounts starting at ¥300 after 6 years.


Coming this summer according to the PDF attached with this announcement.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

NTT Docomo to introduce price decrease, flat-rate voice, VoLTE from June?

There is no official statement from NTT Docomo about this. The story originated in the old fashioned print newspapers (as so many important stories do).

There are three particular facets to the rumored changes:
  • A flat rate voice calling plan that includes all mobile and landlines for ¥2,700
  • Total cost of LTE data and flat-rate voice of ¥5,900 (now it is about ¥8,000)
  • A shared family data plan of 10GB for ¥10,000.
The current voice plan for Docomo LTE (Xi) contracts gives unlimited calling to other Docomo subscribers for about ¥2,000 per month (Talk 24 + base fee with 2-year contract). The out of network cost is HIGH: ¥42/minute (billed in 30 second intervals). This is so high, that over the nearly 30 months that I've had a Docomo Xi contract, I've placed an out-of-network call exactly ZERO times. I'll find a phone booth or fire up my SIP client and route the call through my United States VoIP provider before I'll pay that price.

Effects throughout industry (if true)

Of course the KDDI and Softbank would introduce completing plans. This is not an attempt to bring in new customers to Docomo, but the opposite – slow the flow of existing ones out.

This would also likely be good news for MVNO users. A bug in the Nexus 5 prevented it from working with 3G contracts, which forced many users of low-priced b-mobile SIMs to switch to LTE plans. While the wholesale pricing of 3G contracts allows for the inclusion of "free" minutes, this isn't the case with the pricing on LTE contracts – all calls cost ¥42/minute.

What makes this most ironic is that even with an LTE contract, calls are routed over 3G anyway because...

Voice over LTE

All Japanese carriers are planning on introducing Voice over LTE (VoLTE). There hasn't yet been a lot of talk about this, though. When it does come, it is expected to result in less expensive voice plans. Tsuda Hiromu at Engadget JP raises the possibility that this pricing is in anticipation of VoLTE introduction.

When you stop and think about it, that makes the most sense.

It's hard to see Docomo doing this if calls are still routed over 3G. So I guess this means we could see VoLTE from Docomo in June. If this does indeed signal the introduction of VoLTE in Japan, it would mean that KDDI and Softbank would be limited on their ability to compete on voice price until they too introduce VoLTE. This in turn means we'll probably be seeing more dumb promotions and unsustainable cash back offers from them until they get up to speed technology wise.