Monthly Archives: May 2012
Call me Charlie Brown. Every year I fall for it.
A decade ago, the first trade show I ever visited in Japan was Wireless Japan. I was dying to see the new 3G network phones and cutting edge wireless technology that was the envy of consumers around the world. Ostensibly my main goal revolved on finding out when Japan would add Blackberry service or what alternatives there were in the works. Oh what an absurd rabbit hunt into Wonderland that turned out to be.
This year, as is tradition, I made the trek to Tokyo Big Site to see what I could see. At first, I wondered if the malaise I felt was because things had changed. The venue seemed less full, less energetic. But now I realize the problem is not what has changed, but what has not changed.
Here’s an example. Casio was there with, I kid you not, a Cassiopeia branded barcode scanner running Windows CE.
I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Had a nice chat with an engineer at the booth about how sad I was that the once revered Casio PDA brand had been completely wiped out years ago and how it would be great if they could find a way to revive it with something new and innovative like the old days.
I spotted the Brother booth showing off their new Air Scouter glasses type display system. I’ve been eagerly awaiting the release next month to learn more about this device which looks like a slightly more dorky version of Google Glasses.
Indeed, the device was very shiny. While the look made me feel like a 1980’s era science teacher, the display was crisp, and seemed by usable, creating a floating screen that felt like a monitor about a foot away from my left eye.
“How’s the power requirements” I asked. “It draws from the USB port so as long as your computer has charge it works” the rep replied.
“ah, cool… Wait… Huh?”
After some roundabout answers we come to the point that there is only one interface available. USB to Windows OS. When I asked by there was no HDMI/VGA/Composite Video interface the rep said, “this was the easiest way”.
It’s like no one there was even trying. Well, one group was. NTT had a huge booth pitching its mobile VOIP solution 050+ which is kinda like Skype where you pay lots of money. But what they lack in ethics or originality, they more than made up in audacity with booth attendants dressed up like idol singers, one of which kept flashing her knee tattoo of the brand logo to me so much I think she must be a soccer player.
Sure there were plenty of Android phones and Apple accessories, but nothing new, nothing interesting. It feels like walking around a 5th grade science fair. Everyone showing off a potato battery and looking at you to praise them for making something so cool.
Meanwhile no one official seems to take this event remotely seriously. While Docomo and Au were there, they mostly had leftovers and hand me downs from other shows and events. Despite its recent launch, there was practically no presence by Docomo’s NotTV, the Nth iteration mobile TV boondoggle that they have spent a fortune marketing. While they had a giant booth with a live TV studio at CEATEC last year, they were happy with a small table in a corner of the Docomo booth here. SoftBank of course boycotts most of these trade shows in Japan, and even OEM giant Huawei just has a tiny booth in a corner of the floor where it looks like they just handed out business cards to anyone curious enough to stop by their spartan space.
I can’t stress enough how wrong this feels. This is Japan. Japan pushed the boundaries of consumer mobile tech to mythical levels before the iPhone showed up. While Americans were excited over a Color LCD screen on their Nokia, Japanese consumers had Digital TV sets in their handset. Sharp made the first mobile Cellular PDA, J-Phone introduced the camera phone, Docomo had the first active 3G network. While the world media was glued to Tim Cook’s speech at D10 today, no one was watching for Japan’s premier wireless technology expo, not even here in Japan.
Except me. Sitting here in the dirt, watching Lucy laugh as she walks away with that football.
On the final day of Golden Week, the cluster of national holidays in Japan each spring that sends families all over the country into a spring break like frenzy, a new type of festival was launched.
The Tokyo Hotaru (firefly) Festival, sponsored by Tokyo Municipal Govt. and other businesses and government entities literally lit up the Sumidagawa river near Asakusa by floating 100,000 small LED lanterns downstream. The festival, with a heavy Eco-friendly theme highlighted the lanterns, provided by Panasonic, each containing a small solar cell and a rechargeable battery. The result was a summer festival for a new generation, replacing large fireworks display with a high tech version of an ancient tradition.
This was an excellent opportunity for Panasonic, having recently purchased state of the art eco-tech through their Sanyo acquisition, to highlight their line of LED lightbulbs. Each of the 100,000 glowing balls dumped into the river contained a high power LED bulb and an Evolta rechargeable battery. I was very impressed with the overall design of the lanterns, each waterproof ball containing it’s own solar panel recharging system. Two metal leads on the bottom of each ball creates a circuit, that when floating in water is connected turning on the light. Simple, elegant and a stunning effect when floating en mass in the water.
(a shot of my recently obtained Sphero robot pondering joining its friends)
Another winner for this festival is Tokyo Skytree, the new digital broadcast tower that at 634 meters is the second tallest structure in the world. Officially opening in just a few weeks, the tower is illuminated with thousands of high intensity LED light bulbs (also by, you guessed it, Panasonic), but as part of the festival, the tower was fully illuminated. The cherry on the cake was the Supermoon rising right behind the tower just as the festival hit full swing.
Last year many festival were cancelled after the 3/11 quake and the full shutdown of all nuclear reactors in Japan has put huge pressure this summer on power conservation efforts, so this festival couldn’t have come at a better time. A combination of large scale festive, public event, a strong eco-friendly message, and a celebration of the technical ability of the country that was well received at challenging time. I look forward to more events like this in the future and hope this marks a new tradition.