Tuesday, August 09, 2005

iPod Wi-Fi?

One interesting thing that happens every time I have been in Dusseldorf are the conversations that I have with colleagues. Last time and this, those conversations have veered towards the side-businesses these colleagues were involved in. It is interesting: The same conversations simply are not had in Japan. One reason is that Japan is simply not a very entrepreneurial country, and company employees the least entrepreuneurial element in society. Even if someone is involved in something like that, it is considered both disloyal and immoral to use any of your precious energy for your own benefit and not the company's. (hey, this sounds a lot like the attitude my boss has displayed in the last week or so--maybe she is really turning Japanese!)
The conversation this time involved some development that one colleague is doing to integrate Wi-Fi with an iPod, or iPod-like device. Our conversation was an interesting one, where I actually ended up suggesting this very thing, which prompted him to admit that he was actually developing the very thing I mentioned. The crux of the conversation was that mobile carriers are not doing enough to provide what customers want, especially with regard to music. This colleague's view was that mobile carriers just don't get it. He is a little over-the-top about adding instant messaging and IP telephony to this Wi-Fi iPod, whereas I think that his basic idea is spot-on.
One Japanese mobile carrier had MP3-enabled mobile phones more than 3 years ago. But they used a very annoying variant of MP3 called secure MP3, which made it impossible to upload music unless one used the one package, SD Jukebox, that supported the format. It was a terrible piece of software, and cost about 5,000 yen. So, to actually use the functionality of the phone, one had to spend more money, and use crappy software. The situation hasn't improved that much, except that it is now possible to download music rather upload it from a PC.
A Wi-Fi-enabled iPod would do a total end-run around the BS of mobile carriers and their focus on making nice with record labels rather than meeting the desire of their customers. (As an example, this same mobile carrier's mobile content managers call themselves 'eigyo', meaning sales. What are they selling? They are selling the idea to record labels and game producers that mobile content is a good thing, and having their content on the branded portal is a great thing. Why, you may ask, would they need to sell that idea? Good question. The answer is that they don't. But there is a particularly Japanese proclivity to protect the relationships with those that they know at the expense of new relationships that might benefit them. People everywhere do that, but where Americans or Europeans, if you pointed it out, would mostly agree that it was not a good approach, many Japanese will simply shrug and say "that is the way that we do business." There is something admirable in this kind of loyalty. There is also something insidious and antithetical to being able effectively meet the needs of customers in a timely way.)
It is a very small world: This same colleague knows Jan-Michael Hess, who I met when he was in Tokyo for the Mobile Intelligence Tour, and Daniel Scuka who founded Wireless Watch Japan.


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