In Harajuku, near the bridge that all the socially awkward cosplay teenagers hang out on on Sundays, is the KDDI Design Center, a temple dedicated to Japanese phones. Inside they've got all of this year's KDDI phone models, a display on futuristic phone concepts, and every phone offered by the Japanese carrier on display for potential customers to get their greasy fingerprints all over.
One thing that surprised me about Japanese cellphones is how boxy and not-that-thin they all are. Almost everybody has the same type of phone, a rectangular flip phone, and none of them are as thin as something like the Helio Fin. Instead, due to features such as DMB mobile TV reception, they require bulkier batteries as to provide longer life. While I was expecting a wonderland of super-thin, amazingly-featured phones, I'm actually pretty underwhelmed. Sure, being able to watch mobile TV is kind of nice, but the TV stations here kind of suck. I'd rather have a thinner phone than DMB TV service.
And why aren't there more unique designs here? These futuristic concepts are pretty cool, but they're just concepts. I see much more variety on the streets of NYC, where I see smartphones, candybars, sliders and flip phones. On the subways here, it's 90% boxy flip phones. I've seen maybe one smartphone since I arrived. What gives?
In addition, another thing I didn't realize about the Japanese cellphone market is that most of the services only include access to walled gardens rather than full-on internet access. Sure, full web access is available if you've got a Crackberry or something like that, but the fees are astronomical when compared with service charges in the States.
I never thought I'd say this before coming to Japan, but we have cooler phones in America. There are just more diverse choices and we get better services (as long as you don't care about watching live TV). Consider me unimpressed.