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The KDDI Design Center's Futuristic Concept Phones and Less Impressive Regular Phones

Illustration for article titled The KDDI Design Centers Futuristic Concept Phones and Less Impressive Regular Phones

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.

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Illustration for article titled The KDDI Design Centers Futuristic Concept Phones and Less Impressive Regular Phones
Illustration for article titled The KDDI Design Centers Futuristic Concept Phones and Less Impressive Regular Phones
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Illustration for article titled The KDDI Design Centers Futuristic Concept Phones and Less Impressive Regular Phones
Illustration for article titled The KDDI Design Centers Futuristic Concept Phones and Less Impressive Regular Phones
Illustration for article titled The KDDI Design Centers Futuristic Concept Phones and Less Impressive Regular Phones
Illustration for article titled The KDDI Design Centers Futuristic Concept Phones and Less Impressive Regular Phones
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Illustration for article titled The KDDI Design Centers Futuristic Concept Phones and Less Impressive Regular Phones
Illustration for article titled The KDDI Design Centers Futuristic Concept Phones and Less Impressive Regular Phones
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Illustration for article titled The KDDI Design Centers Futuristic Concept Phones and Less Impressive Regular Phones
Illustration for article titled The KDDI Design Centers Futuristic Concept Phones and Less Impressive Regular Phones
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Illustration for article titled The KDDI Design Centers Futuristic Concept Phones and Less Impressive Regular Phones
Illustration for article titled The KDDI Design Centers Futuristic Concept Phones and Less Impressive Regular Phones
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Illustration for article titled The KDDI Design Centers Futuristic Concept Phones and Less Impressive Regular Phones

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.

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Illustration for article titled The KDDI Design Centers Futuristic Concept Phones and Less Impressive Regular Phones
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Illustration for article titled The KDDI Design Centers Futuristic Concept Phones and Less Impressive Regular Phones
Illustration for article titled The KDDI Design Centers Futuristic Concept Phones and Less Impressive Regular Phones
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Illustration for article titled The KDDI Design Centers Futuristic Concept Phones and Less Impressive Regular Phones
Illustration for article titled The KDDI Design Centers Futuristic Concept Phones and Less Impressive Regular Phones
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Illustration for article titled The KDDI Design Centers Futuristic Concept Phones and Less Impressive Regular Phones
Illustration for article titled The KDDI Design Centers Futuristic Concept Phones and Less Impressive Regular Phones
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Illustration for article titled The KDDI Design Centers Futuristic Concept Phones and Less Impressive Regular Phones
Illustration for article titled The KDDI Design Centers Futuristic Concept Phones and Less Impressive Regular Phones
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Illustration for article titled The KDDI Design Centers Futuristic Concept Phones and Less Impressive Regular Phones
Illustration for article titled The KDDI Design Centers Futuristic Concept Phones and Less Impressive Regular Phones
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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.

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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.

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DISCUSSION

Adam:

A few fact checks would seem to be in order:

++ The Helio FIN is 11.4mm thin. DoCoMo has 4 ultra-slim models - at same 11.4mm - on the street (703 and 704 series via Panasonic and NEC) since spring this year. In English for your reference:

[www.nttdocomo.co.jp]

[www.nttdocomo.co.jp]

++ There is no such thing as DMB TV in Japan, try OneSeg. (it's Free too!). Since you were at the Designing Studio, perhaps somehow you missed the W53H Wooo digital-tv handset by Hitachi at only 15mm on the main floor?

[www.au.kddi.com]

++Your american centric vision of a so-called 'smartphone' is clearly based on the outer shell design and not what's inside (that counts). Japanese text input does not really require a bulky QWERTY keyboard besides you were just complaining about size a sec. ago.. so which is it? From removable memory to embedded Flash and document reading - let alone GPS and RFID - productivity apps on devices are well-entrenched for several years now. It might be a useful exercise to compare how many new models (incld. candybars, sliders and flips), from how many makers, were released in Japan last year vs. U.S. last year.

++ The kicker for me to bother writing this little rant was your 'Walled Garden' comment. While it's true that all models have a hard-key link to the carriers deck, all models have always had full HTTP input for access to the wide-open web. Maybe you've heard of Opera..?!? As for mobile data fees.. all carriers offer a reasonable flat-rate data plan - no matter where you choose to surf - which I patiently suggest would be much cheaper than anything available from what we've seen on offer from operators in the U.S. How much do you pay to send a simple SMS there..?!?

You've missed most of the obvious info. - that's freely available in English online - about mobile in Japan. With over 80% of subscribers connected to 3G networks, and data usage off the charts compared to anywhere else, it's really a shame to see that you didn't bother to connect with someone who would have been able to explain (even the basics) about the market here.