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30 January 2009

Century reached in Japan

Filed under: Fujitsu, Japan, simplicity — David Wood @ 10:41 pm

Last Monday (26th January), leading Japanese network operator NTT DoCoMo starting selling the F-06A mobile phone. The phone is manufactured by Fujitsu and is based on Symbian OS v9.4.

The F-06A has some notable features, that have been designed with one special type of customer in mind: businesses that worry about the possibility of misuse of phones in the possession of their employees. To reduce the likelihood of information leakage or unsanctioned use of the handset outside approved corporate purposes, businesses can:

  • Manage these phones remotely, including initialisation and re-configuration;
  • Remotely reset the data on the handset (including contacts, schedule, messages, call log, and media gallery);
  • Remotely lock down or limit usage of functions such as camera or infrared connectivity.

At the same time, the phone lacks a memory card slot, and omits support for mass storage PC connectivity mode. Other features that are common on advanced phones in Japan, such as mobile wallet payment, digital TV, and entertainment services, are also omitted or deprioritised. These omissions may lower the attractiveness of the phone in the eyes of some users, but boost the attractiveness of the phone in the eyes of the company purchasing them.

This can be seen as another example of the “less is more” principle: for some markets, you create a better product by removing features, rather than by adding more. The resulting simplicity of operation can have its own attraction. Fujitsu have already benefited richly from applying this same principle in their renowned “Raku Raku” series of easy-to-use phones for the NTT DoCoMo network – initially launched in September 2004, and a runaway success since that time.

To be clear, neither the F-06A nor the Raku Raku phones are technology weaklings. They contain their own extensive mix of advanced hardware, software, and network connectivity. For example, the F-06a has internal and external (3.2 megapixel) cameras, a rotatable 3.2-inch wide VGA TFT screen with 16 million colours, Flash Lite 3, GPS, fingerprint identification, and so on and so on. But the choice of what’s included and what’s excluded gives this phone its own unique flavour.

The F-06A is significant in the Symbian story in one more way: it’s the 100th Symbian-powered phone model to come to the market in Japan. The very first such phone – the FOMA F2051 – went on sale in January 2003, almost six years to the day before the launch of the F-06A. The creators of that first breakthrough phone were also Fujitsu. The internal codename for the F2051 project was “Sakura”, which is Japanese for cherry blossom.

About six months before the launch of Sakura, things were looking far less rosy for Symbian in Japan. Any prospect that, before the end of the decade, 100 different Symbian phone models would come to market in Japan, would have seemed far-fetched:

  • The underlying theory was strong: a reusable and customisable smartphone platform (Symbian OS) would support a wide range of differentiated products;
  • The initial engagement was also strong: no less than five Japanese phone manufacturers had commenced projects to create Symbian phones (and several more were considering doing the same);
  • But the reality of smartphone project development turned out very disappointing in these early years. Many of the initial projects foundered, became delayed, and were eventually cancelled;
  • There was a depressing period in which it seemed that, every few weeks, another project terminated unsuccessfully: the task of bringing complex new 3G handsets to market was much more difficult than anticipated.

Thankfully, the engineering team in Fujitsu proved highly capable and resilient. Backed by a slowly growing team of expert technical consultants based in the Symbian KK offices in downtown Tokyo, and by an ever-more mature network of Symbian Competence Centres such as K3 (Kanrikogaku Kenkyusho), Fujitsu commenced a long series of successful Symbian phone introductions. In time, they were joined by a range of other Japanese phone manufacturers: Mitsubishi, Sony Ericsson, and Sharp.

To date, the 100 Japanese phone models have, between them, sold more than 40 million phones – with an average sales volume, evidently, of somewhat over 400,000 units. It’s an astonishing accomplishment. I’d like to take this opportunity to publicly express my hearfelt gratitude and admiration to all the staff in Symbian KK and in Symbian’s Japanese cutomers and partners, past and present, who have laboured long and intelligently in support of this century of successful smartphone development projects. Happily, there’s been widespread application of the fine Japanese virtues of step-by-step incremental improvement, and constant learning and innovation. This converted Symbian’s Japanese offering from a set of PowerPoint marketing pictures and bullets into a reality of hard-won bone-deep knowledge of the intricacies and complications of smartphone integration. The result, from Sakura onwards, has been a dazzling blossoming of both technology and customer experience.

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