Monday, July 20, 2009

Why Japan’s Cellphones Haven’t Gone Global

The New York Times has an article "Why Japan’s Cellphones Haven’t Gone Global". The Times writes: "At first glance, Japanese cellphones are a gadget lover’s dream: ready for Internet and e-mail, they double as credit cards, boarding passes and even body-fat calculators. But it is hard to find anyone in Chicago or London using a Japanese phone like a Panasonic, a Sharp or an NEC. Despite years of dabbling in overseas markets, Japan’s handset makers have little presence beyond the country’s shores."

My focus, however, is not with the article but the perceptive reader comments on the article. We are consistently admonished by those advocating free markets and less regulation that we will have a utopian economy if companies are free to compete unhindered. But as I have read articles concerning technological innovation in various newspapers and blogs, I have been made aware that the US is behind the technological curve. Clearly a disheartening concept. So what gives? The unfettered free market seems to have disappointed us concerning technology innovation and has had a significant meltdown (more bluntly ->failure) in the financial arena. Instead of incessant assertions of being superior we need to look into the mirror and ask ourselves how we can do better.

R writes, as a reader response to the article:
I borrow my dad's old cell phone when I'm home -- it's a 1 year old model, with music downloading capabilities, a sweet 5+ megapixel camera capable of taking photos and long movies, and of course, internet and email accessible. It also functions as a debit card -- I can pay for drinks at the vending machine with it, use it as a train pass, and buy things with it in stores. How much did this cost? Because the model had been out for a year, the physical phone itself cost all of 1 yen, or less than a penny.

And it's not just cell phones. Whenever I go back to Tokyo to visit my family, I'm amazed at how far behind the western world is. Our washer is over 10 years old, and it measures the amount of clothes you put in, and calculates how much laundry detergent should be used. It has over 20 options for different types of clothing/material, and still works like a charm. Our bathtub is automatic -- type in the temperature you want it to be on our central computer, the water starts coming out and the temperature is maintained until you turn it off. Oh, and it stops automatically at the right level, and beeps when it's done. My camera, a basic Sony cybershot, came out in the US over a year after I got it in Japan, and my brother's camera was never released in the US. I could go on and on -- but the point is, we're an average middle class family, with average middle class appliances. There are now amazing green advances being made: from houses that (somehow) can recycle and reuse a portion of their electricity, are solar-powered, etc. I could never dream however, of having things like this in the US.

Japan has amazing innovations, but I don't expect to see them over here anytime soon.

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