Nao that’s a nice PDA! “E-mobile” the new runner in the keitai race

Matsushita-nao
Matushita Nao (松下奈緒) the girl behind E-Mobile

When you go home tonight, you might notice some new ads starring Matushita Nao (松下奈緒) for a cool looking PDA. But contrary to popular belief, this is not Softbank’s X01HT which has been receiving a lot of bandwidth in the comments section of stippy.com. Nor is it part of DoCoMo’s half-arsed attempt at marketing the blackberry in Japan , nor is it a rechurned ad for Wilcom’s hugely successful PDA of 2006, W-Zero 3. E-mobile (Japan’s youngest mobile phone carrier) has finally unveiled their virgin products for the Japanese market.

As the newest player on the street, E-mobile is still rapidly rolling out their service area and so initial service will be purely for data only (voice to start in Mar ’08) and basically only in the Tokyo and Osaka regions. Due to the obvious disadvantages of not being able to roll out voice, e-mobile have been clear about their strategy and focused on the high-end data only users. At first glance it appears as though E-mobile have surprised most market participants with the slickness of both their new datacard (D01NE by NEC) and PDA (Em-One by Sharp).

But just as Son-san was trying to do at the end of last year with his Yosoguy-wari, it seems as though E-Mobile have realized that they are not going to win market-share without being substantially cheaper than the competition. E-mobile’s package is relatively simple. First year users pay a flat fee of 5,980 per month and that entitles you to unlimited use of data on their latest technology 3.5G network (HSDPA) at speeds of up to 3.6 Mbps. If you sign up for a minimum of a year then that price falls to 4,980 yen and if you sign up for a two year contract then they’ll throw in a free ADSL service to your home for nothing. To put that in perspective, up until now the “standard” for the data market (both card or PDA) was Willcom’s generous offer of 12,915 yen per month for unlimited data usage on their 408Kbps network. All I can say is look out Willy!

  E-Mobile Willcom Softbank
Monthly Fee 5,980 yen 12,915 yen 11,130
Data restrictions Unlimited Unlimited 450MB / month of data included. 1.25 yen / packet for any additional use.
Network Speed HSDPA (3.6Mbps) PHS (408Kbps) HSDPA (3.6Mbps)
Coverage Tokyo and Osaka Nationwide Nationwide
Approx. number of base stations 1,000 160,000 25,000
Most popular PDA Em-one (Sharp) W-Zero 3 [es] (Sharp) X01HT (HTC)
Picture photo of Emobile's newly released EM-one flag model willcom's popular W-Zero03 [es] series PDA Recently released but yet to take off, Softbank's PDA from HTC


d01ne-cardThe disadvantages of E-Mobile are obvious. Area coverage, area coverage and area coverage. With only 1,000 base stations (and only half of those in Tokyo) they have a long way to go before they can match any of their competitors. Obviously not having voice capability might frustrate some users (after all I use my blackberry for voice as well as data) but at least for data-card users (said to be about 1.5 million in Japan) then it is a seriously attractive proposal. Make sure you are very happy with the service though because they will charge you a cancellation fee of 2,000 yen per month of unused contract if you want to get out of the 2 year (“にねん”) plan earlier than you planned. Oh, and before you sign up in order to get the free ADSL package, you should be aware that it is for a 10Mbps speed connection (not the standard 50 Mbps connection available at Bic Camera) but hey, who’s gonna look a gift-horse in the mouth!

To me what really appeals about E-mobile’s new service is actually the PDA. Especially as I’ve been particularly frustrated with service quality on my new blackberry, I’ve been spending a lot of time checking out the other alternatives on the market. My conclusion so far had been Softbank’s sleek handset from HTC (X01HT) although it seems as though the phone-like-look of Sharp’s PDA (W-Zero3[es]) that Willcom offers has been more popular amongst Japanese people. E-mobile have clearly done their homework as they seem to have combined the best of both phones into their new Em-One (even if the name is a little boring – “EM”: “E-Mobile”). I’m sure it is no coincidence that they asked Sharp to design their first phone.

em-one-compactJust like the X01HT it has Bluetooth functionality and a cool hideaway keyboard but it also has the resolution quality of the W-Zero3 but on a much larger screen (4.1″) . At 4 hours, battery life is not that wonderful vs. the W-Zero 3 (4hr vs. 7hr), nor is the inbuilt camera quality as good as the X01HT (1.3M vs. 2.0M) and at 250g it is slightly heavier than the other two (both 175g). For me, there is one very cool feature that won me over that neither of the other two have – One-Seg. Although the RRP of 39,800 yen might sound a little steep, even if you cancel your contract you are still set for life with a free TV! (albeit only on a 4.1″ screen). But it is also that screen that saves you when operating the PDA every day. All three models operate on Windows Mobile 5.0 but it is just that much easier on the Em-one screen. Better yet, the high connection speeds that you get from HDSPA means that your internet connection feels as fast as it does at home for most applications.

Here at stippy.com, we’re still saving up our cash to buy one but please let us know if you are lucky enough to get your hot little hands on one before we do. They are set to hit the shops on Mar 1 with an expected “サービスイン” (start date) of April 1.

18 thoughts on “Nao that’s a nice PDA! “E-mobile” the new runner in the keitai race”

  1. Nao thats one hot data plan from E-Mobile, but I must admit, the picture at the top took my breath away more than the gadget pictures.

    I use a Vodafone (guess it’s Softbank now) data card, so Ill definitely look into this one. Bit long to wait though, still more than a month before it can be used.

  2. Wow, free internet, and 10 megs worth of it! Thats something that developing countries (Australia, New Zealand, Botswana etc) would love to get their hands on!

    Also I heard a rumour that the was EM plans to get around the no initial voice thing was to do a tie-up with Skype. Is this likely to be the case on these new pdas?

  3. I think you’re right Steve88. If the thing runs Windows Mobile 5.0 then there is no reason why you can’t download software like Skype for your PDA. Interestingly Skype seems to have be developing lots of different versions of it’s “Skype for Windows Mobile” depending on the brand of the PDA. I wonder if you could download the version for the Willcom phone after all they are both made by Sharp, right. From what I’ve heard from friends the biggest problem with using skype on a handset is bandwidth, but if E-mobile is using HSDPA then you are set (that’s the fastest commercially available network in the world).

  4. E-Mobile’s rolling out in not only Tokyo’s 23 wards and Osaka, but Nagoya and Kyoto as well, according to Keitai Watch and IT Media Mobile.

    While their data plan is attractive, with limited area, the actual fact of the matter is that most people will not be able to use it. The real fight will also be when they start voice services, because without that, all E-Mobile becomes is a PDA with it’s own subscription line. While there has been some popularity with the W-Zero and similar models with other carriers, to the general user in Japan, PDA’s still aren’t as “useful” as they are to people back in the states.

    Sadly enough, I have a W-Zero eS that I use for work along with my private DoCoMo line, and I end up using my DoCoMo phone more to surf the net because it has better connection when on the move.

    Even with Sharp’s backing, E-mobile has a long uphill battle ahead of them.

  5. You’re right on the ball there, Robert – E-mobile are certainly claiming that they are doing a roll out in Kyoto and Nagoya, too. That said, last I checked they only had about 50 base stations (基地局) in each city. If I remember correctly E-mobile’s current roll out is something like:

    * Tokyo 500
    * Osaka 400
    * Nagoya 50
    * Kyoto 50

    So if I was them, I wouldn’t be opening my mouth too soon about coverage there. Even in Tokyo though, I fear that you may have a point on coverage area though. It’ll be interesting to see how quickly they can beef up their service. As they’re using HSDPA you shouldn’t have the problem that you do with Willcom’s PHS while on the move (assuming of course they can get enough base stations out there). At the end of the day if you live and work in Tokyo’s 23 wards, do you think it could be a reasonable service?

  6. For Willcom, I picked it up because the company picks up the tab, and that way I could include my fiancé on a plan that way we could talk for free. From there, the eS was great because I could surf the net on my commute and what not. But in the end, it turns out that the PHS speeds blow, it’s easy to get disconnected, and so I’ve started using it less and less for surfing and more for calling the fiancé and the few other people I know who have a PHS. While I can set it up with my office account and such, even then I realize I don’t want to be tied to the office that much. So now I have a slick looking (albeit sluggish) smart phone that is used only for calling. I’ve actually considered canceling the data plan because I don’t use it, but that would totally defeat the point of the phone.

    Anyways, to answer your question, as someone who works in the 23 wards (yay shibuya ward) but lives in Saitama… I don’t see the need, for most of the time I’m sitting in front of a computer at work, and so I can’t use it the moment I leave the urban Tokyo area. I would say as well for someone who could actually afford to live and work in the 23 wards, then, honestly, they’ll have a computer at home, with cheaper Hikari fiber service, and a computer at work. If you live in the 23 wards, you don’t have that long of a commute before you’re at work and at your computer I would imagine, so to spend an 5~6000 yen a month for e-mobile’s service just isn’t worth it. Especially when you look at the fact that they won’t have the best of coverage.

    Honestly, e-mobile’s best bet would be to market towards business’s as an effective tool for sales people on the move.. in inner Tokyo, but then again, I can’t imagine many business’s giving e-mobile a try considering how basic the infrastructure still is…

    Mmmm, I don’t want to say e-mobile is going to fail, but I don’t think they’ll have an easy time till they start voice services… if they make it that far

  7. From their Corporate profile, it looks like Goldman Sachs are seriously interested in this company. They appear to be the second largest stakeholder in the company after eAccess. With the backing of GS, they are certain to be a very serious player in the market even though they currently appear to be very limited in scope.

  8. It’s funny you should mention that Freddie F.F. I’d been looking at the same data although it was the Temasek stake that surprised me. Temasek is the private equity arm of the Singapore government and if that isn’t a bottomless wallet (in political terms, not just economical terms) then I don’t know what is.

    It looks as though they’ve started to pull strings too. A week ago EM announced that a guy called Lucas Chow will be joining the board. As a former CEO of Singtel Mobile he is a pretty punchy hire and he’s clearly come from the Temasek route. Robert will be interested to hear this, but apparently Chow also spent a bunch of years in charge of corporate clients at SingTel (nudge, nudge, wink, wink).

    I don’t see a lot that Goldman can really add to the equation – except for maybe cash when EM burns through their existing pile.

  9. Personally I am a big fan of Sharp electronics, and have used their phones for a majority of the time I’ve been in Japan. They have gathered a bit of a following among the phone fan crowd especially for their earlier models they released through Vodafone, which were hacked and made useable outside of Japan (early Vodafone 800/900 series phones). They’ve especially been popular among the Asian crowd coming from Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan and so on. While I have felt the connect is tenuous at best, a large reason why Vodafone/Softbank’s high end Sharp series have not had GSM roaming is to stop the supposed reselling of white rom models abroad.

    Then, with that said, to broadly broadly speculate, the inclusion of former Singtel execs and a bottomless money pit for backing… While I haven’t followed E-Mobile that closely as of yet (although I plan to from now on) I haven’t heard of any plans for their global/international/roaming or what not. With this kind of foreign investment, I would venture to speculate that they would like to cultivate the phone maker market to produce models that will eventually be able to be sold abroad. Again, a very tenuous connection I know, but the one area that the Keitai makers in Japan are seriously losing out is on international competitiveness with their models. Of course this comes again as Japan is also isolated in the system that they use but…

    I can’t tell you how many people I know who would love to take their snazzy Japanese mobile back to their home country to use it there, but due to model hard locking is impossible. Outside of the aforementioned Sharp models, the only other models that I have heard to be unlockable for use abroad are earlier Toshiba models. One thing we can thank Vodafone for is the actual GSM roaming push for their phones. Unfortunately, even if they make GSM phones, makers have gotten wise about making it hard to hack firmware and unlock their phones. I believe the last Sharp that was unlockable was the 903SH, and 904SH and 705SH has proven unlockable.

    Anyways, this is only pure speculation, and I can’t put much into it as voice services won’t even start until next year. Perhaps this is a way to allow foreign investors to break in to the Japanese telecommunications market. Vodafone tried, but is remained a distant third. Now Softbank, with Son at the helm is going the Japanese raised in capitalistic corporate America approach (albeit, he’s Korean descended).

    If Chow’s inclusion is a veiled attempt to bring Japan into the Singtel group though… seeing as how Vodafone bowed out, and they’re supposedly the biggest group in the world, then I have a hard time seeing Singtel succeeding where they failed. If they succeed though, they have the possibility of adding Japanese makers behind them for phones to be pushed through to their other markets.

    Pure speculation though, and coming from someone who thinks Japanese makers could make a killing if they marketed their phones in other regions.

  10. KeitaiGoddess:

    I would imagine not, considering that most mobile contents are aimed at mobile phone users, not PDA users.

  11. Keitaigoddess:
    I would agree with Robert on that. Most keitai mobile content is designed (and only accessible) by the carrier that provides those menus. Just as you can’t access the official imode menu’s with your au keitai, it will be impossible with EM. Most of the carriers (espceially DoCoMo) have tried so hard to keep their users loyal to their “official” content that they have charged different (read “higher”) rates for accessing “real” internet pages vs. their own (even when you sign up for pakehodai). The beauty of EM is that you don’t have to worry about such restrictions any more.

  12. I had a first touch of this new toy yesterday. Even though the service doesn’t start till April 1, they are taking orders. The guy told me that the initial reaction has been very good. I was pretty impressed also. For one, it looks very smooth. the slide-out is smooth, the keys solid for typing etc. Ie it wasn’t a flimsy piece of equipment and usability was good. The most impressive thing was that the screen is a touch screen! You can select anything by touching the screen, and the 6 little icons on the right hand side of the screen (net, mail, home etc) were touch also! Very cool. On the negative side, it has one of those stupid pointer sticks clipped into the back. When was the last time that wasnt the first thing to get lost? It comes with the full Office Mobile package, and within the limited coverage area the speeds are expected to be extremely good. It is marketed as a specifically “not voice” product, and when I asked if skype would work on it, he repeated the mantra. He did say however that if I plugged in a mike and headphones, that there is no reason skype wouldnt work:) (And he denied, with a grin, a rumour, that the forthcoming keitias will be loaded with skype for the IP software.) The only question he couldnt answer was when I said that if its so cheap for unlimited access, are you going to be able to make any money out of this? “Saaa..”

  13. Anyone know when the iPhones coming to Japan, and with which carrier? How can I get one?!

  14. don’t get your hopes up Steve88. The iphone is a little bit old school in that it only works on GSM networks. You’ll have to wait until version 2.0 for an iphone that works on 3G. So you can probably buy one if you go America but don’t expect to be able to use it. The best alternative is to sign up to softbank and get a free ipdo in the interim…

  15. Guys I’ve just come back to Japan after going to China and Thailand and I have done a little analysis on different ways to conect your laptop to the Internet via Wi-Fi free or paid and via mobile data card.

    http://www.travelinasia.net/forum/viewtopic.php?t=5322

    From what I see Willcom has the best plan today but other cariers will be catching up soon in terms of price…

    I still like the free Wi-Fi notion but will require some leg work to find the hotspot access points.

    Looking for those access points will give me the reason to mingle with the locals!
    Is it not what we here for. :)

  16. I love Matushita Nao, she really turnes me on! Man I am living in Osaka and there are tines of hot girls, but they all playing hard to get!

    I get an email address, phone number, even take their purrty picture, but alll, that happens we exchange a few emails and it fizels out…

    I did get lucky with an older one, but she was hot looked 25 but was 40..:) Yaba Daba Do.

    Cheers,
    Igor

    P.S. Stippy you have some nice looking Japanese lady friends, what is your secret man?

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