The Blackberry, the ubiquitous tool that has become a fixture in the hands of the white-collar executive in North America and Europe will finally gain a foothold in the Japanese market. NTT DoCoMo is partnering with Canadian Blackberry-maker RIM (Research in Motion) to offer customers GSM/WCMDA “worldphone” versions of the handhelds.
Now as a Canadian I can’t help but feel a bit of patriotic pride to hear that Canada’s greatest contribution to the consumer electronics market is trying to find a place among the tech-savvy, communication loving Japanese. But what remains to be seen is if the Blackberry is going to find a receptive home in Japan and even if it does would this really be a good thing?
I’m not exactly a technophobe but I must confess that gadgets, especially those portable lightweight gadgets that can easily be dropped into puddles, sinks, toilets and other bodies of water and I have never had the smoothest of relationships. Pagers, cell phones, PDAs and lap tops in my possession have inevitably been dropped into or doused with beer, juice, water, coffee, sodas of all variety, soy sauce, tonkatsu sauce, nuoc mam, and most unfortunately milk. (If you’ve never had the experience of walking into a computer store with a sticky laptop that has a distinct curdled smell to see if you can get a temporary replacement computer while they go through the process of de-lactising the machine as they are bound to do under their obviously generous warranty program, then you should count yourself one of the fortunate.)
I suppose I could simply own up to the fact that I appear to be a little bit of a slob and that I shouldn’t be operating these handhelds while eating or drinking but I choose to point my finger of blame elsewhere. The reason these tools inevitably find their way into food and drink is that they are with me throughout the day, during office hours and beyond.
The image of the mobile businessman able to access data, send email and stay in touch with the office no matter where they are and regardless of the hour is a particularly North American conceit and not necessarily one reflected in reality. From my own experience these electronic communication gadgets are more akin to those anklets that people under house arrest are forced to wear so that your position can constantly be monitored. It’s not for the executive on the go so much as for the lowly salaryman who is going to get a pile of work dumped on them at all hours of the day. For some industries and situations I can definitely see the advantage in having access to the Internet and the office readily available in the palm of your hand but generally speaking I would have to question if there are really emergency requirements that would necessitate being on call constantly.
Despite the highly developed telecommunication system in Japan there is still a great deal of business actually conducted through face-to-face meetings rather than emails and conference calls. Sure, you see the cell phones on the streets, friends texting one another and wireless service is available in most locations but the human element still remains. It’s nice to have a respite from the constant calls, emails and demand on one’s time. I’m hoping that there can remain some sort of demarcation between work and the personal realm even if technology continues to blur the line.
But ultimately I’m unconvinced that it’s going to be the Blackberry that will make it in Japan, changing the nature of business and permeating society. Given that there is already a prevalence of sleek, lightweight gadgets in Japan every bit as convenient as the North American models I’m interested to see if the appearance of the Blackberry will have any effect on the way that business is conducted in Japan.