Kei-Ichi Enoki, an executive vice president at NTT Docomo, is pushing I-mode beyond its mobile e-mail and Net-surfing roots into territory unexplored by the rest of the world.
“Mobile phones are going to become personal controllers for anything humans come in contact with. They will control the TV set and other electronic equipment. They will let you into the subway system, act as corporate ID, replace money when shopping, turn on your car and interact with anything else humans deal with,” he says. He is something of a gambler (he’s a pachinko slot machine fan) as well as a visionary who happens to have been right about what the market wanted.
The latest mobiles, on sale for $200 to $300 in Japan, function as wallets, letting people pay their utility bills or buy movie tickets by putting a handset near a reader. The phones use a Sony circuit card that communicates wirelessly with the reader and deducts the right amount from a stored-value card inside the phone. New I-mode phones also have a bar-code-reading camera that people can point at the bar code on a magazine or poster, taking them straight to a Web site with updated and detailed information on, say, a concert or a discount sale. The handsets can accept memory cards up to 1 gigabyte in size, take pictures and video, play music–and yes, let you talk to someone else.
The more Enoki can glue his customers to their screens, the less likely they’ll be to switch just to save money. “These handsets will be universal life controllers,” he says. Docomo Rising
The cell phone, not the PC, delivers the Internet to most Japanese.