[msnbc.com] Net phone creator says keep technology simple

Date view Thread view Subject view Author view

From: Jay Gooby (jay@futureplatforms.com)
Date: Fri Dec 01 2000 - 08:46:03 PST


[Mari Matsunaga is the womain behind Japan's I-mode mobile phone phenomenon. The book
mentioned in the article, "I-mode Incident" ain't available on Amazon, but the
Fortune article is here:
http://www.fortune.com/fortune/mostpowerful/mpw_profile/0,7843,51,00.html]

--

http://www.msnbc.com/news/492270.asp

<picture> Mari Matsunaga, creator of 'i-mode,' the Net-connecting mobile phone that's winning praise as the biggest hit out of Japan since the Walkman, displays her own mobile phone.

Net phone creator says keep technology simple

Responsible for biggest hit since the Walkman

ASSOCIATED PRESS

TOKYO, Nov. 24 - Before telecommunications powerhouse NTT DoCoMo recruited her, Mari Matsunaga had barely used a personal computer and was convinced people who chattered on cellphones were rude.

MATSUNAGA REMAINS pretty clueless about digital technology, which may seem odd because she is the brains behind the Internet-enabled mobile phone service known as "i-mode" - Japan's biggest consumer hit since the Walkman.

Almost everywhere in Japan, on street corners and crowded trains, suit-clad businessmen and jean-clad youth alike are inseparable these days from their i-mode phones. Sure they're talking, but they also use the handhelds to play games, read the news and do e-mail.

I-mode has 14 million subscribers and some 50,000 people are signing up for the service every day, making Japan a global leader in wireless Internet.

The service is credited with helping produce 3.7 trillion yen ($34 billion) in annual revenue for NTT DoCoMo, which last week reported that six-month profits for the period ending in September surged 22 percent to 217 billion yen ($2 billion) over the year-ago period.

In a nation that has long tended to subjugate women, keeping them invisible on the corporate ladder, the 46-year-old Matsunaga is a rare success story. The former editor-in-chief of a magazine for job hunters was recently chosen as the most powerful woman in Asia by Fortune magazine.

A ROLE MODEL IN JAPAN The demure yet sprightly Matsunaga has become something of a role model in Japan, not only as a dazzling example of marketing savvy but also as a woman who exploited everyday smarts to score big in the New Economy.

She did it by insisting on an easy-to-use product in battles with bureaucratic-minded bosses and jargon-loving consultants, a struggle Matsunaga recounts in her book, "I-mode Incident," a best seller with 180,000 copies out since July.

Matsunaga's message: A product, no matter how revolutionary in its guts, has to work as a simple, gentle tool that makes people's lives easier. The "i" in i-mode stands for interactive and Internet, but it also alludes to the individual "I" as well as a pun on the Japanese word for "love."

I-mode's underlying technology uses packet-switching over Internet protocols and encodes content with a variant of the World Wide Web's basic language called cHTML. But i-mode is not a technology. It is a product.

Starting at NTT DoCoMo in 1997, Matsunaga wasn't a bit embarrassed about her utter computer ignorance.

Instead, she insisted on simple language until "plain talk so even Mari can understand" became a buzz phrase at the office.

Matsunaga also fought hard to keep the basic i-mode fee at 300 yen ($3) a month - a bargain in Japan, where a cup of coffee often goes for twice that much.

Users are charged based on how much data they transmit - so a brief e-mail costs less than 1 yen (1 cent).

HEARTS AND SMILING FACES Matsunaga had insisted that people would not be willing to pay big bucks for tidbits of information.

She also added a sofa, "karaoke" machine and a refrigerator to the office. At "Club Mari," business meetings metamorphosed into brainstorming sessions where beer and wine flowed freely.

One idea that emerged was to add picture icons, like hearts and smiling faces, to the i-mode system to facilitate writing e-mail without a keyboard.

"I-mode is easy to use. When we began selling i-mode, we didn't even mention the word Internet," Matsunaga said during an interview at a Tokyo cafe.

The phones, ranging in price from practical giveaways to 20,000 yen ($190), access the Web with a push of a button. Especially popular are downloads of mascot creature images and electronic melodies that play when a call comes in.

I-mode is not a faddish cybertoy for gadget-crazy teens - the thousands of i-mode sites that have sprung up include stock price listings, restaurant guides, electronic banking and airline-ticket bookings.

"The key to i-mode's success is the completeness and high quality of what's being offered in strategic tie-ups with providers," said Hironori Tanaka, an analyst at Morgan Stanley Dean Witter.

A tie-up with major toymaker Bandai Co. has produced a popular site for downloading cartoonish images.

Big banks have almost all signed with i-mode - handy in a nation where ATMs aren't open at night.

Major ticket outlets, CNN and Zagat restaurant guide all have i-mode sites.

HOPES OF EXPANSION I-mode is offered only in Japan, but NTT DoCoMo has been looking abroad with investments in hopes of expansion. Especially significant to this international push, Tanaka says, is its alliance with America Online Japan, announced in September.

At home, although rival telecoms have launched similar services, i-mode has maintained top market share.

Boosters of i-mode give Matsunaga, who majored in French literature in college, a lot of credit for that. During development, she insisted that i-mode devices not only be easy to use but also be light and have batteries that last for days - not just hours.

"Our time is so limited," she said. "During the few minutes of waiting for someone or a train, people loved being able to do something - and so much - in that tiny space of time."

Earlier this year, Matsunaga quit NTT DoCoMo to work on a Web site for working women with hopes of developing products catering to their needs.

The business doesn't have a product yet, but Matsunaga sounds determined to make it big again.

Her observation on the increasingly global business climate was characteristic: "In this world, something is either a megahit or not a hit at all - there's nothing in-between."

2000 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

-- Future Platforms :: Internet services for consumer devices http://www.futureplatforms.com +44 (0) 7956 182625 jay@futureplatforms.com


Date view Thread view Subject view Author view

This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : Fri Dec 01 2000 - 23:19:22 PST