Considered one of the driving forces behind the I-mode service from NTT DoCoMo, Enoki helped turn handsets into machines for writing messages, surfing the Web, watching television, playing games and paying for subway tickets.
Although the company's attempt to expand internationally through a set of high-profile investments stalled, DoCoMo is once again on the international expansion trail, this time through licensing. Now, however, the company is also struggling with flat rate pricing plans promoted by competitors.
Enoki spoke (through a translator) with CNET News.com late last year from DoCoMo's space-age headquarters in downtown Tokyo. The DoCoMo executive VP and managing director of products and services touched on what's next for cell phones, how I-mode came about and the primitive state of U.S. cell phones.
Q: For years, people said I-mode wouldn't succeed in North America because people drive instead of taking public transportation.
A: I think that's a kind of misunderstanding people have about the service. For example, people living in Tokyo, excluding executives, ride trains. But if you go outside Tokyo about 50 kilometers, everyone drives. Fifty percent of Japanese households have two cars. In that sense, nothing is different from America.
Actually, people use I-mode more in these kinds of towns, so it's not the case that people only use I-mode during their commute. They use it in any spare time they have, waiting between meetings, etc.
What I thought while developing I-mode is that Japan is actually very strong in developing products for the middle-class people. In Japan, you don't see a big polarization in terms of income; you don't get very rich people, but you don't get very poor people, either.
When we initially developed this, our target was young people because they are the most sensitive to new products. There was a great debate in terms of how much the price should be. Right now, we have a large screen, but in the past, we had a smaller screen. We had a great debate about the number of letters we should put into one screen. In terms of product design, we had a number of discussions on tailoring it for young people.
I will just give you an interesting example. We started developing I-mode in January 1997. At that time, there was a similar service in the United States from AT&T Wireless. Seven years ago, I talked with people on that team. They said their target was the business market. So we were completely opposite in the sense that at AT&T, they were targeting the business market while we were targeting the consumer market. So in that sense, I think we chose the right target.
What's next for I-mode? Are you going to concentrate more on international expansion or on adding applications?
Well, we want to expand internationally to obtain royalty fees and to standardize the handset so we can reduce the price. In order to increase the number of the countries that have I-mode, we have to develop new products and services.
In Japan, we want to come up with new services as well. So what we are very focused on right now is the 3G wideband CDMA and what is called the "purse" type of handset. This handset would serve to control all the gadgets or things we really have to use.
You mean like a remote control?
Not in the sense of remote control, but this controls purchasing tickets for games, parking meters, buying things in convenience stores, entering your company.
On this phone (showing his own phone), we have three applications. We have Felica (a cell phone e-commerce application), two-dimensional bar
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