21 July 2009

More Japanese phones and Galapagos Syndrome

Well, this came at an opportune time. Remember when I was gushing over those Japanese phones last week? Today someone tweeted a link to this NYTimes article, which explains why they haven't been able to expand to other markets.

Why can't the U.S. catch the hell up with the rest of the world?

One of the reasons is that the phones themselves are too advanced for anyone else's infrastructures and capabilities. I knew they were years ahead of the rest of the world, but didn't realize just how much:
[Japan's] cellphones set the pace in almost every industry innovation: e-mail capabilities in 1999, camera phones in 2000, third-generation networks in 2001, full music downloads in 2002, electronic payments in 2004 and digital TV in 2005.
E-mail in 1999? That is bonkers. Apparently this conundrum has a name – Galápagos syndrome. Japan’s cellphones are like the endemic species that Darwin encountered on the Galápagos Islands — fantastically evolved and divergent from their mainland cousins — explains Takeshi Natsuno, who teaches at Tokyo’s Keio University. The only Japanese handset manufacturer that's been able to significantly move into other markets is Sony, largely because of its partnership with Swedish manufacturer Ericsson.

Another big reason for this stunted global growth is that Japanese handset hardware is what seems to get the most resources and attention – bar code readers, credit card chips, electronic built-in car keys, facial recognition, etc. This seem to put the focus on the entire experience within the handset itself, rather than how it can be used as a tool to receive information from other places.

For instance, connecting a phone to a computer is a foreign concept to them, which is one of the reasons the iPhone did so poorly in its launch there. Coincidentally, this Wall Street Journal article from today talks about Apple's and RIM's successes over other brands because of services, software and data packages. "The two accounted for only 3% of all cellphones sold in the world last year but 35% of operating profits." Guess they were onto something all along.

I wonder if Japanese manufacturers could find a way to merge their innovations and vision in hardware with other company's software advancements. Can you imagine a Japanese phone with Apple's software/services, or something like that (one can dream)? It would be even more bonkers than mobile e-mail in 1999. The NYTimes quotes Natsuno's recommendation: "Japan’s handset makers must focus more on software and must be more aggressive in hiring foreign talent, and the country’s cellphone carriers must also set their sights overseas." What do you think?

20 July 2009

Brutus Casa

This is kind of a part II about the package I recently got from my friend Fumio. Here's the first thing I saw when I opened it: an issue of Brutus Magazine.

Another gift from Fumio!

I first heard about Brutus when they profiled Naked a little while ago. This issue seems to be a special one, centering around interior design. Maybe it's the Hiragana, but Japanese magazines seem to be laid out so much nicer than ours. This is one of my favorite pages:

I think this is a little bakery!

Don't you just want to live there? I think it's a bakery. It reminds me of the bookstore in... I think it's Norwegian Wood... that the girl inherits from her family. The one where she cooks a big feast for the main character in the kitchen upstairs, and there is a fire somewhere in the distance. This page made me daydream for several minutes.

Speaking of Murakami (but a different one), here is the most endearing picture of Takashi Murakami I've ever seen, wearing a big ball of his own work, and a flower crown hat:

Takashi Murakami in a very special outfit

(are you in a good mood yet?)

This is the best part. The cover of this magazine was very big. It wasn't a page at all, actually: it was a page-sized, flat box attached to the front and serving as the cover. There was a little window cut out of the inside, revealing...

A free little dish!

This is what I'll use it for ^_^

Sometimes the most delightful things come out of putting two completely different ideas together. In this case, a plate and a magazine. Would you ever have dreamed of opening a strangely-big magazine cover and having a little dish slide out?

16 July 2009


My friend Kevin (from the One City Left project) just released his next exciting project: a magazine called DOCUMENT. In his words:

DOCUMENT introduction

Kevin asked me if I might write something for the debut issue, and the phrase "cultural journal" made my ears perk all the way up. At the time I was thinking a lot about how the economy was manifesting itself in culture – especially here in New York – and I had just written a thing about it. I decided to adapt and tweak the thoughts for the magazine, including newer stuff that had surfaced since I had originally written it.

When Kevin pitched the idea to me, he mentioned that the written and artistic pieces would be packaged in a slightly nontraditional way: unbound and in a box, available at different locations around Toronto. I was very excited to finally receive a copy in the mail last week.

DOCUMENT packaging

Inside the box

My article in DOCUMENT

The whole project turned out pretty great! I loved Kevin's piece about an architect who takes her inspiration from animal behavior. There are some quotes and photography sprinkled throughout as well that are 100% inspiring.

Loose leaf artwork

My favorite quote (and something I think a lot about):

Not chasing sparkles

Give DOCUMENT a visit – you can even download a PDF version. Stay tuned for Issue 2 :]

15 July 2009

Urban Outfitters custom bikes

Most of the emails I get from Urban Outfitters look like words cut out of construction paper with some glitter thrown in. That in itself is not a problem, but usually if a clothing store sends me emails, I kind of want to see clothing in them – something other than the fact that I got an email has to make me want to click on it.

That's why I thought the imagery in today's email was of the "lifestyle photography /aesthetics" variety. Looking a bit closer, though, I noticed that Urban now has a bike store.

UO bikes

They have nice, candy-like colors, and a few different parts on the bikes that you can apply them to. I spent the next few minutes wasting my time designing one:

My custom bike that I am not buying

Which is pretty cool, since it kept me on their site longer than they ever have with any other email. I have been playing with the idea of being in the market for a bike (I love my own, but it is SO heavy and unwieldy), and this helped me think a little bit about the stuff I should take into consideration, should that idea ever become a reality.

If someone were to want to go all out with customization, this may not be the best place to go: you only seem to be able to get one kind of frame, one style of handlebars, one type of seat, etc. On the other end of the spectrum is Mission Bicycle Company, which lets you customize a bike so incredibly much that you are out of luck if you don't know a ton about how bikes work:

Mission Bicycle Company

So maybe the Urban Outfitters bike shop isn't for a hyper serious cyclist, or one who isn't as picky about building a bike with options in a million different places. It's kind of build-a-bike for beginners, if you will. And you know what, there's nothing wrong with that... it actually kind of fits with how I perceive the brand. I – as pretty much everyone else – have had some issues with Urban Outfitters in the past, but this is one of the more interesting things I've seen them do lately.

14 July 2009

Give me some Japanese phones, please.

Let me tell you about one of my favorite people. His name is Fumio, he lives in Kyoto, and he found me on Flickr at around the time I was starting to learn Japanese. Over time we became friends, communicating only through Flickr comments. It was a pretty cool dynamic, because our conversations were always sparked by something visual.

Anyway. You probably pretty much know that I am into Japan. Or if you are new to this blog, guess what: I am into Japan. Now, here is a wonderful thing. If it is:

a) Japanese
b) cute
c) flat

Fumio will send it. Case in point: a couple of weeks ago, an exciting package came in the mail.

Another gift from Fumio!

That is a preview; I will write about the issue of Brutus in a couple of days. When I wrote this post, I saw two pretty different thoughts happening, so I split them. Stay tuned.

The rest of the package made me a combination of wistful (I miss working on Nokia); jealous (of living in a place with mobile infrastructure about 5 years behind Japan and parts of Europe); and delighted (with everything). Behold a pretty comprehensive collection of carrier catalogues:

So many phones!

Here is a section that struck out at me from the iida one:

A special iida collection

There were a couple of pages with phones in this red /white /dots theme, and that woman was in them also. Fumio let me know that it was Yayoi Kusama. I must a complete twit, because Wikipedia informed me that something of hers recently went for over $5 million at Christie's.

Anyway, the spread displays a line of Yayoi Kusama-designed phones, brought to you by iida. This a really good idea – are you listening, U.S. carriers? Commission a big artist to design a line of phones with a handset manufacturer, and make them only available through you. Do you know how collect-y art fans are? If KAWS were to design a line of handsets, do.you.have.any.idea how many kids would sleep outside of your store in the pouring rain, attracting camera crews, to buy every single one in the collection? Do you know how much eBay would blow up? Please stop releasing skinny phones that play 20 MP3s and do something that people can't get somewhere else.

Back to phones, and back to my jealousy. This design (hardware) and presentation makes me feel like I slept in on a Saturday,

The seafoam one, please.

While this one makes me feel like I'm in an MRI (which Noah described once as feeling like you're in a German techno club):

This blurb (?) makes me want to play with Tinker Toys,

Why can't features offers be this cute here?

And this one:

makes me want to... I don't know, go to a big box retailer or something.

I don't really have a point here, other than to share the delight with you and wish for a bigger culture of cute here. We wouldn't lose our credibility, guys, promise. We don't need Times New Roman on a navy background for credibility. And we certainly don't need stock photography for it, either :B
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