Wednesday, May 10, 2006


Has i-mode 'made it over here'?

Two weeks ago, I attended a panel discussion event organised by BIMA in London entitled 'i-mode is big in Japan - will it make it over here?' At the event, there was a representative from O2 who used the statistic that there are 50 million i-mode subscribers worldwide to argue that i-mode has already ‘made it over here’, but if you consider that currently 48 million of those i-mode subscribers are in Japan, the picture isn’t so rosy.

Perhaps due to the nature of BIMA’s activities, the majority of attendees were from creative agencies rather than from mobile backgrounds. One such attendee was a relative newcomer to mobile and asked me before the event started what i-mode actually was – was it a special technology? A new type of phone? Or just a brand name?

This seemed to be an image shared by many people there - that i-mode was something tangible that could be easily taken from Japan and copied. In fact, the key to the success of i-mode in Japan is not so straightforward – it’s the ecosystem that the Japanese operators build around their mobile internet platforms. DoCoMo shares the i-mode platform with other stakeholders in the mobile content market and works together with handset manufacturers, content providers and brands to improve the mobile internet consumer experience. And it’s not exclusive to DoCoMo’s i-mode – it’s how all the Japanese operators work.

When I lived in Japan, one of the first things I did on my new phone on the au network was check the weather on EZweb (au’s own version of i-mode). Thanks to close cooperation between KDDI and Sanyo, I didn’t have to change any settings enter a url or type in my ip address, APN or proxy. Within a couple of clicks, I could access my local forecast which would load almost instantly as an emoticon (from a set of emoticons preinstalled on all au phones again through cooperation between the MNO and handset manufacturers).

There is also cooperation between MNO and content providers which had noticeable benefits for the consumer experience. When I went mobile shopping on Amazon, the goods would automatically be shipped to my phone’s registered address and added to my monthly mobile bill. When I wanted to download a game, the portal I accessed would automatically be able to tell whether my phone was compatible and again bill my mobile account for the cost of the game.

The real value of i-mode is not in its technology, nor is it in its brand name – it’s in the ecosystem that DoCoMo has created around the platform and the noticeable benefits this brought to the mobile consumer experience. This has yet to be recreated by any of the non-Japanese operators who have donned the i-mode brand and is the reason that, for now, i-mode still hasn’t ‘made it over here’.

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