As I mentioned in a previous post on why 100 yen stores are not always the best choice, I am not adverse to spending money if I am getting value. For me, the iPhone represents an enormous amount of value, especially as a foreigner living in Japan, when compared to other mobile phones on the market. It has oft been touted that Japanese mobile phones are the best in the world, years ahead of their foreign competitors – but sorry, this just isn’t true anymore.
I’ve been with Softbank since I first came to Japan 6 years ago – for the simple reason that their models have always had their interface available in English. This is of course a huge boon for anyone new in Japan who hasn’t yet got the language down (good luck if you’re in that situation by the way, it took me 2 years before I finally felt like I could actually communicate competently). I can’t remember the exact models, because they were fairly bog-standard keitai that make phone calls and that’s about it. I believe they had calendar functions too – but since they didn’t sync with any of my computers I really couldn’t see the point in maintaining two separate calendars. Wouldn’t be great if my keitai could use my iCal as it’s data source? My last keitai had a TV too – I think I tried it once or twice, but the reception was horrendous and who wants to watch daytime J-TV anyway?! In short, they made calls and sent text messages. I never sent Japanese text messages though as typing in Kana on those models would require learning an entirely new keyboard. No thank you.
What value does my iPhone give me?
Easy Kana entry, Romaji style:
Essential for any foreigners who can’t be bothered trying to get used to the dingy and awkward keitai keyboards, the iPhone has a full size Qwerty with kana entry in Romaji, just the way you would enter it on a computer. Add in predictive text and full sentence Kanji changing and suddenly you’ll quite capable of mobile communication in Japanese! Wonderful!
All the news I could ever need:
Only minutes after we had moved in a few weeks ago, a woman came to our door trying to sell us a subscription to Yomiuri. I told here I read all my news on the internet and my iPhone, and she said I would be the death of the newspaper industry. I didn’t have the heart to tell her how true that was – newspapers simply don’t have a future in the digital age. Even the New York Times has calculated it would be cheaper for them to go entirely digital and give all their subscribers an Amazon Kindle than it is to continue printing on paper.
Rather than being fed a selection of news articles that are of no interest to me, I get all my news delivered to my iPhone RSS Reader from my personal selection of major new sites and personal blogs. I get job listings, news from home, news from Japan, new blog comments, cute lolcat pictures, political satire and my favourite web comics – I get whatever I want. Easy, simple, free.
Oh sure, your keitai has GPS too does it? Do you know how to use it? Have you even attempted too – or not because it’s all in Japanese, runs slowly in Java and requires about 5 clicks to open it through some ridiculous application menu structure? Thought so… In one click, I can find out exactly where I currently am in Japan with the interface of google maps that I’m used to using on the computer anyway. I can search for another location easily in both Japanese and English, and get perfect directions there for either walking, by car/bike, or by public transport. For most place, I can even get a street-view of the place so I know exactly what to look out for when I get there. I have to honestly say that living in Japan and having my iPhone has made getting around so incredibly easy, even if all the other value added features disappeared it would be worth it for this alone.
Aside, it occurred to me the other day to wonder why taxi don’t all carry iPhones. We tried to order a taxi to take our friend from our place to the station last week, and after explaining our full address and postal code they still didn’t have any idea and actually wanted directions to the house. Was the biggest taxi company in Kyoto actually using a paper based out-dated map? Do they even know of the existence of Google Maps, because if they had it could have given them an exact and correct position with the address we gave, in seconds no less. I was truly shocked. I really wanted to say, “get a damn iPhone, you’re a total failure as a taxi company if you don’t know where stuff is!”. We eventually had to go outside and find the nearest apartment block with a name that was actually on their map. Update: For the first time in my life, a Japanese deliver man got angry with me this week because he couldn’t find our house. How much simpler would his life be if he had an iPhone?
The Internet. The REAL Internet:
Whoever thought of having to make a special separate version of the internet just for mobile phones should be shot. My students claim to use the internet on their keitai all the time, but what they’re actually using a minuscule subset of the real internet that has been pre-programmed into their bookmarks, and it frustrates me no end to tell them to visit a site for homework only have to have them say they couldn’t view it. The iPhone on the other hand does not need to view mobile internet pages because it can view normal internet pages, and the touch interface is such that navigating a regular size internet page is really rather intuitive and natural. The power of just being able to look up anything at your fingertips is pretty much un-describable… wait, no, I can describe it – it’s pretty damn cool.
Prearranged to talk to your folks back home but can’t get back to your computer? No worries, just fire up Fring, an iPhone application that lets you talk (no video chat mind you) on Skype and numerous other chat and IM services. Update: Skype also now has an official client for the iPhone, which you might prefer if you only use it and don’t need the additional IM services that Fring offers. Frugally speaking, this means you can now make international calls at local rates using your Skype credit
Of course, they’re a ton more features I have even begin to touch upon – the fact that it’s the best iPod yet, the app store, integration with iCal and address book, the ability to fetch emails from your yahoo/gmail/regular mail accounts… frankly I don’t see how you can afford to live without an iPhone.