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A cellphone is the only gadget you need

作者:濮阳孝    发布时间:2019-03-03 01:10:01    

By John Boyd in Yokohama THE mobile phone has become the Swiss army knife of consumer electronics, becoming by turn a games machine, emailer, camera, or news browser. Heck, you can even talk to people on them. This feature creep has gone so far it’s tempting to think it cannot go much further. But new technologies on the horizon in Japan, the market most infatuated with the mobile, suggest the idea of a phone as a do-everything gadget still has a lot of mileage in it. Take music players. The cellphone looks as though it will eventually take over the role of the stand-alone MP3 music player. While Apple’s übertrendy iPod still grabs all the attention, KDDI, Japan’s second largest cellular operator, is enjoying quiet success with a music download service for 3G phones. By early February, subscribers had downloaded more than 2 million songs since the service’s debut in November 2004. At 300 yen ($2.85) a song, the fee is almost three times the 99 cents charged by Apple. But the service’s convenience – allowing people to download a song in 30 seconds from anywhere, without a computer, and having the charge added to the phone bill – is making it irresistible. Another emerging feature could change the way we control phones. Sharp has just introduced a handset for Vodafone Japan that incorporates a 3D motion sensor, providing a novel way of scrolling and playing games. You scroll through menus by twitching the entire phone up or down, left or right. In a driving game, moving the phone steers a rally car, while to play golf you swing the phone to describe the arc of the club. The feature, says Vodafone, will also make phones easier to use for the less nimble-fingered, who struggle with tiny buttons. The motion phone is yet another example of the way the cellphone is changing human behaviour: just as we have become used to people apparently talking to themselves in the street when they are in fact using hands-free phone kits, so we may have to get used to phone users twitching and shaking in public. One thing that might get you shaking your phone in future is controlling your PC. Toshiba is launching secure software called Ubiquitous Viewer for phone and PC that lets you remotely operate Windows PCs (New Scientist, 29 January, p 22). It lets you open, say, a Word document, make changes, then send it as an email attachment. The program compresses the PC screen data by 97 per cent, recreating it in scrollable form on the handset’s display. KDDI is also harnessing satellite navigation technology, and more than half of its 19 million subscribers now own GPS-capable phones. Its GPS services include one called EZ Navi Walk, a real-time navigation system that displays the user’s current location and guides them on a scrolling map to a keyed-in location. By promoting data-rich services like GPS and music downloads, KDDI has been gaining subscribers faster than Japan’s market-leading network NTT DoCoMo, which boasts 48 million users. One reason is that KDDI uses a faster protocol to send 3G data than its rivals, providing a peak transmission speed of 2.4 megabits per second, against DoCoMo and Vodafone’s 384 kilobits per second. Speed aside, DoCoMo is setting the pace in another area of feature creep: phones used as electronic wallets or credit cards. DoCoMo has sold 2 million “mobile wallet” handsets since their launch last summer. Users can swipe these phones over readers at some 90,000 stores to charge purchases to bank or credit accounts. DoCoMo is preparing to leapfrog KDDI in the data download race, too, with the launch of a high-speed downlink packet access upgrade service by the end of 2006. Kiyohito Nagata, managing director of DoCoMo’s product department, says the service will raise the peak transmission speed to 14.4 megabits per second, with an estimated average speed of between 8 and 10 megabits per second. “You can scroll through menus by twitching the entire phone up and down, left or right” Looking further ahead, DoCoMo is pushing the development of fourth generation (4G) phone technology. Last August, it achieved a record downlink packet transmission speed of 1000 megabits per second in the lab, employing similar signal broadcasting technology to that used to broadcast digital TV and radio in Europe. The trick is to split a fast data stream into thousands of parallel streams sent out on different frequencies across the spectrum, and then reassemble them at the receiver. The increased bandwidth in 4G is expected to usher in data-hungry applications like hand-held virtual reality games, perhaps experienced via a stereoscopic headset plugged into the phone. But DoCoMo does not expect 4G services to start until 2010. By that time, DoCoMo’s Nagata hopes to see cellphones employing high-resolution roll-out flexible e-paper displays, followed in turn by a raft of new, as yet undreamed of applications that will spawn ever more feature creep. More on these topics:

 

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