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April-June 2000

Internet-Capable Mobile Phones

Nowadays, mobile phones are no longer just for talking. Many people are using their phones to connect to the Internet and send e-mail back and forth with other mobile-phone users or PC users.

These phones have become extremely popular in Japan. In July 2000 the number of owners grew to over 60 million; with a population of about 126 million, this means that roughly one out of every two people in Japan owns a mobile phone. Mobile phones are no longer merely a hit product; for many they have become a necessity.

A mobile phone service that allows users to connect to the Internet, called i-mode, was launched by NTT DoCoMo in spring 1999. After i-mode began exploding in popularity, other mobile-phone companies followed suit and began offering similar services. In addition to being able to easily access the Internet and obtain information anytime and anywhere, these services enable users to reserve tickets to pop concerts, as well as instantly receive news and weather updates whenever they want. Already, more than 17 million people in Japan are using these services.

Of the many functions that these phones offer, the most popular among young people is e-mail: Creating and sending messages are a snap, and receiving them is even quicker. And since it's sometimes easier to express one's feelings through writing than through spoken words, some people even send "love letter" e-mails from their mobile phones to confess their feelings of affection toward a boy or a girl. (Most elementary and middle schools, however, don't allow students to bring mobile phones to school--perhaps because the phones allow students to communicate secretly during class without the teacher's noticing.)

Soon, users will even be able to connect their home videogame consoles to their mobile phones. This will enable them not only to use phones to play games and exchange game data with friends who are far away, but also, for instance, to update the program of a baseball videogame according to pro baseball players' actual season statistics, so that games can be always played based on the latest data.

Interactive and mobile functions like these will probably change the content of game software as well. It will be interesting to see what kinds of cool games emerge as a result.

Photo: These and many other phones allow users to surf the Net while on the go.