On a recent visit to Japan, an American consultant met with a group of Japanese business managers. In the midst of the proceedings, a participants cell phone alerted him to some important news: He had been playing a wireless virtual fishing game called Dwango Kamone and had just landed a big catch — information he enthusiastically shared with his compatriots.
While Dwango Kamone is hugely popular in Japan, its difficult to envision American managers exchanging "high fives" in the middle of a meeting after one of their number reels in a virtual bass.
"There are highly conspicuous differences between U.S. and Japanese cell phone customers," said Andrew Seybold, editor-in-chief of Forbes/ Andrew Seybolds Wireless Outlook.
U.S. wireless network operators are looking to their Japanese counterparts for next-generation technology cues. But theyll have to come up with their own set of services to get and keep the attention of American consumers.
The differences in wireless mentalities start at the foundation: Japan uses the calling-party-pays model; the U.S. doesnt. Japan has a robust central wireless network built by government-backed NTT DoCoMo; the U.S. has a patchwork quilt of networks that dont necessarily work together.
About 80 percent of the people in Japan dont have home computers, and so rely on Web-enabled wireless phones for their Internet connection, Seybold said. The Yankee Group analyst Knox Bricken estimated that 50 percent of Japanese customers use their wireless phones primarily at home. In contrast, 72 percent of American customers use their mobile phones mainly in motor transportation, and only 15 percent use them primarily in their own abodes.
Most japanese commuters ride trains and use their cell phones more for entertainment than conversation. Also, they dont typically write checks, Seybold noted. Instead, they use their phones to pay bills electronically.
"Theyre also very gadget-centric," Bricken added. "Their phones are accessorized with all kinds of beads and strings." Bricken said that 52 percent of Japanese users rely on their cell devices primarily for entertainment and games. And most players are adults — only 18 percent are under the age of 18.
Bricken conceded that entertainment applications are becoming more popular in the U.S. "Even so, were much more oriented to messaging and business calls than games or entertainment," she said.
And those Americans who do go fishing put a sign on the office door — and hopefully leave their cell phones at home.