Doesn anyone know the answer?

What’s preventing Japanese or Korean manufacturers from selling their totally bitchin’ light-years-ahead mobile phones in the US? Why are US phones do darned crappy in comparison?

Rich Pav

Richard has been living in Japan since 1990 with his wife and two teenage sons, Tony and Andy.

15 thoughts to “Doesn anyone know the answer?”

  1. I dunno. I’ve bought 3 phones from Korea over the years and everyone I know has always been stunned at how much nicer they are. Bigger screens with higher resolutions. Better UIs. Higher quality cameras.

    I think it has to do more with the cellular providers than the phone manufacturers.

    1. I really don’t know too much about the technology behind it, but If I had to take a guess, it might be something about how the US uses a different system (I think?) compared to most of the rest of the world. On Digg during the few weeks before the iPhone announcement people were spitting acrynoyms left and right about the different systems. Thats just my guess though, I really don’t have an idea why they wouldnt want to get in on the market and make fist loads of cash- their phones blow everything thats already here in the states out of the water.

      And speaking of the iPhone, they are releasing it in Japan as well a the US, though Japan does come a year later than in the states. So its not like its impossible to port a phone overseas. But anyways, what has the reception been over the iPhone in Japan?

  2. It’s a conspiracy. Let’s say that a cellular company gets a phone that is 2 years ahead of it’s time and everyone in America loves it and will do anything to get locked into a two year contract for it. The other cellular companies would cry foul in court saying that such and such is using an unfair market practice to drive down their businesses. So, America has to drag it’s feet and wait for everyone to agree to go to the next level of

    I could be totally wrong…… or am I?

  3. I agree it probably has something to do with the companies. Even though we are several years behind on cell phone technology not too many people realize it because they haven’t actually seen phones over seas first hand. So the companies can continue to market out of date technology for a ridiculous price and people will pay it. It seems like a good business move to keep selling the equipment that is cheaper to make and maintain for as long as possible. The only reason I can think of why companies aren’t trying to control the market by releasing better phones is that there is either some agreement or general understanding between them. However, iPhone does look like a step in the right direction, but at the same time it is going to cost a lot of money for it.

  4. I don’t know so much about the tech of it. I sure would love to get a hold of some of the stuff they are spitting out of Korea or Japan.
    I do know a couple of small details and a theory or two.

    I know that Japan also has another standard that isn’t GSM or CDMA(though they have those two as well) in Japan. That counts out some of the phones right away.

    I know that CDMA is different in japan than it is here. Something about the communication being opposite or something like that.

    GSM is the same. At least I know of GSM phones here that will work over there with a prearrangement beforehand and the wherewithal to spend the ridiculous cost per minute to use the phone.
    Perhaps this isn’t done so much because it would likely involve a complete reworking of the UI on the phone to work most of the newer services available now.
    Even if that were true I think that there would still be enough profit in reworking a phone’s UI to market, say..a 5 MP camera phone, in the US.

    And then there’s the lightning fast work of the FCC. There may also be some regulations that might require a physical alteration the the phones antenna or some other do-dad or widget that is beyond my ken.

    But it sure would be nice to have a new hot, high tech wonder that can do so much more.

    I have a 700p and it has increased my productivity at work noticeably.


  5. Weird. this was the 2nd part of my comment, but separated by a few newlines and it wasn’t included with my comment above.. ?

    “Heck, we still don’t have much in the way of HD programming for TV. I was excited bout Japan broadcasting the 8 Hours of Suzuka in HD for the first time in like 1996. 11 years, later and I have yet to be able to watch a race in HD. :(“

  6. Is that a rhetorical question? Or do you really want to know? 🙂

    The reason they can’t be directly be used is standards and frequencies. The Japanese Ministry of Telecoms didn’t dictate that the networks use a common standard, unlike here in Europe. So each network uses a different protocol between handsets and the network (I won’t bore you with acronyms). the protocols are pretty much the same as other parts of the world, but the frequencies are different.

    Now, since the network brand is so important, the handset industry being much more fashion led in Japan and each network needing its phones to be developed especially for their choice of air interface, the network has total control over the handsets that are produced and sold on their network, probably adding lots of exclusivity clauses in their contracts on the way. Since each network has control over the phones they release, they dictate that SIM cards are not used, making it impossible to use the phone on another network even _if_ the phone supported the local protocol and frequencies (some phones do, and can be used when roaming, if you’re willing to pay). Or something like that.

    Now why Motorola don’t hire a designer with a clue and produce a usable interface that doesn’t suck so grandly, and why Nokia don’t get over it and make some damn clamshells, I have no idea. I wish I knew…

    1. My AU Phone uses 3rd generation CDMA technology, where most other countries use GSM. It does have a SIM card (called an au IC-card), and in fact it can be taken out and put into a GSM phone when you go overseas. NTT phones also have SIM cards (FOMA cards), and Softbank (formerly Vodaphone) might also. But they’re a pretty recent thing, introduced gradually within the past year or two. You can do international “plastic roaming” with them, but you can’t stick an AU IC-card into an NTT phone and get it to work.

      I know there’s the difference between CDMA and GSM standards, but there’s a whole lot more technology in Japanese phones that is independent of what standard they use to send packets back and forth, for example GPS mapping, still and video camera, web browser, music playback, FM tuner, text-to-speech, etc.

      Why aren’t Japanese manufacturers like Sony, Kyocera, Sharp and Casio making GSM versions of their phones for the US market? I can understand why they don’t license it. The carriers sould want Japanese phones to attract customers, and the Japanese manufacturers should want to serve the huge global GSM market.

      Usable user interface? Not on any phone I’ve yet to own. Peple who know me in real life know I have above average tech savvy. There are still features in my last phone I had for two years that I never could master. And I’ve lost many an e-mail by tapping the “hang up” key instead of the 3 key. Apple’s phone is the first attempt I’ve seen at making the interface really usable. The iPhone’s UI is ahead of the curve, but the technology certainly isn’t.

      1. My phone here in the UK is uses the same protocol as your phone (W-CDMA, aka UMTS) but different frequencies. We’re totally 3G’d here too. Interesting about the SIM, the phone I had in Japan and my wife’s phone didn’t (but that was a year or two ago…) – I didn’t know that’d they’d gone SIMy 🙂

        The specs of Japanese phones are pretty great, but my little ol’ nokia here has still (3.2MP) & video, full web browser, music, FM and stuff. GPS is on a couple of phones here, but it’s still pretty rare. I remember playing with an A-GPS FOMA back in ’03 or ’04 and being blow away – so damn useful.

        I totally agree about the UI – I wasn’t saying Japanese phones have good ones – I just wish someone would step up and fix UIs in general. And yes, I totally agree about the iPhone – great UI, crappy specs. I’ve deleted so many contacts from the Nokia address book by pressing the wrong key to hang up that I had to insert lots of extra empty contacts beginning with ‘A’

        As I said, I’m not sure about the deals that the networks strike with the handset guys, but Sony sell basically the same handsets here in the UK and in Japan – just different colours. No idea why Casio, Sharp and Co don’t sell overseas – I wish they would – we need more variety.

        I can’t speak for the US market at all – I know nothing of it any more – I used to work for Nextel, but they’re a whole different story.

  7. I think the answer is a lot simpler and more obvious then you think:

    People in the US for the most part want PHONES. They are not technologically savvy, and as a whole the society is less focused on gadgetry then Japan is.

    Phones with converged features tend to confuse people – and so the ones that do have those features are on the higher end of the scale. People want mobile phones for their function as a phone. Other devices serve their purpose much better than a mobile phone. People have iPods for their music, GPS’s in their cars, digital cameras that have great resolution and PDAs. The Blackberries and Treos are the only somewhat converged devices that have acceptance – and that’s only mostly with people who have them for work.

    I just got a Motorola Razr V3M. I love the larger screen and ability to check my email and have the nav features (for free even, from Google maps) but I’ll likely not use half the other features.


  8. Technological differences are only part of it, as a few others have pointed out culture may be part of it. Markets are driven by demand, and there is apparently not much demand in North America for many of these phone features.

    I think a part of it is due to different commuting patterns. In Japan you have most people commuting by train, which is why you see so many people with their heads down, e-mailing away on their phones. In North America, we’re more car-based and only the most idiotic will text while driving, preferring to talk during their commute.

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