Asia

Yahoo! Japan Selects MCN for Vertical Search on Mobile

Mobile Content Networks, Inc. (MCN) was selected to power music search on the Yahoo! Japan mobile site. This is the first of several vertical search channels to be launched on Yahoo! Japan. The MCN search box and channels are independent of general, "horizontal search" on the Yahoo! Japan site.

MCN competes against JumpTap, Medio, Fast/InfoSpace and, in fact, Yahoo! with carriers. But marketing SVP Stephen Burke stresses that the company can work with any number of players, including those competitors and can integrate and "federate" their content and/or advertising. Think of it as mobile "meta-search."

Burke says MCN does mobile search better and cheaper than anyone. However, unlike other parties, the company doesn't offer a mobile index. Instead MCN taps directly into content sources, which it characterizes as "federated search." Burke said the company abandoned its mobile index approach a few years ago after discovering that it was "too expensive" and couldn't accommodate all the mobile content being developed.

Burke also told me that there will be a number of announcements coming in the next several weeks and months.

iPhone Faces Likely Tepid Reaction in Japan

This BusinessWeek article speculates about the prospects for the iPhone in Japan, which it characterizes as the world's most advanced mobile market. It details the ways in which the iPhone won't impress Japanese mobile users and how it's already inferior to existing Japanese phones in many respects:

In its current form, the iPhone doesn't work on Japan's advanced third-generation, or 3G, network. Rumors abound that Steve Jobs & Co. will release a new, faster 3G iPhone next year. But analysts are skeptical that will be enough to please consumers in Japan. In its current form, the iPhone's 3.5-inch touchscreen and its access to online applications such as YouTube and Google Maps are about all that set it apart from other handsets in Japan.

In other ways, the device is inferior, and some of its functions won't be all that useful. The iPhone's Wi-Fi networking, for instance, won't get much of a workout since few Japanese retailers are wired for such short-range broadband wireless Internet service. "I don't think it's going to do that well," says Makio Inui, a managing director at UBS in Tokyo. He predicts the iPhone's high price and limited features will be a turnoff for many in Japan.

Yet in the US and many European markets the iPhone does represent a dramatic advance over what has existed in the way of mobile user experiences. In addition to the persistent question about whether the future of mobile will be about the "carrier deck" or "off deck," there's the related question of whether HTML rendering for mobile (Safari, Opera Mini and the forthcoming Mozilla browser) will become increasingly mainstream or whether WAP will predominate.

It's also the case that while some mobile trends in Japan and Asia may come to pass in Europe and the US, one cannot look to these markets as direct "roadmaps" for what will happen in the West. Cultural, economic and competitive variables prevent that from being the case.

Mobile Publishing in Japan

The Sydney Morning Herald (via TechCrunch) writes about a strange, yet growing phenomenon in Japan, mobile novel writing and publishing:

A new translation of Dostoevsky's classic The Brothers Karamazov, released in July, has surprised its publisher by notching up more than 300,000 sales already - but it is Rin's rather less challenging Moshimo Kimiga (If You ...), a 142-page hardback book about a high-school romance, that has caused the bigger fuss.

"I typed it all on my mobile phone," Rin explains matter-of-factly over the same device. "I started writing novels on my mobile when I was in junior high school and I got really quick with my thumbs, so after a while it didn't take so long. I never planned to be a novelist, if that's what you'd call me, so I'm still quite shocked at how successful it's turned out."

This is one of those specific cultural situations where what's happening in Asia probably doesn't portend comparable developments in the West. Certainly I could imagine someone writing a novel on a daily commute using a mobile device. However the answer to the question of whether the Sony eBook Reader or the Kindle will become widespread enough in the West to make mobile-published fiction a phenomenon, as it is in Japan, is most likely "no."