Weekly Wrap: All Change in Tokyo
By Carlo Longino, Fri Feb 11 09:00:00 GMT 2005

Vodafone Japan's president steps aside, mobile spam continues to grow, a toy maker looks to get mobile users started early, and more.

Shiro Tsuda said this week he would stand down as president of Vodafone KK after he failed to engineer a quick turnaround of the troubled operator. He'll be replaced by Vodafone UK CEO William Morrow on April 1, but will remain on as executive chairman. Tsuda wasn't helped by the fact that Vodafone lost 58,700 customers in January -- the worst performance ever by a Japanese carrier -- as a new range of handsets failed to catch on quickly.

A survey was released this week indicating that 80 percent of mobile users have received spam to their handset -- not that that's any surprise, but the results may be a wake-up call for mobile operators. Respondents said their most likely response to mobile spam would be to change carriers, and that receiving mobile spam hurts their perception of the carrier and its brand. For carriers that don't act decisively to stop spam -- and help marketers understand that just because it's a mobile message doesn't mean it can't be spam -- the outcome looks bleak.

Of course, as new mobile technologies emerge, what is and what isn't considered spam changes, too. Geotagging isn't a new concept, but Siemens is pitching a new iteration of it, explicitly suggesting it could be used for advertising purposes. The company says users would be able to shut off the service, but what happens when users turn off for good? The dilemma highlights the need for tools to help cut through the inevitable clutter, even before the service gets off the ground.

Moblie betting continues to grow in popularity, but the anytime/anywhere availability it offers, combined with a new breed of bookmakers called betting exchanges, has some people worried. Exchanges also users to bet both against results (ie betting on a team to lose), and after the action has already started, leading to concerns that mobile access to them could help people unfairly influence odds and outcomes.

A related concern has to do with keeping kids from accessing mobile content they shouldn't, including gambling sites. The latest idea in access control has content providers rating their own products -- though it looks remarkably complex (there are eight different classifications for adult content) and useless at the same time (it only applies to content within walled gardens).

There have been plenty of warnings about small children using phones, and many countries either ban or frown upon marketing mobile phones and services directly to children. So toymaker Hasbro has come up with a new plaything for kids that's got all the features of a hot phone -- ringtones, camera, text messages, and so on -- but isn't a phone. It's essentially a hopped-up walkie-talkie with a 2-mile range. So it's not a phone, but will likely have the same effect on kids, much to operators' chagrin, turning them into phone-mad users by the time they're ready for a real handset.

Users may soon be seeing more penguins on mobile phones, but it's not another toy, it's the mascot of the Linux operating system. While Linux has been touted as a potential major force as a handset OS, it remains a niche product. But companies are taking steps to make it easier for handset manufacturers to use Linux. MontaVista, whose software is used by a handful of phone vendors, said it would begin developing a number of reference designs using different hardware and software components that manufacturers could use, hoping to cut the time to market of Linux devices from a hefty two years down to a manageable six months.

Linux could gain a foothold in the smartphone market, where manufacturers seem to have an overwhelming desire to merge laptops and mobile phones, leading some to wonder if they're moving away from the natural attractions of a phone: mobility and the use of voice as an input mechanism. But while some observers point to some smartphones' bulk and the slow evolution of voice-recognition technology as evidence of this, sales would indicate the market doesn't necessarily agree.

Elsewhere on the site this week, Peggy Salz takes a look at how some operators are hoping to boost data use by better segmenting handset sales, Tom Hume says casual gaming offers the mobile industry a strong opportunity, and Justin Pearse explains how old media are turning to SMS as a response channel in their advertising.