there is no greater test lab for
burgeoning cellphone technology than Japan.
While we in North America merely talk on our mobile phones and occasionally send each other text messages, phone culture in Japan makes our cell technology seem positively primitive.
Full-throttle mobile Internet access is standard, phone-to-phone video and music transfers are on the horizon and cellphone communities, which bring the connectivity of the online world to the phone in your hand, are just around the corner and in some cases already popping up.
Tokyo whiz Kim Binstead knows all about the next wave of phone technology. Her company, i-chara, is in the process of making mobile phones literally come alive.
Combining the artificial intelligence of a Tamagochi toy with Japan's i-mode technology -- a platform that allows for full mobile Internet access on your phone -- i-chara plans to bring personality to your phone to make it more than just a simple little device with cute rings. You and your phone become friends and, with the help of businesses looking to make a few bucks, it starts to hook you up with things and people you might like.
Confused? Let Binstead herself explain.
"An i-chara is a personal agent," she offers via e-mail from Japan while a mild earthquake rumbles around her. "On the surface, it is a cute little character, but there are brains behind the cute image.
"It learns about you through casual interaction, gradually building up a sophisticated profile. It then uses that profile to match you both with other users and with information, products and events that might be of interest to you. It facilitates both social networking and targeted information.
"It also protects your privacy, allowing you to interact with other people and share information without giving away anything too personal, like your phone number or e-mail address."
For those of us who use our phones for chatting, this world of personalized phones that make links for us sounds like Jetsons-era technology. Clearly, we're missing out on something here.
While Binstead plans to roll out the i-charas in Japan later this year -- check www.i-chara.com for a preview -- a North American launch isn't even on the horizon.
Binstead will no doubt speak about that tech gap as well as what we're specifically missing when she gives a talk on the future of mobile technology at the Design Exchange Tuesday (May 1) at 6:30 pm as part of the Interactive Arena speakers series.
Even via e-mail, you get the feeling that Binstead feels sorry for how far we've fallen behind in cutting-edge interactive technology.
"You're missing out on lots of stuff, and I don't mean the stock market quotes and flight information that everyone goes on about in North America," she offers. "I-mode services in Japan are not aimed at the semi-mythical travelling businessman. They're definitely popular at the street level, primarily fun and social -- often helpful, but sometimes just silly.
"I mostly use my phone for e-mail, games, restaurant/movie/going-out information, maps and exchanging business cards. Talking is so boring."
KIM BINSTEAD speaking at the Design Exchange (234 Bay), Tuesday (May 1), 6:30 pm. $8-$10. 416-363-6121. www.cdnfilmcentre.com