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Japan's curious love for old-school flip-phones continues

Tim Hornyak | Feb. 23, 2015
Outmoded technology dies hard in futuristic Japan.

"Being a flip phone user myself, I feel it is easier and more reliable to speak on the phone because the microphone is closer to my mouth," NTT DoCoMo spokesman Takuya Ori said via email. "Also, I'm used to typing on my 10 digit keypad, because I used to type in messages from a pay phone when pagers with text messaging functions were around in the 1990s."

Feature phones in Japan are sometimes called "garakei," a portmanteau derived from "Galapagos" and "keitai," or mobile phone. "Galapagos syndrome" is a Japanese term denoting the highly evolved and uniquely Japanese attributes of consumer products and has been used to explain why Japan's phones couldn't make it in the global marketplace.

An exmaple is DoCoMo's i-mode mobile internet service. Supporting paid services spanning everything from social networking to music downloads, i-mode was rolled out as far back as 1999 and amassed an enormous user base in the country, but the technology has been largely eclipsed by smartphone apps.

DoCoMo, which finally agreed to carry iPhones in 2013 after years of resistance, developed an i-mode-style portal site for smartphones called d-menu, but it has kept i-mode and won't abandon traditional handsets either.

"There is still strong demand for flip phones in Japan," Ori said. "We will be deploying new flip phones continuously, as long as there is demand for such devices."


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