Friday, November 11, 2016

BPN 1729: i-mode heads for history

The mobile information service i-mode will be ready for the history books next year. According to The Japan News, Japanese telecom company NTT DoCoMo announced that the production of  the customised mobile phones will stop, while the service itself will be phased out over 2017. At its peak in 2009 i-mode registered almost 49 million subscribers in Japan.

Technically i-mode was a web service for GSM telephones, using compact HTML protocol for surfing and e-mailing on customised mobile telephone devices with little memory. Interesting was the attention given to the part of content in this service. As the service needed specially edited pages, NTT DoCoMo parsed the content pages before releasing them for consultation. 

In Europe licenses were given to Dutch telecom operator KPN, the Greek operator cosmOTE and the British operator O2.In 2004 these operators clocked 2 million subscribers. KPN used its license in Germany with E-Plus, in Belgium with Base and in the Netherlands. The KPN services were launched in 2002. The telecom company officially held a license for 10 years, but the Dutch service was terminated in 2007; at its peak in 2003, the Dutch service counted 1 million subscribers. The German, the Belgian and British services in 2009.

The service has been overtaken by technology. Although mobile Internet was possible from 1995 onwards, installation of the settings was technically complicated; besides usage was very expensive, especially from abroad. NTT Docomo launched a content service with a special telecom protocol, which also needed special mobile phones. The service was also called teletext for mobile telecom. KPN claimed in 2004 that had 560 i-mode services provided by 400 national and international content providers.

In Japan the service has run from 1999 and will be terminated in 2017. NTT DoCoMo still has 17 million subscribers, which represent 30 per cent of the operator’s subscriber base. The long run of i-mode in Japan and the short run in Europe can perhaps be explained by the characters used in the Japanese language. Also the elderly segment of the subscribers loved the mobile phones customised for the segment, the service and the e-mail facilities.

(To enlarge tick on the illustration) 

Will i-mode leave  any historical trace? The special phone is being phased out, but a copy will undoubtedly be saved by a telecom museum. The content services will also be missing towards  the end of next year, unless NTT DoCoMo will make a copy of the services (which is usually forgotten). However, the e-mail service is maintained. And the telecom company has safeguarded the e-mail symbols, emoji ( 文字 in Japanese) by donating  the original set of e-mail symbols to the Modern Museum of Art. The set emoji was designed by Shigetaka Kurita, a designer in the i-mode development team. For the launch of i-mode he designed 176 emoji on the basis of the format of 12x12 pixels.

For more background see the following blogpostings on Buziaulane: