Category Archives: japan

Behaviour-shaping public signs

Public signs are good indicators of the prevalent behaviours, concerns, or ideal norms in the society. Here are a small collection of such public signs collected randomly during my travels in Japan, South Korea, Thailand, Switzerland, India, China, Ghana, Vietnam, Denmark, and UK. I compiled these photos for THEME magazine article in 2008 (unfortunately the magazine is no longer in publication).

A few public signs are culturally unique. Most of them demonstrate the nuances of the expected norms of the public behaviours. One of my pet interests to write and dig more about in the future.

Use of Multiple Mobile Phone Numbers (part 2)

Continued from part 1….

There are several tactics to use multiple phone numbers. Four notable solutions are listed here – please keep in mind that at the time of this research (2007), there was only very few mobile phone models that had the dual SIM feature.

Solution 1. Carrying two or more SIM cards but only one mobile
Not everyone can afford to buy multiple phones, or wants to carry two mobile phones with them all the time. The extra SIM card is carried in a safe place such as inside wallet or inside the battery cover of the phone, which makes an intuitive storage for switching the cards. Some people who go for this solution are typically well aware of call divert function as it allows receiving calls from both numbers even though there is only one active number to make calls at a time.

Solution 2. Multiple phones – A phone per number
In markets where users do not have separate SIM cards, this is the only solution for the user to get multiple phone numbers – while in GSM markets it is a matter of users’ preference and affordability. Users may maintain separate phone book on each of the phones – sometimes intentionally (refer to 1. lowering the cost of communication), sometimes because they do not have the option of easily synchronize them. When affordability is not an issue, physically separating the phone per number provides the greater control over managing the multiple points of contacts.

Solution 3. Mobile phone with multiple SIM card slots
At the time of research, there were very few multiple SIM phones in the market from the known brands. However we observed a few Shanzai phones featuring dual SIM. Obviously after 4 years, this feature has become a de facto requirement for a mobile phone. There are numerous new mobile phone brands popping up in India, and invariably all their products feature dual SIM, sometimes triple SIM functionality.

Indian mobile phone brands’ ads: Most phones have the dual SIM feature

Solution 4. Stitching up multiple SIM cards into one
We found a service offered by a local mobile phone dealer (Mobile Phone People, one of the Nokia authorized dealers) in Ghana. It costs 15 euros to have the two SIM cards combined into one. There is an even more advanced operation, which requires a special SIM card imported from Finland. This card can host up to 16 SIM cards into one, but costs 40 euroes. Either of these operations costs considerably high for the market, as it is more than purchasing a mobile phone. Therefore the clientele is mostly business people who do need to have two or more numbers but do not want to go through the inconvenience of switching SIM cards or carrying multiple phones.

Interviewing the engineer who was working at this service center mentioned that this technology is from Finland, but cannot tell more about its source as it is a business secret. He was proud to say that he was the first one who got trained for this operation in Ghana, and subsequently he trained others working currently in the shop. The way this operation worked was brilliant at the short sight, but obviously I suspect that it may have the legal issues in terms of manipulating the network SIM card directly. 4 years down the road, I don’t see this service booming in the market.

User’s two SIM cards are punched out and combined into one new card

A special chip can host up to 16 SIM cards into one, at high cost of €40

Application to control the stiched SIM card settings. Works with any phone.

I haven’t had a chance yet to study how people actually manage multiple phone numbers – the multiple identities on their dual SIM phones. If the mobile usage goes beyond the voice calls, it will definitely require design considerations in various parts of the mobile phone applications, as it no longer is going to be an issue of cost management, but identity management. Technologically and as a matter of market availability, owning multiple mobile phone numbers is now very easy. But its potential and implications is largely unexplored beyond the manufacturing of physical hardware.

Acknowledgment of the project team: Ti el Attar, Jan Chipchase, Fumiko Ichikawa, Indri Tulusan and local collaborators

Use of Multiple Mobile Phone Numbers (part 1)

2 SIM cards with chips punched out to make one integrated SIM card, Accra, Ghana, 2007

I recently visited a shanzai phone market in Shenzhen, China. Due to its proximity to the main production hub of mobile phones of all brands and manufacturers, it is a true showcase of all kinds of mobiles you ever imagined to exist. As with the timing, there were a lot of design copy products of Nokia’s recent model N8. On one visit to the market, I saw several versions of N8 design copies, with very different feature sets – which was a trend I did not witness when I visited the shanzai market in Chengdu a few years ago.

Various fake copies of Nokia N8 in Shenzhen shanzai phone market

The copies of N8 can be categorized as:
– Dual SIM with TV functionality
– Copy close to the real product
– Various chipset (price tag changes according to the CPU speed)

It is interesting to note the competition space even within fake phones of the same product. While these ‘enhanced’ unique selling points may be just a gimmick, you might also think that there is some level of genius in those features reflecting the market norms.

Fake N8 with the antenna out stresses that it has the TV functionality.
Shanzai phone market, Shenzhen, China, 2010

There are numerous mobile phone models designed to take more than one SIM card. Most of fake mobile phones or lesser-known brand names in the market now has the dual SIM feature as if it is as essential as having the mobile network radio itself. In fact, it is one of the big yet stealth changes in the basic feature set of mobile phones in the last 4 years – especially among the lesser-known brands, low-end of the price tags, and shanzai markets. Despite the popularity surrounding us in several large mobile phone markets including India, China and African countries – I have seen few buzz on the ‘dual SIM’ phenomenon. Thereby I put together a brief post, digging information from an internal research report I wrote for my employer in 2007.

Having multiple mobile phone numbers may be seen as an anti-trend when the mobile phone number portability is increasing becoming a part of the basic civil rights in several countries. But for the time being, the following circumstances drive people to use more than one mobile phone numbers:

1. Lowering the cost of communication
Many mobile network operators offer cheaper rates for inter-network calls, especially in markets where competition among network operators is high. Highly cost-conscious consumers naturally get multiple numbers for cheaper calls. While it may not take too much effort to acquire the new number itself, this comes at a cost of efforts and skill: Remembering, or identifying who in your social network has the number belonging to a specific network operator. People develop a tactic, such as indicating the network operator in the name stored on the phonebook. This is not an exclusive behavior only for the developing economies, however. When the 3G network was newly introduced in Japan several years ago, many Japanese consumers also owned two numbers, one from 3G for cheaper messaging & data connection, another from existing network for cheaper voice calls.

An ideal mobile phone idea hosting 4 SIM cards,
as ‘operators’ rates vary and everyone has more than one SIM card in his community’,
Camp Buduburam – Liberian refugee camp, Ghana, 2007

In the street surveys done in 2007 as part of our research project, the following percentage of users surveyed had two or more mobile phone numbers:
– Accra, Ghana (n=309): 30%
– Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (n=230): 28%
– Chongqing, China (n=150): 9%
– Mumbai, India (n=165): 16%

Considering the fast changing nature of the mobile market, this number probably have changed significantly especially with new players joining in the market.

2. Controlling points of contacts
Another motivation to have more than one number is for the user to control how one is contacted and contactable. Naturally users typically have a strategy on handing out the right number to the right person for future contactability. Our research participants most commonly report separating private and business contacts by having separate numbers. Being able to switch one number completely offline is a way of switching the mental mode, such as “I am turning my work phone off as I am not working anymore”. Small business owners and those who deal with a large number of people can identify the type of contacts easily by differentiating which phone number they use. One Chinese electronic shop owner gave out one of his mobile phone number for his best customers, ensuring that he is always reachable for them. The ease of having another mobile phone number also provides the exclusive communication channel for some, like those in early or secret relationships.

3. Ensuring reliable connectivity
Unreliable network availability or unavailability of the particular network in the area where you live or work may drive users to be ready with multiple numbers from different network operators. In Ghana, people had the perception that the quality of the connection can not be ensured with one network alone hence multiple numbers were essential to prevent disrupted communication. For many prepaid mobile subscribers, having multiple phone numbers means that user can minimize the risk of getting disconnected because of running out of prepaid credit in critical situation.

To be continued in part 2 of the post….

mobility of your existence

I was asked for my home address today – I could only say “I don’t have one at the moment, except my temporary address.” Have you realized the limited access to services you will experience when one of these is taken away, lost, or invalid: Home address, mobile phone number, governmental identification, credit/bank card?

The world is often not designed for, or accommodating to those who do not have a regular place to live. Or opted out of using the means that are typically used to prove where you live. When I wanted to register to eBay.co.uk while I lived in UK, it offered two options to confirm my existence so that I can become a member: A landline phone number or a credit card. I never had a landline phone number myself since 1998, and one and only credit card from Japanese bank was of course not accepted since they could not verify the address for the card, which was in Japanese.

Recently I stayed in South Korea for a while. Even though I am a citizen, I found myself constantly relying on other people’s identity: mobile phone, residential address, and credit card. With Korean Internet services, it becomes more evident – I felt like an underground citizen not having a mobile phone of my own. So the role of residential or ‘permanent’ addresses is becoming a shared one with the mobile number. Ironically, or naturally – our digital being is only acknowledged when it is verifiably linked to our physical being.

Socially and systematically our digital birth is not acknowledged. It only becomes valid when our physical and proven existence is linked to it. Will this change? Will we – digitally or physically – be freed from our permanent residence when so many of us are no longer in a position to claim a permanent residence?

Living out of suitcases quite often, my attention is always attracted by how people manage to live in the minimal space and things. Here are some taken in Osaka, Tokyo. I indulge in the clear visibility of what is essential for the living. The digital life of this home owner? – I am left to wonder.

(it will be) one of us

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How would you feel robots walking casually on the street? What would be your first implant / code / tag on your body for? What if a pat on the shoulder is much more than a mere physical gesture? Get your opinion ready now to recall it in the future when you will be such a natural part of it that you won’t even notice.

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Tokyo anime fair, 2008. I loved the astro boy who walked by.

phone booth

Have you used a public phone booth with a door for purposes other than using the public phone? It is used as a shelter from a sudden rain, using mobile phones inside, changing clothes, rearranging the bag, or even crying for a while if you must, though being inside a phone booth proper is becoming a faded memory for many. With mobile phones, choosing the physical environment in which we make a call is often up to us. In the early phase of adoption of public phones, phone booths were advertised as essential tool for privacy, making the caller feel more comfortable. Now, some places force mobile phone users to use the phone booth for the comfort of others around the caller.

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In any case, I reckon that designing a phone booth is a challenging task, satisfying the need for privacy as a comfort zone for a voice call (regardless of whose comfort that is) while minimizing the opportunity for exploitation and valdalism by making it too private and comfortable at the same time. With the vast diversity of the telecommunication culture, I always feel that the design of the surviving phone booths still communicates the attitude of the space that they reside in.

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This booth, in front of Meguro station in Tokyo, has semi-ransparent brown walls. It is complete with emergency numbers and a printed phonebook. On the door is a sticker that bears a warning to those attempting to place pinkupira*, issued by the police.
* pinkupira: the kind of advertisements you would find in London’s landmark phonebooths, like this – though it seems to have become significantly less as sexual advertisement became illegal in 2001 in UK.

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This is from London’s old street tube station. With space constraints and the heavy traffic of people, these public phones do not resonate with the concept of comfort or privacy, but serve the necessity of anyone who needs to reach out to someone quickly and efficiently (especially tourists, nowadays).

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This phone booth design in Paris seemed fairly new, very spacious inside and totally transparent.

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These pictures were taken in New Molden, Surrey – London’s suburbia. I never saw anyone using the email / text function in public phone. Booths for silent communication – through keyboards, gestures, screens, would probably require a whole new set of design brief.

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The classic London phone booths, in Smithfield market.

the value of collectors

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Pictured is the sea urchin ice cream that I happily tried in Namja town in Ikebukuro, Tokyo. The ice cream world features more than 300 kinds of ice cream from all over Japan. Although traveling has become cheaper and easier for new experience seekers, it still has the attraction to be able to sample authentic things that you didn’t know about, or common things brought from somewhere that is unfamiliar to you.

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The set up may look cheesy, but it is difficult to dismiss the effort of establishing a venue like this. It feels like being in the ultimate training program to become a wise consumer (or whichever type you want to be), dealing with more choices than you would ever imagine or need in everyday life.

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Namja town is run by Namco, but there are a lot of food experience events along with the detective games using cat dolls with RFID implants. When I visited, the cheese cake fair was on; it seems the chocolate expo is on till march 2009. Ramen and gyoja streets are run all time around.

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If you are interested in a little bit of the urban history, Sunshine city that hosts Namja town itself may be worth visiting with planetarium, acquarium, and observatory on its top floor, reminiscent of its 80’s glory of being one of the tallest buildings in Tokyo and the first generation of all-in-one entertainment facilities for all age groups. The ultimate function of Sunshine city in the context of the mega urban city is not too far from love hotels.

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displaced/fabricated nature

plants growing in tokyo metro station

plants growing in tokyo metro station

Living close to the nature is a privilege in many parts of the world. It is more so as cities become increasingly densely populated and expand. I grew up in a very human-constructed environment of South Korea’s former industrial hub, Busan, South Korea. Naturally, facing or getting too intimate with the real nature has always been a special, rare occasion to me. On the other hand I am very much familiar with the idea of miniaturized, sanitized, fake nature in the industrialized, completely made-up environment, simulating and sampling the idea of nature rather than providing the real experience of it [think a fake snow field in a department store window decoration rather than the deceivingly real artificial beach in Odaiba, Tokyo, Japan]. In doing so, we often mimic parts of the nature that takes minimal effort to maintain and is pleasing to our senses without unpleasant consequences.

a cafe in an underground passage in tokyo, japan

a cafe in an underground passage in tokyo, japan

In Seoul’s smaller city airport, Gimpo, there’s a airy lounge area that looks like a garden. Perhaps it is the obvious contradiction that makes it more charming, or acceptable, depending on where you are coming from. As a city child I didn’t even notice the ubiquity of mimicked nature until I came back to Korea after living in other countries. They are sometimes cute, but more often than not, can be repulsive, cheap, and horrifying. Like most animal cages in the zoo are simply sad to look at.

lounge area in gimpo airport, seoul, south korea

lounge area in gimpo airport, seoul, south korea

 

gimpo airport lounge, seoul, south korea

lounge area in gimpo airport, seoul, south korea

As depicted by numerous well-known science fictions, we will soon see the day when it is no longer interior decorator’s musings to create the artificial parts of the nature, as they may be required for the purpose of making people familiarized with the concept.

As a side story – in a Japanese manga series called ‘Five Star Stories’, the humanoid girls ‘Fatima’ who are specifically created for controlling the war robots are described. Their skin can only accommodate clothes made of real cotton, which in itself is an extreme luxury at the time. I was reminded of the story when I was shopping in India looking for a traditional cotton lungi in a local neighborhood: I tried almost 10 shops, and none of them had a single lungi made of pure cotton as it was too expensive.

credibility, at a glance?

how long do you give to form your perception and opinion upon encountering something you are not familiar with? how easy do you think you are influenced by the first impression when you make a decision to try a new service? what cues do you rely on to make your preliminary judgment on the assumed quality of the product or service?

asian buffet sign, stockholm

this gentleman was standing on the street of stockholm holding a sign for an asian restaurant. it reminds me of the joke among my finnish colleagues about having me standing behind the ‘oriental wok’ section of our office canteen in helsinki to make it look more credible.

waxing/tanning/nails sign in London

when does it become important for the service provider to enforce the positive association in promoting their offering? the waxing/tanning/nail salon sign is obviously held by a guy who look like he would never want such a service in oxford street, london. but the sign is held high up to make it visible in the distance even when the street is bustling with people, which may screen him from being seen.

poster of a local government election candidate in tokyo holding a baby

sometimes the association may not have any logical alignment with a specific feature of the service being promoted. above is a poster for the local government election campaign in tokyo earlier this year. this candidate’s slogan holding a baby is “policy driven by residents”.

tokyo anime fair 2008

as a side thought:
any relationship between keroro and the ladies in tokyo anime fair 2008? i always wondered about the effect of having beautiful people around the product. it certainly seemed to attract more human photographers for keroro in this occasion.