Foo Camp

Back from O’Reilly Foo Camp via last night’s redeye.

Foo was fun. Foo Camp means literally camping and there were tents in the hallways and in the orchard behind the O’Reilly Sevastapol campus. I felt like I fit in right away, perhaps due to the fact that 2 out of 3 laptop users had Macs. Apparently, that’s a big shift from a few years ago when ThinkPads dominated, could be a good indicator of future improvements in Apple’s market share.

Highlights: the Make hardware lab, discussion with the founders of del.icio.us, Flickr, and Digg and discuss on why all existing web metrics services suck, Paul Graham on who he funds and why, sessions on mobile local social software and instant messaging, meeting people at the top of their fields in robotics, gaming, management theory, satellite software, and fields I never knew existed.

There was a general consensus of thought with regard to the mobile industry: carriers are the enemy. Unsurprisingly there’s a thread of anarchy in the foo community.

Not much sleep was involved as the drinks were flowing freely after hours. I’m looking forward to a regular schedule for a couple of weeks and some time outside of airplanes.

Japan

I had the opportunity to attend Tokyo Mobile Monday this past Monday. It was a chance to meet some great people (Lars who’s a tremendous resource on mobile Japan, Natsuko Kimura of KDDI, and many others including several experts in Asian mobile LBS).

It was held at the KDDI Designing Studio, which was launched as KDDI’s showroom a year and a half ago in the young and trendy Harajuku area. The building is 5 floors in an elegant round structure packed with phones and demonstrations, a stage and meeting area, and a cafe at the top.

Lots of stuff on display…RFID in a phone that provides an alert for a music video when you walk by a movie poster, popular services are tv, comic books (good for subway, have sounds and vibrations), music (get music over the air, over web, from CDs), SUICA, Felica. Most KDDI phones have GPS, and navigation is very popular for both pedestrians and cars (Navitime), 3D pedestrian navigation is available for some geographic areas, and they have a security service with SECOM for tracking kids, the elderly, and personal safety.

The Japanese LBS market is not as advanced as Korea. In Japan, KDDI is by far in the lead. DoCoMo has still to get out of the gates, but since there’s an e911 mandate for April of 2007, there should be a lot of activity next year.

Other mobile observations…

QR codes are everywhere in Japan, on posters, in magazines, on buses and the subway. The leading advertising agency in Japan pushed it out and ensured that all operators and handsets support the same format. Just snap a picture of the QR code, it’s processed on the phone, and click the URL to view the mobile web site.

SUICA is a widely available payment system that comes as an RFID card or within phones, it can be used for trains, many vending machines, and some stores.

It seems everyone looks up subway/train schedules on their phone. Since trains run to the minute, you can coordinate your entire route by typing in the starting and ending train stations.

More on Japan later.

Now getting ready for Foo Camp tomorrow. Should be fun though it probably won’t speed the recovery from jet lag.

Seoul

Gigantic flat screens plastered across buildings along the major thoroughfares hide the fact that shoe shops are still set up on the subway stairs. Construction is everywhere. Subways are clean, efficient, and timed to the minute. Traffic is a nightmare. Women are more fashionably dressed than perhaps any other city. The culture of service is excellent and people will go far out of their way to assist you. The kimchi is incredible and comes in more varieties than I ever would have guessed. Tent bars sit side-by-side with elegant western restaurants. Korea is one of the most modern cities and yet still shows signs of a traditional and less prosperous past.

And the most modern cell phones in the world are in everyone’s hands…

The mobile phone industry is where Korea shines. The SK Telecom Tower with its elegant glass cubism facade dominates the skyline of one of the most trendy districts. You can pick up a $650 handset and watch satellite TV with a crystal sharp screen. LBS services have been in Korea since the 90’s and are far advanced….navigation, local search, traffic, people finding, all with beautiful interactive maps. Get into a taxi (one of the black ones, which cost twice as much as the silver) and you can follow your progress from the backseat on a bright LCD GPS display. However, despite the fact that Korea has some of the most advanced mobile services in the world, it’s interesting that the mass market audience consumes mostly the same stuff as elsewhere in the world: SMS, ringtones, ringback tones, wallpaper, games, and more recently television. The teens and young adults have yet to adopt the truly innovated services on a mass scale. Talk to someone in their early twenties, and these are the services they are using, with perhaps the addition of Cyworld.

The government is more heavily involved in regulating the mobile phone industry than the US. For example, phone subsides are closely regulated and kept to a minimum, due to anti-trust concerns.

Most significantly, my Motorola Q roamed in Korea, contradicting the unhelpful customer service person at Verizon who I had asked about this. Not only voice, but data roaming so I could synch with Exchange and surf the net. Interestingly, when I pulled up Google on my phone, it correctly detected I was in Korea and displayed a Korean language version.

Driving through the suburbs of Seoul, you can see why Korea is one of the most wired countries in the world. Apartment blocks are lined up one by one in close proximity. Apparently after the late 1990s economic crisis, Korea focused on IT as the industry to pull them out. If so, the strategy appears to be working.

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