Magazine article Newsweek International

You Need This Gadget

Magazine article Newsweek International

You Need This Gadget

Article excerpt

One recent afternoon, 21- year-old Tokyo college student Takako Koyasu was taking a stroll on campus when her cell phone rang. Her friend was asking whether she should buy a military-style winter coat she had just found in a downtown store. Koyasu told her friend to "do sha-mail" ("sha" comes from the Japanese word "to photograph"). Seconds later an image of the coat appeared on the phone's LCD screen. "Looks OK, but the price isn't right," Koyasu said--thus saving her friend from a poor impulse buy. "Sha-mail is great," says Koyasu. "It makes everything so easy."

Holiday shoppers in the United States and Europe are only now getting cell phones with tiny built-in digital cameras. These offerings have already run the gantlet in Japan, where for the last two years telecom giants have waged a pitched battle for the hearts and pocketbooks of the world's most finicky, gadget-conscious consumers. NTT DoCoMo's fancy third-generation phones, expensive and power-hungry, failed to catch on--a mere 150,000 units have been sold since October 2001. J- Phone, the Japanese unit of British telecom firm Vodafone, used an older technology, but its phones were cheap and satisfied the Japanese preference for sleekness. They also took low-resolution pictures that could be e-mailed to friends. J-Phone coined "sha-mail" as a nickname for this service--and has sold 7.5 million phones. International consumers can now see what happens when a marketing gimmick becomes a cultural phenomenon. …

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