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The Japanese/American Tech Deficit 787

Posted by michael
from the unsolved-mysteries dept.
Why do the Japanese get all the coolest gadgets, while the U.S. is left with the second-tier, less-innovative ones? The San Francisco Chronicle delves into this age-old mystery and provides a few explanations for those of us who don't live near Akihabara.
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The Japanese/American Tech Deficit

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  • First things (Score:5, Insightful)

    by SIGALRM (784769) * on Thursday December 09, 2004 @01:13PM (#11043341) Journal
    Why do the Japanese get all the coolest gadgets ... ?
    True, but let's put this into perspective. The U.S. usually views blockbuster movie releases first. Many hot game titles are available here first. It all evens out in the long run. Besides, our consumer markets are (of course) driven by entirely different value systems--for better or worse, Japan and the United States have contrasting prerogatives in importing/exporting technology and entertainment.
    • by savagedome (742194) on Thursday December 09, 2004 @01:15PM (#11043368)
      Many hot game titles are available here first

      That's not true. Newest games are available first on the streets of Taiwan.
      • while very very cheap pirate copies are easily available on the streets of the various other 3rd world South East Asian countries.
      • by sconeu (64226) on Thursday December 09, 2004 @01:51PM (#11043790) Homepage Journal
        So do they have Duke Nukem Forever yet?
      • Re:First things (Score:5, Interesting)

        by severoon (536737) on Thursday December 09, 2004 @02:06PM (#11043936) Journal

        I don't accept the premise of this /. article on its face. The main point rests on the idea that Japan gets the coolest gadgets before they reach the US, or else they never get here at all, which I don't see. This makes me want to get in my way-back machine and remember a time when I first came out the California, a simpler time when people were much more humble and thoughtful...all the way back to the year 2000...

        I worked for a startup then whose business model was based on the idea of location-based offerings. (This sounds like spam, but it isn't.) As a customer, you'd go to their portal on the web and register an account. Then, later, you'd log in and enter information that you were going to be in the city on Saturday night, and you're looking to eat Italian food. You'd specify how you want to be contacted by the automated call system: cell, PDA, home phone, etc...and the hours, number of calls, etc.

        Then, on Saturday night, let's say an Italian restaurant owner is looking at a half-empty restaurant. He might subscribe to the service...so he'd log in on his end and enter in a 2-for-1 entree special. The site would match up your preferences with the business offering and call you to book a reservation.

        Surprisingly, this startup didn't fail (at least not right away...it lived several years). However, it did move...to Hong Kong. The funding source did some market research and discovered that we were likely never to make a go of this business by marketing it in the US. Americans get one or two calls that don't interest them from an automated service and turn the service off, saying they don't want to be contacted again. In Tokyo and Hong Kong, they found in their research that people will oftentimes walk around in public with the cell phone to their ear even though they're not on a call...it's a social status thing. They can't get enough calls over there.

        So, they packed it up and moved to HK. The point of this story is that, though by and large people are more or less the same the world over, there are cultural differences that manifest in surprising and unexpected ways. Americans tend to want technology that serves them, is quick and easy to use, and isn't too intrusive. Japanese, from what I can see, tend not to care about intrusiveness and are more interested in projecting a message about themselves through the use of personal technology devices. The more these devices intrude on their daily lives, in fact, the more they view it as a sign of being needed or desirable to others. (They even let technology make matchmaking decisions--have you heard about the pager-like device that they have over there? They enter their preferences for a perfect mate in it, and when they get within 25 feet of someone that meets their criteria, if that person has one too, they light up and buzz so the people can choose to meet each other. Again, this would never work in the US.)

        The upshot is, Americans get what we think is cool, and Japanese get what they think is cool. The Japanese philosophy tends to be oriented more towards the flashy whiz-bang type of stuff, like digital toilets and Internet-enabled refrigerators, whereas Americans would consider these devices as putting too much emphasis on activities we'd rather not think about, and definitely don't want hackers to have access to. (I'm convinced a good part of this cultural divide comes from the differences between Americans and Japanese opinions about personal privacy rights and expectations. Also, the anti-intellectual attitude in America doesn't help ingratiate technology into our daily lives either...think about it. In this country, one of the stock insults in grade schools and high schools is "you're a nerd". In other countries, like Japan, the insult would be "you're stupid".) This, combined with the fact that Americans always expect to have the latest, greatest, bestest, etc, means that we tend to look at the flashy whiz-bang stuff over there, which we don't want, and say, hey, how come we don't have that here?

        • Re:First things (Score:4, Insightful)

          by Grishnakh (216268) on Thursday December 09, 2004 @03:27PM (#11044915)
          There's a little more to it than this.

          The Japanese, especially the young ones, have huge disposable incomes, as a result of a culture where it's normal to share a tiny apartment in the city with other families. Because of this, they tend not to invest of their incomes in more permanent things, like houses. This leaves them a lot of cash to spend on the latest gadgets, and the fact that they spend a lot of their time away from home gives them a reason to want a lot of personal/mobile electronics, especially cellphones and PDAs.

          Americans, on the other hand, usually have home ownership as their highest priority, and along with this, the most expensive home their income can afford them. A fat mortgage payment leaves little income to spend on gadgets that'll be obsolete in 6 months. It's even worse when you're spending what's left on the most expensive car payment you can afford.

          Personally, I think both ways are screwed up. The Japanese culture encourages a lot of consumerism and wastefulness: where do all those obsolete cellphones and other electronics go? And the American system is fairly wasteful and shortsighted too. With all the expensive cars people are buying, they're burning more oil than if they had older cars (look it up: vehicle fuel economy peaked in the 80's, and has been going down ever since). And by buying the most expensive houses possible, we have tons of McMansions going up, which use enormous amounts of energy to heat and cool. (I know someone with a McMansion, and his electric bill in the summer was typically over $500.) But another problem is that these people are all in debt up to their eyeballs, and when something bad happens, they lose their house and car and everything comes tumbling down.
          • Re:First things (Score:3, Insightful)

            by MagikSlinger (259969)
            I think you've come closer to the truth. There is a Japanese obsession with "novelty". Something new and shiny and cool that can be a fad then thrown away. It has become a huge headache for the government with all the electronics ending up in land fills. It seems like the Japanese rely on shopping for their entertainment more than TV or movies. Their retail culture is completely twisted around this idea. Some stores have an amusement park on the roof even!

            Also, there is less "personal" interaction in
          • Re:First things (Score:3, Insightful)

            by mttlg (174815)

            Americans, on the other hand, usually have home ownership as their highest priority, and along with this, the most expensive home their income can afford them. A fat mortgage payment leaves little income to spend on gadgets that'll be obsolete in 6 months. It's even worse when you're spending what's left on the most expensive car payment you can afford.

            You're partly right here, but not everyone is trying to spend money for the sake of spending money. You need to consider the kind of financial mentali

          • Re:First things (Score:3, Interesting)

            by corbettw (214229)
            (look it up: vehicle fuel economy peaked in the 80's, and has been going down ever since)

            This sounds like bullshit, but I'll follow your advice and look it up.

            (minutes later)

            Wow, you're right! This is OT, but for those interested, read through this report from the EPA [epa.gov].

            A short quote: "Since 1975, the fuel economy of the combined car and light truck fleet has moved through several phases: (1) a rapid increase from 1975 to the mid-1980s, (2) a slow increase extending into the late 1980s, (3) a decline fro
          • Re:First things (Score:5, Informative)

            by badasscat (563442) <basscadet75@yahoo.STRAWcom minus berry> on Thursday December 09, 2004 @06:42PM (#11046893)
            There are just a huge number of misconceptions about the Japanese flying around here. Some of it's understandable, but I'm gonna try to counter what I can.

            The Japanese, especially the young ones, have huge disposable incomes, as a result of a culture where it's normal to share a tiny apartment in the city with other families. Because of this, they tend not to invest of their incomes in more permanent things, like houses.

            Home ownership in Japan is only about 6% lower than it is in the United States. It's a fallacy that they all live in tiny little apartments - or that they all rent those apartments. Many city apartments are owned, not rented, and there are plenty of less urbanized areas just as there are here, with single-family homes. According to UN statistics, the ratio of urban to rural living is virtually the same in the US and Japan.

            (I actually think people forget just how urban the United States is in discussions like this as much as they fail to realize how rural or suburban much of Japan is.)

            In fact, the overall savings rate in Japan is much higher [ecb.int] than it is in the United States (though the rate has been falling over time in both countries). So this idea that they just spend all of their disposable income on gadgets is wrong. They actually spend less money on gadgets than we do.

    • True, but let's put this into perspective.

      Pentium Xeon, Itanic, AMD-64 with Hypertransport, PowerPC, Sparc...

      Windows 2003, OSX, FreeBSD, Solaris, AIX, OS390...

      SQLServer, DB2, Oracle, Informix...

      AS400, S390, Clariion, E15000...

      Ford F-350, Chevy CK 3500, Dodge Hemmy Ram...

      John Deere, Navistar, Cummings Diesel...

      NASCAR, Bass Fishing, NCAA Tournament, Superbowl, Budweiser, Miller, Hot Chicks...

      I mean - it's not like we don't have some cool toys of our own.

      [Ours just aren't quite so damned ga

      • Bass Fishing cool

        Mark this date down, people! That may be the only time you'll ever see the words "Bass" "Fishing" and "cool" in the same phrase or paragraph.

        Oh, you forgot Bowling and Professional Wrestling.

    • Yeah, according to the article, the Japanese high tech gizmo market is driven in no small part ...

      by teenage girls.

      Now, that's a demographic that most slashdotters (including myself) have a very limited experience with. I'm not sure how envious I am of a market that that puts style and color in front of most everything (backed up by an infrastructure that this country will never equal). YMMV, of course.
    • Re:First things (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Daimaou (97573) on Thursday December 09, 2004 @01:45PM (#11043731)
      I think, more than anything, it is a matter of cost. I remember when MD Players first came out in Japan. Everybody had one. They had MD Car Stereos, MD Walkmans, MD portable stereos, and MD breakfast cereal.

      You could also go down to any number of rental stores and rent CDs and buy blank MD discs to record them on (now THAT would never go over in the US). Most people did this because it was cheaper than buying the CD for $25 - $30.

      When I returned to America, however, nobody was using MD players, even though they were available. The problem, I think, was the cost. MD players were around $400 dollars at the time. Nobody in America would spend $400 for a portable Walkman type device, so MD players never caught on. Couple that with the fact that America tried to sell MD versions of commercial CDs instead of just selling the blanks so people could copy CDs; which is what was done in Japan.

      I think this is the case with a lot of the tech gadgets that you can buy over in Japan. The cost of these items is always too high for the American market so Americans won't buy the stuff. Therefore, nobody bothers importing it anymore.

      The market is also different in Japan. You can do things there that you can't do here, so some of the gadgets just don't make sense in America (MD players being one example).
    • by KanSer (558891) on Thursday December 09, 2004 @02:45PM (#11044459)
      and I'll say it again. The only reason Japan and Japanese have these sweet 500$ cell-phones is because they see it as a perfectly good investment every 6 months to a year. They relish the new phone with new features, or one that is slimmer or cooler than the next.

      In America we want a 99c phone. That's why we get hamstrung in these ridiculous 3 year or more service contracts. If you actually spend the same amount of money that Japanese do on phones, you'll quickly find you have very similair or the same phone.

      Seriously, there is no "reason" why they get cool gadgets and we don't. It's not like there's a huge creature in the Pacific that feasts on cargo ships. We just don't want to pay $400 some odd bucks up front. We prefer low monthly installments. /rolls eyes

      This also explains the year-18 month lag in tech. We just wait for it to get cheap. (Which is ironic, because we Americans as a whole try to piss money away faster than we can earn it.)
  • by lamz (60321) * on Thursday December 09, 2004 @01:13PM (#11043344) Homepage Journal
    That article makes a lot of sense, especially about the cultural differences. The extremely tight real estate market ensures that people live with their parents for a long time, and that guarantees a higher level of disposable income. I can relate to that myself. Back in the summer of 1994, while I was working at Babbages and living at home, I bought an Atari Jaguar, and practically every game released for it.

    The store manager's wife asked me how I could afford all that, and I told her that I had 100% disposable income. She freaked, and hated me forever for that comment, but it was true! I couldn't afford my own place or even a car, but I could buy all the game cartridges I wanted.
    • by Alien54 (180860) on Thursday December 09, 2004 @01:16PM (#11043379) Journal
      The store manager's wife asked me how I could afford all that, and I told her that I had 100% disposable income. She freaked, and hated me forever for that comment, but it was true! I couldn't afford my own place or even a car, but I could buy all the game cartridges I wanted.

      which is why your folks stll want you to move out.

    • Maybe if you didn't buy all the games you could have afforded a car/place to live...

      but then it all comes down to priorities, and for some those are not priorities.
      • That's right. In the USofA most people will trade their freedom for entertainment. Choosing a Jaguar and 30 or so games vs. living on your own.
    • I don't believe this is true any more than it is in America.

      I lived in Japan for several years (about 45 minutes away from Akihabara, which was nice) and most people I knew lived in their own apartments. Of course, I knew people who lived with their parents too, but that was not the status quo.
    • by FinalCut (555823) on Thursday December 09, 2004 @01:51PM (#11043792)
      Im replying to parent because a couple of its children touched on this subject.

      Parent here was kind of critisized for saying he lived with his parents (cause he was spending all of his money on games) and that if he had not been he could have adjusted his priorities and lived on his own.

      Now, I'm not an expert on japanese (or any Asian) culture - however, my limited experience with a family that immigrated to the USA from Taiwan showed me one thing that was vastly different than traditional American families - they lived together.

      And this isn't a poor immigrant family, they are exceoptionally wealthy and successful. However, having grandma living at home,and adult children living in the house as well wasn't frowned on. The sense of responsibility to family was a bit different than I have seen in other homes.

      Maybe they were an anomoly, but the article makes me think that this isn't so.

      Not only is real estate more expensive in Japan - but perhaps living at home with Mom and Dad isn't viewed in the same negative "slacker" connotation that it is here. Just like the desire for cooler gadgetry is a cultural thing so too, it would seem, is the accepatability of living with mom/dad even after you are capable of living on your own.

      What strikes me about the article is that the Kids aren't helping with the cost of rent/mortgage. Now, I doubt that all adult children who are living with their parents in Japan are stiffing their parents for the bill. But the fact that it was mentioned this way makes me think that it maybe the norm.

      I know in my family the level of family responsibility goes both ways. Once I turned 18 - if I spent any time living with my parents (which I did for about 6 months) I paid a fair rent equitable to the cost of a 1 bedroom studio in the area I lived in. Plus I forked over cash for groceries if I ate any.

      Maybe I'm just whacked - but the sense of responsibility to family (providing free shelter for adult, money earning, children) and the lack of same by the children seems as important to the gadget craze success in Japan as teenage school girls.
  • Ummmm..... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by JerC (121199)
    Because they'll actually buy and use them?
  • Grass Is Greener (Score:4, Insightful)

    by fembots (753724) on Thursday December 09, 2004 @01:14PM (#11043355) Homepage
    Why do the Japanese get all the coolest gadgets, while the U.S. is left with the second-tier, less-innovative ones?

    Maybe, just maybe it's because Japanese made those gadgets.

    Or maybe it's just a "grass-is-greener" syndrome.
  • In some respects... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by nordicfrost (118437) * on Thursday December 09, 2004 @01:17PM (#11043384)
    ...USA lags behind Europe too. Europe was quicker to adopt the digital mobile world with SMS and e-payment. USA has been the leader in big iron, Japan and Europe leaders in small, creative and applied tech.

    • by Octorian (14086) on Thursday December 09, 2004 @01:49PM (#11043770) Homepage
      The issue of USA vs. Others on the mobile/wireless world really bothers me, because I feel like the pundits are missing some important factors. First, the US has built a wired telecommunications infrastructure, and we've been doing it for so long that the wireless infrastructure is more of a "like to have" than a "need to have". Second, we have so much more land area and spread-out population that implementing anything requiring wide-scale infrastructure is far more difficult to begin with.
      • This is the point exactly -- I don't have any mod points, so the best I can do is agree with you!

        I spent a month in Tanzania this summer -- our guide in the Serengeti got better cell reception out in the middle of Africa then I get on 280 in Palo Alto.

        But until cell phones can get to the 99.9999% reception or whatever the number is that landlines have, I doubt that we'll see the cell phone displacing the lanline anytime soon.

        Plus, I read an article a couple of years back that basically stated that in a l
      • Europe and Japan have had state-run telephone companies that charge ridiculous rates for land lines. With wireless came competition and cheaper phone service; which of course brought investment for differentiation. Contrast this with the US, where one can call local numbers for "free" with basic service (from 15-30 dollars a month). Our local coverage here extends about 90 miles in all directions. I do own a cell phone, but I get the cheapest service because it's simply a portable phone for me, and not
  • duh (Score:4, Funny)

    by nil5 (538942) on Thursday December 09, 2004 @01:17PM (#11043387) Homepage
    because we spend our money on the latest and greatest weapons and warfare.

    inarguably.
  • by hsmith (818216) on Thursday December 09, 2004 @01:18PM (#11043400)
    it is a lot harder to change around cell technologies due to how spread out the US is, Japan you have a dense packed population.

    if we were all packed into rhode island you would see some awesome technology becuase updating the infrastrucutre would take no time at all.
    • Actually, if you consider the US East Coast ("BosWash", the Boston-to-Washington corridor), and a 100-mile-wide strip along the West Coast, the population densities and areas are comparable to Japan and Northwestern Europe. And the technophile population of those areas is comparable to Japan's and Europe's. So you'd think that the infrastructure would have been built up in those two parts of the US as they have been in Japan.

      Lots has been written about why this isn't true. The common explanation seems to
  • duplicate post (Score:2, Interesting)

    by musikit (716987)
    watch in 5 minutes someone will submit the story

    "Japan beta-tests U.S. consumer goods"

    frankly i rather they do... they spent the money on crap while we get the working model
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 09, 2004 @01:19PM (#11043423)
    Could it be that I prefer to not be monitored by my toilet?
    • "Could it be that I prefer to not be monitored by my toilet?"

      The US has a lot more social stigmas regarding toilets and bathrooms than Japan. (In fact, the 'toilet' is generally separated from the rest of the bathroom appliances in Japan. Toilet and bathroom are different concepts over there.)

  • by jeff13 (255285)
    ... having lived in Japan and been to Akihabara I can tell you it's easy to have far more product, and far better quality product, in Japan because it has a massive population on a place the size of Nova Scotia.

    With housing costs so high people live with family and have lots of spending money. Money to get this years new "whatever" model.

    Wakata?

    I didn't bother to read the article. I lived it.
  • by scotay (195240) on Thursday December 09, 2004 @01:24PM (#11043476)
    Why do the Mennonites get all the good stuff first?
  • I'm moving to Japan.
  • How about the space defecit? You know, the fact that Americans seem to have much more room to live in? Comparing national mores is hard, subjective, and, in the end, usually pointless.
  • by ivan256 (17499) * on Thursday December 09, 2004 @01:26PM (#11043499)
    At least we can import Japanese technology. Customs won't confiscate something for not complying with FCC regulations, but they will confiscate food!

    In Europe you're allowed to make and sell things that contain non-pasturized dairy products. In the US, you're not. Apparently americans aren't allowed to determine for themselves what is or isn't an acceptable risk. So the best European young cheeses and chocolates have poor substitutes as their namesakes in the US.

    To make matters worse, they've convinced people here that "ultra-pasturized" means "better", even though it just means they used extra high temperatures to get it done more quickly and save money at the expense of flavor. That means the milk here doesn't taste nearly as good as it could under the current regulations. All this in the name of safety, yet at the same time, you can't get irradiated beef...

    Sigh.
    • by MyTwoCentsWorth (593731) on Thursday December 09, 2004 @01:41PM (#11043684)
      Of course, hearing the word irradiated beef makes one shudder... since people refuse to understand that irradiating food is one of the safest way of preserving it for long terms without the need for refrigeration, artificial preservatives, etc.
      As soon as someone can how me ONE study showing ANY danger from irradiated food, and we can start comparing it against the well know risks of all the other preservation methods.
      It's a pity that most people do not try to think about this, but reject it automatically.
      Have fun posting.
      • As soon as someone can how me ONE study showing ANY danger from irradiated food, and we can start comparing it against the well know risks of all the other preservation methods.

        Apparently, you've never seen cautionary tales as "Attack of the Killer Tomatoes". Of course, after seeing "The Toxic Avenger" I'd take irradiation over chemical preservatives any day...)

  • That article's layout is so horrible. The entire text is in One small column to the left. Lynx renders it so much better!
    • That article's layout is so horrible. The entire text is in One small column to the left. Lynx renders it so much better!

      Tip of the Day: Click 'Print version' or whatever it's called, and it will lay the article out in a normal fashion.

      Works on a great many sites which stupid layouts in fact. Having the text taking up a large %age of the screen allows you to resize it as you fit, one of the wonders provided by most windowing systems.

      (x) Check here to recieve a new tip with every post.
  • by titusjan (219930) on Thursday December 09, 2004 @01:32PM (#11043570)
    Johnny stumbles to the bathroom to answer the call of nature using the household's amazing Matsushita-brand Smart Toilet, which automatically measures his weight, body fat, blood pressure and urine sugar and sends the results to the Sokko family physician via the Internet.

    "Your urine contains traces of an illegal subtance. The bathroom door has been locked and the police has been notified. Please remain seated until they arrive.

    Thank you for using Matsushita."
  • In a nutshell ... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by RealAlaskan (576404) on Thursday December 09, 2004 @01:32PM (#11043571) Homepage Journal
    The article says that Americans don't get the gadgets because we

    1) don't really want them very badly, and
    2) don't have the infrastructure to support most of them (see (1)).

    The Japanese are largely status-seeking early-adopters, says the article, while most Americans just don't care. Fewer Americans are early adopters, and those of us who are into conspicuous consumption prefer non-technological money wasters, like big houses, Persian rugs, and so on.

    I'd say that most Americans I've met resemble those remarks.

    There. Now you don't have to waste any time reading the article.

  • My wife is Japanese so we get to go to Japan once a year or so. Last year we got a 'Meowlingual' which really is very accurate on translating a cat's needs/wants/and moods. My wife mentioned that Taraka is making a handheld Universal Translator - when you speak into it - it will translate what you said into different languages or will translate what someone says into your language. Anyone heard about that?
    • a 'Meowlingual' which really is very accurate on translating a cat's needs/wants/and moods

      Here's an actual transcript of a recent Meowlingual translation:

      C: "Meow!"
      M: "Feed Me!"
      Cat: "Meow!"
      Meowlingual: "I am the coolest thing on this planet".
      C: "Meow!"
      M: "Don't touch me! Leave me alone!"
      C: "Meow!"
      M: "I am way too important to be inside this house!"
      C: "Meow!"
      M: "I will do what I want, when I want, and YOU will learn to like it!"

  • Fantasy Island (Score:4, Insightful)

    by HarveyBirdman (627248) on Thursday December 09, 2004 @01:34PM (#11043594) Journal
    1. Sony PSP (Playstation Portable)

    Wow! The power of a Plastation *1* with a tiny screen! Be still my heart! Sorry, but small and portable does not automatically equate to "cool" anymore. I feel the same lack of caring I felt when cell phones started having games I played on my Atari 800. TrueEnvy Factor: 0

    2. Sharp Zaurus SL-C3000:

    Another dumbass tiny computer running a dumber ass OS. Who cares? Why is this cool? TruEnvy Factor: One complimentary BSOD.

    3. DoCoMo "Mobile FeliCa" Payment System:

    Wow. More ways to spend money. I'm sure retailers like this. Is it that difficult to slide the credit card through the little slot, and then just pay the bills at the end of the month? Have some perspective, folks. People use to have to carry cows, sheep and dughters around with them in order to effect trade. And DoCoMo sounds like a Pokemon creature. TruEnvy Factor: -2

    4. The NEC V601N:

    TeeVee on my cell phone. Who cares? What sort of deprived life do you have to lead to give a fook about this stuff? TrueEnvy Factor: Undetectable by modern scientific instrumentality.

    5. SONY Clie VZ-90:

    I bought a PDA once. Within a month I was back to a small Meade paper and pen based scheduling system and never looked back. TruEnvy Factor: Planck's constant.

    6. Takara's Dream Factory

    New Age hits Japan. I fear for the anime industry. TrueEnvy Factor: Three tenths of a quartz crystal.

    7. Sony HMP-A1 Portable Media Player: Wish your iPod could play back movies?

    No. Not really.

    Sony hopes you do.

    Sony would like the PIN numbers to my accounts as well.

    Its new HMP-A1 PMP offers 20 gigabytes of MP3 and MPEG-4 playback goodness

    *snore*

    it even has a video-out jack so you can watch your flicks on a big-screen TV instead of its embedded sharp but tiny 3.5-inch screen.

    Thus illustrating its pointlessness. TrueEnvy Factor: One negasphere of nonexistence.

    • Re:Fantasy Island (Score:5, Insightful)

      by zx75 (304335) on Thursday December 09, 2004 @02:15PM (#11044100) Homepage
      Congratulations! You have successfully recorded an American attitude to *new and shiny things*, the primary reason WHY the Japanese have access to the latest and greatest while the US must wait.
      • Re:Fantasy Island (Score:4, Insightful)

        by HarveyBirdman (627248) on Thursday December 09, 2004 @04:58PM (#11046005) Journal
        You have successfully recorded an American attitude to *new and shiny things*

        What? We like things to have some level of actual use and practicality?

        Damn, I only *wish* people in this country thought like that. We'd never have a budget deficit ever again.

        the primary reason WHY the Japanese have access to the latest and greatest while the US must wait.

        And yet, somehow, life goes on.

  • dynamism (Score:5, Interesting)

    by necrognome (236545) on Thursday December 09, 2004 @01:35PM (#11043601) Homepage
    Check out Dynamism [dynamism.com] for import gear with US warranties and support. Compact Impact [compact-impact.com] has some cool gear to show off, and also has a showroom in the East Village (this store was previously named TKNY). If you are a New Yorker, the showroom is worth a visit, because the owner is a wacky guy who makes custom computers without moving parts.
  • From the article: the vast majority of American consumers prefers to window shop -- experiencing new technology by proxy rather than shelling out the cash necessary to really own it.

  • test dummies (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Doc Ruby (173196) on Thursday December 09, 2004 @01:36PM (#11043620) Homepage Journal
    Market conditions in Japan and America are locked in a cause/effect loop. Underneath the Japanese teen rage for new devices, and the American sloth in buying a few innovations at WalMart, are the marketing machines behind the markets.

    "Japan's trade surplus with the United States remains astronomically high, at over $6 billion; yet [Japan] keeps its most innovative and exciting widgetry to itself, selling it only to the domestic market."

    Neither Japanese manufacturers nor American stores want to take big risks in marketing untested products to a fickle market, but they also depend on competing with their old devices based largely on "newness". So Japanese manufacturers test their devices in Japan, figuring out which are popular with whom, before they send any to the US to be sold for the big revenue.

    None of that is going to change any time soon. The only way for Americans to get stuff first, as a test market, is to make it first. Like we do with content: movies, music, fashion; American manufacturers test that stuff here (even when the factories are overseas), then market the winners over there. It's not so much where the factories are, as where are the innovators and marketers, and the test markets where they can afford to fail before going global.
  • europe (Score:2, Informative)

    by drago (1334)
    hey, be happy you don't live in Europe! We get the cool gadgets even later than the US and for twice the price anyways. And don't even _think_ about current movies!
  • by TiggertheMad (556308) on Thursday December 09, 2004 @01:38PM (#11043639) Homepage Journal
    The US doesn't recruit the mad geniuses the way Japan does. Japan has an aggressive program that attracts and subsidizes their research in many important fields, such as mecha research, mind control rays, cellular reanimation techniques, and psychic enhancement. As a result, we are trailing behind Japan in the tech race.

    Some have pointed out that we don't have giant robots battling in the strees, gangs of psychic mutant orphans roaming the streets, and little to no defense against nude female aliens with magical powers, but I for one don't really find that to be a realistic assesment of the situation. As anyone in Japan can tell you, those problems are more than adequately delt with by the superhero cyborg schoolgirls that roam the countryside.
  • by Petrox (525639) <pp502@ n y u . e du> on Thursday December 09, 2004 @01:39PM (#11043651) Homepage
    money quote:

    ""The way business works here is simple," says David J. Farber. "In America, if you have a potential product, you do research, you try to figure out the size of the potential market. And if it's a totally new, totally innovative thing, where no one has any idea of the size of the market, and there's no guaranteed return on a large investment, well, forget it. No American company will touch it. In Japan, it's usually quite the opposite: manufacturers know that the home market loves new stuff; they'll take risks there, hoping that something will catch fire and take off. The only U.S. company that's doing that is Apple, and, honestly, I don't think that even Steve Jobs, in all of his infinite wisdom, thought that the iPod was going to take off the way it has.""

    how about that? who knew that I, with my ibook/ipod toting ways, was such a technological zeitgeist?
  • Three years ago... (Score:5, Informative)

    by Chagatai (524580) on Thursday December 09, 2004 @01:39PM (#11043658) Homepage
    My wife and I went to Japan for our honeymoon. Naturally, we went to Akihabara twice during our visit. I was so amazed at the gear that they had there three years ago that is still barely showing up here. They already had full-blown DVD camcorders for fairly reasonable prices. We tried on a pair of goggles that gave the person wearing them a virtual cinema, projecting what appeared to be a 80" screen for TV, movies, and computer systems (!) in front of the user, complete with stereo sound. The cost? About $400. Hell, they even had cellphones playing some sort of Dreamcast game (I believe it was Space Channel 5). We both left the "Electric Town" wondering why we hadn't seen any of this in the US; now this article makes a little more sense of it.

    Then again, everything is cooler... in Japan!!!

  • Given the topic, I couldn't resist the opportunity to offer up the most shameless of plugs. Shinza.com [shinza.com] is devoted to bringing the best Japanese gadgets to your doorstep. Be sure to check the popular line of ZeroShock notebook sleeves. The catalog is a little sparse at the moment, but the coming weeks will bring a lot of changes. Bookmark the site and drop by from time to time!
  • by rtphokie (518490) on Thursday December 09, 2004 @01:46PM (#11043742)
    Much of the tech wizardry mentioned in the article centers around telecommunications infrastructure. Rolling out a new generation of telecom in Japan is a lot different than rolling it out in the US. There are many more companies in the US which own the existing infrastructure and a much much larger land area to cover especially with wireless services.

    No reason to bring the neat toys to the US if there isn't an infrastructure to make them work. Even Europe has a much easier time rolling out very new technologies because of it's smaller size.
  • Wrong, as usual. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by sakusha (441986) on Thursday December 09, 2004 @02:09PM (#11043999)
    The writer betrays his lack of understanding of the Japanese market, let alone culture. He blunders forward with the usual stereotypes, and totally fails to understand the fundamentals. The issue has nothing to do with "tribes," disposable income, or small housing.

    Japan is a small country, where fads rise and fall much more rapidly than in a larger country like the US. This means products tend to compete over much smaller market sectors, with much shorter market lives. Think about the Tamagotchi. Bandai couldn't keep up with demand, they built new factories to keep up with demand, but by the time the factories were ready, the fad had died. Bandai went into bankruptcy.
    Japanese markets are like a pressure cooker, products have short lives, and incremental improvements are added to produce new products to replace the old ones. This philosophy of "continuous improvement" is known as kaizen. Products in Japan evolve more rapidly than in other countries.
    Japanese consumers are also better educated than other countries. There is a whole industry of magazines devoted to the most miniscule details of every product on the market. I remember seeing one fashion magazine that spent 20 pages just discussing the quality of stitching in men's dress shirts. And Japanese computer magazines are the same, they put US magazines to shame. Japanese consumers will not put up with anything less than the best products, driving the kaizen cycle even faster.
    Japanese corporations are quick to take advantage of the home market. There are thousands of consumer products released in Japan that never make it to the international market, and this is intentional. Japan is the test market. Sometimes a product will go through several improvements before it's ready for larger world markets. Products that flop in Japan aren't even considered for internationalization. Japanese consumers are the beta testers of the world.

  • Who Cares? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by $criptah (467422) on Thursday December 09, 2004 @02:09PM (#11044000) Homepage

    Can somebody tell me why we should care about it? Seriously, if Japan has cooler toys, more power to them. Who the fuck cares? Are you really upset because you cannot get your e-mail faster? At this point of time, Americans behave like crowds of cattle when it comes to shopping.... Would you like to put more spin onto that?

    I certainly do not. Stuff is not what we should care about because as long as we do so, we will always be unhappy with something. Remeber, grass is greener on the other side. I can't believe that this bullshit makes to Slashdot nowadays. Seriously, it sounds like a bunch of stupid teenage girls who complain about boots, dresses and shirts that do not fit.

    I can get upset because U.S. students lag behind in math and science, but not because somebody has a cooler DVD camera. Give me a break... P.S.: It is not what you have, it is what you do with it.

  • by Lead Butthead (321013) on Thursday December 09, 2004 @02:12PM (#11044049) Journal
    My observation is that Japanese companies tend to use their domestic market as their paying beta testers. What this means is that the latest gears will go through revisions/improvements base on domestic market feedback before being unleashed on North America. The gest of it is that we'll always be a year or two slower than Japanese domestic market.
  • by HangingChad (677530) on Thursday December 09, 2004 @02:22PM (#11044186) Homepage
    It's easier to get products to market in Japan without being regulated to death? And here in the litigation-happy USA we'll sue any of you almond-eyed little weasels trying to import anything that isn't completely, 100% idiot proof. Because here we have no responsibility for our personal choices. If we decide to use one of your electronic gizmos as a tub toy and that electrically powered instrument isn't clearly marked DO NOT USE AS A TUB TOY, we're going to sue your ass.

    Because this is the country where we have to put stickers on pop machines that say if you pull this pop machine over on yourself you might die, where we have to print DO NOT DRIVE WITH SUN SHIELD IN PLACE on the back of cardboard sun screens and PULL TAB TO OPEN because sure as you're born there will be some idiot trying to cut the top of the can off with his pocket knife and he'll slip and cut himself.

    Yes, we've really become that stupid. Just look at who we elected president any time you're tempted to doubt it.

    • by Heian-794 (834234) on Thursday December 09, 2004 @02:30PM (#11044291) Homepage
      Litigation-happy is the right word. Here in Japan, companies can release really cool, but buggy and defective, technology without the fear of customers returning it in droves. It's just too difficult to return any product in Japan that people give up and buy new ones. Contrast that with the US where you can sometimes return a book to the store even after obviously reading it, or returning clothing. Inconceivable in Japan, sometimes even when the defect is the company's fault -- the army of lawyers in the US would never allow such a state of affairs.
  • Bad consumers (Score:3, Insightful)

    by tedrlord (95173) on Thursday December 09, 2004 @02:29PM (#11044281)
    So what the article is telling us is that Americans are crappy consumers compared to the Japanese. If we'd only spend all our money on new, expensive, and mostly useless gadgets every six months, we'd catch right up to them.

    C'mon people! These megacorporations want to help you, but you need to put in some effort first! Where's your national pride?
  • by antifoidulus (807088) on Thursday December 09, 2004 @02:49PM (#11044516) Homepage Journal
    iPod.
    They cannot not make the iPod mini fast enough to meet Japanese consumer demand....but the iPod isn't Japanese. Just goes to show that anyone anywhere can create some very interesting gadgets. While it's true that the US has less than Japan, I don't know how many of us need usb aroma therapy....
    The only good thing they really have on us is cellular service, but there are a lot of reasons it's hard to do in the US, and honestly, I'm not entirely confortable with my phone doing a lot more things than being a phone....
  • Quality tolerance (Score:5, Insightful)

    by gammoth (172021) on Thursday December 09, 2004 @03:12PM (#11044755)

    I was born and raised in California. When I was a young adult, I moved overseas for 10 years. When I returned about 6 years ago, one of the first things to strike me was Americans' tolerance for mediocrity, both in products and services. Just as long as they can get a ton of stuff that work good enough without having to read the manual.

    That tolerance, coupled with a pervasive belief that America has the best of everything, from political systems to health care to consumer products (many Americans hate it when I give counter examples--really rocks their world view), suggests a fertile ground for technological stagnation.

    Tell me to piss off if you like. I couldn't give a toss.

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