Having experienced first hand the wonders of Japanese cell phones, or keitai, I was a bit underwhelmed at Apple’s promise to deliver email, the web and — gasp — a decent camera in a chunky candybar form factor. These were all features I had lived with and used for years, in the country that invented cellphone culture.
In Japan I went through a series of flip-style phones, most of which were built by Sharp and ran on SoftBank’s then-new network. SoftBank actually purchased Vodafone Japan’s business, itself a conglomeration of Japan Telecom and J-Phone assets, in 2006 and rebranded the enterprise as SoftBank Mobile. Side note 1: SoftBank in 2008 scored exclusive rights to sell the iPhone in Japan.
Keitai, while powerful for their time compared to U.S. domestic cells, were in retrospect still feature phones. The versions I owned all came with dedicated buttons for email, video and web access, which of course meant they all had buttons. Very clunky compared to the sleek all-screen interfaces ushered in by iPhone, but great for their time.
At the time, flip phones — what we now call feature phones — were the format of choice. Candybars were available, but the pocketable button-packed flip phones were by far more popular. In fact, it was the surfeit of buttons that made them more intuitive for texting — making voice calls was a rare occurrence in Japan.
Remember typing on a numeric keypad? Try squeezing in a phonetic lettering…
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