I-mode is the name of a service provided by NTT DoCoMo allowing 2nd generation mobilephone (PDC) users access to the Internet, send/receive e-mail, and a multitude of services, sunc as ticket reservation, money transfers and weather information. I-mode is based on packet data, meaning that the users pay per kilobyte, not per minute. I-mode is a less advanced competetor to Wireless Application Protocol.


According to Douglas Hoffstader's book, Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid, i-mode is one of the three modes of human action ( the other two being m-mode and u-mode ).

A person is working in "intelligent mode" when actions are based on observation, deduction, logic, and any other intellectual abstraction.

For example, that act of trying to determine someone's E2 password by looking at their homenode and attempting to guess what they might use is acting in intelligent mode.

i-Mode is occasionally hailed by simple folk as "Japan's much better version of WAP". To claim such a thing is erroneous, but it's an easily made mistake: i-Mode phones have higher-resolution, colour screens, and already support transmission-level packet-based operation (which won't arrive in Europe until GPRS is adopted, sometime this year*).

However, take a closer look at the system behind i-Mode. i-Mode is a service run by one telecoms company, NTT. (In fact, at one time there was one gateway server catering for millions of subscribers. Unsurprisingly, it occasionally went down, rendering the service inoperable for hours at a time.) NTT basically hold the reigns for any use of their (proprietary) network. Compare WAP/WML, which at least attempts to conform to a recognised, open standard, the controlling body of which has over 200 members. WAP (currently, I think, on version 2.0) has a technology roadmap planned out that all the handset builders and network operators are agreed on.

The fact that they even got a fairly robust, true TCP/IP service to work over the rather unsuitable GSM network is impressive, even if the rather modestly powered handsets and limited browser software (and, obviously, the high call charges) took the edge of its practical uses. You can set up a WAP site or application today without paying any big companies a fee, and people will be able to access it from their phones and PDAs.

Basically, i-Mode is a technology suited to the unique conditions of the Japanese market, where technological progress could be rapid in the short term at the expense of competition or a properly thought-out standard. It's a neat gimmick, but not one with strong (or any) prospects for export.

*and in the US by the time the Apes have taken over.

2859442: As I said above, i-Mode is a technology suited to the unique conditions of the Japanese market. In Europe mobile phone uptake is nearly 100% as well, but we do not use i-Mode (or WAP), at least in any great volume.

tokyogal: Thanks for clearing up some of my errors. i-Mode does use a proprietary protocol however. Also, even if you can build services accessible via NTT's network, you have to negotiate with them (as you point out) to make your services billable. Which has the same net result as the service being completely under their thumb. It may well be great from a consumer point of view, but it does constrict choice.

To add to fondue's remarks about iMode, firstly call charges and line rental for mobile phones in Japan are typically cheaper than their landline rental & charges. This means that many people living in tiny Tokyo apartments actually use these phones as their main form of contact. In Ireland, I have very few friends who do that - mobiles are only used to call other mobile numbers; otherwise the call becomes expensive very quickly. Those who do use mobiles as landlines pay about double the price per month for call charges, and obviously can't stay on their phone for hours on end.

In addition to this, the fact that iMode is 'a neat gimmick' can be of value in and of itself. The social consequence of both this and the facts mentioned in the previous paragraph is that practically everyone in Japan has a mobile phone; not only do they have them, but they are constantly using them - don't they tie them around their necks? It's very difficult, if not impossible, for a culture that has grown up like this to suddenly stop using phones altogether.

Hence perhaps the one effect of iMode gimmicks in Japan is that cellphone penetration is almost complete there - the US has a very long way to go, even in just highly-populated urban areas.

To reply to fondue's remarks about iMode, I would first of all have to say that i-mode is *not* a technology, it's a brand name, a concept, a business model and a consumer service. I-mode as a concept could basically be deployed on any network infrastructure and can use any markup language etc.

I-mode has been designed as a useful, affordable and easy to use consumer oriented add-on to your phone and that's how consumers perceive it and how it has been marketed (you will not find words like Internet, technology, network or markup language in the media commercials of NTT DoCoMo, who is the provider of i-mode).

In the end, consumers all over the world do not care about technology, and they never did. They want something that helps them to master their life easier and that's fun and easy to use.

Another misconception is that i-mode uses proprietary technology for its i-mode service (whereas WAP is often described as an open standard). In fact, i-mode is purposely using open Internet quasi-standards, in the sense that it's using all the technologies that are most common on the Internet already. It uses a subset of HTML (being submitted as a note to the W3C), GIF for images, MIDI for music, TCP/IP and HTTP as protocols, SSL for encryption, POP3/SMTP for email and MPEG4 for video streaming.

You also do not have to pay NTT DoCoMo if you want to provide your content on i-mode. Just go ahead and build it and let the world know -- that's really all you have to do. Even for becoming an official i-mode content provider and being listed on the i-mode portal on the handset, you don't have to pay to NTT DoCoMo. What you do have to do, is convincing them that your service is useful and easy to use, adds something to the already existing portfolio and that you can provide extensive user support.

The major advantage of being an official i-mode content provider is that you will be allowed to use the content billing system provided by NTT DoCoMo, which will allow you to charge your users for accessing your content/service easily (you only care about the content and DoCoMo cares about invoicing and billing). For this service, NTT DoCoMo will charge the content provider 9% commission charge on all the subscription revenue -- which means that you as the content provider get 91% of the subscription based revenue.

If you want to know more about the business model and the success of i-mode etc., check out the upcoming English language i-mode developer's guide published by SAMS this autumn (http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0672321882/).

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