Posted by: Kenji Hall on December 26, 2007
Openness isn’t a word you’d normally associate with NTT DoCoMo. Japan’s No. 1 wireless carrier is, after all, a stalwart defender of the vertical integration model. That’s another way of saying DoCoMo likes to keep as much control over its ecosystem of airwaves and handsets and Internet-based content as it can. Its obvious fear is that ad revenues would shrink if it let cell phone users choose their own gateway to the Web since many would prefer not to be routed through DoCoMo’s i-mode Web site.
So what is DoCoMo doing talking with Google, which claims to stand for openness and free online content? (Or maybe the question should be directed at Google.) DoCoMo is now reportedly mulling a deal with Google that would let its 48 million i-mode subscribers in Japan tap into Google’s mobile email and search engine services. A deal might also let them use Google’s online scheduling and photo services, according to the Japanese financial daily Nikkei. My guess is that if DoCoMo and Apple can strike a deal to bring the iPhone to Japan, DoCoMo will want Google on its side, too. The reason: Google has recently rolled out an iPhone-only easy-to-use interface that Apple phone owners see when they search, access gmail or upload and manage photos. Another obvious reason is that DoCoMo, which has more than 50% market share in Japan, has been losing ground to rivals KDDI and Softbank.
There’s also the possibility that DoCoMo wants the inside track on Google’s Android mobile platform for next-generation cell phones. The attraction for DoCoMo is that it won’t have to shell out as much for newfangled handsets, whose development costs have skyrocketed in recent years because of the increasing complexity of customized software for gadget-happy phones.
So is DoCoMo embracing openness? Nah. It seems more likely that DoCoMo execs are just trying to curb costs, keep their content-related revenues from going off a cliff, and perhaps better position themselves for the day when the iPhone arrives.