The firm has announced a range of new handsets and tablets, plus new mobile gaming and commerce applications and an upgraded portfolio of cloud services.
Some of these will be offered to customers of rival operators, a move also pursued by AT&T, Telefonica Digital, T-Mobile and others recently – recognizing that to build a differentiated cloud and apps offering, and steal back momentum from over-the-top giants, cellcos must decouple new services from specific networks and devices.
DoCoMo recognized the importance of differentiating devices via the software experience long before Apple, with its groundbreaking iMode platform more than a decade ago, and it continues to innovate in this area.
It is enhancing its cloud services for Android products, including an upgrade to its Shabette-Concier personal agent, and the introduction of cloud-compatible versions of its phonebook and email services. And it will “begin operating platforms for gaming in late November and online shopping in mid-December,” via its dmarket content and services portal, it told TelecomAsia. The games service, dgame, will offer content from partners including Namco Bandai, Konami Digital Entertainment, Sega and Square Enix.
DoCoMo also acknowledges that to build standalone content and digital businesses, they will need to move beyond their own networks – a direction also being pushed by Telefonica Digital, AT&T and others, so dgame and other services will be available to customers of rival operators.
The dshopping service will “begin by offering some 70,000 items, including daily commodities such as drinking water, shampoo and detergent, and products from DoCoMo subsidiaries,” said the firm's statement – subsidiaries and partners include Radishbo-ya, an organic foods retailer, Oak Lawn Marketing, an operator of TV home shopping channels, and Tower Records Japan. All purchases can be added to the customer's mobile bill, a significant purchasing driver.
More conventionally, DoCoMo has also announced a blitz of 16 devices for launch this month including “nine smartphones, one tablet, four featurephones, one photo panel and one mobile Wi-Fi router.” All the smartphones plus the slate and router support LTE and its Xi -branded 4G services, and they are all powered by Android 4.1 (JellyBean, the latest release). No fewer than five of the handsets and the tablet sport quad-core processors.
This is the kind of storm of high end products to which Japanese consumers are accustomed, and DoCoMo is likely to add Windows Phone and other models to its line-up before the end of the year – though it has not yet secured an iPhone or iPad, unlike KDDI and Softbank. There are rumors that it will soon launch an iPhone 5, since its 2.1GHz 4G band is supported in that de-vice‟s somewhat idiosyncratic selection of frequencies.
For now, Apple is not on the roster, and DoCoMo remains quite reliant on local manufacturers – firms like Fujitsu, NEC, Sharp and Sony Mobile. Though these have little global reach or scale, with the exception of Sony, they produce devices highly tailored for the two main Japanese cell-cos, and DoCoMo enjoys a strong measure of control over their roadmaps, even investing in R&D and silicon to keep its devices at the cutting edge.
The pressure is increasing with the belated shift of Japanese consumers towards open smart-phones rather than highly featured, and heavily operator branded, handsets. This puts DoCoMo on a more level playing field with its rivals in terms of competing for global devices on advantageous terms, as seen in the market share Softbank has stolen courtesy of its iPhone, which was exclusive for several years before KDDI secured the CDMA version last year.
Now Softbank is bolstering its challenge by acquiring fourth cellco eMobile and rolling out both FD-LTE and TD-LTE networks (the latter based on another acquisition, of part of PHS player Willcom).