Cell phones in Japan: Go big or Big Mind?
June 8th, 2008

Apple’s 3G iPhone may well hit all the right notes with North American consumers but will it go big in Japan? WIRED writer Lisa Katayama isn’t so sure:

“Steve Jobs’ new iPhone, expected to be unveiled Monday, is headed to Japan by the end of the year. But the device’s famed ease of use may actually be a turnoff in Japan, where consumers want features, not simplicity.”

Practical considerations aside, perhaps these questions are better left to philosophers. Is the cell phone market in Japan about going big or going Big Mind?

Functionality and philosophy

From the emergence of Keitai culture until now, Japan is the most definitively mobile culture in the world. It is also a culture deeply informed by a very different philosophical aesthetics than the West. And this is precisely why this market is so different than anywhere else.

The cultural significance of these differences has a basis in Japan’s Iki or traditional aesthetic ideals, which are informed by principles of depth (Yugen) as well as incompleteness (Wabi Sabi).

Right now, technology is still discussed along pragmatic lines of functionality and usability. But as technology takes on greater significance in human society, our unconscious may be seeking out more profound experiences. In these terms the question of complexity in mobile design transcends the pragmatic to the awe and wonder of Yugen.

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