I was at MobileBeat conference last week. There, the buzz around iPhone apps very much reminded me of the time of "iMode boom" in Japan, circa 1997-98. iMode is the mobile contents service by NTT DoCoMo (Japan's largest mobile carrier), that pioneered mobile entertainment service such as ringtones and mobile games.
iPhone/iPod and iMode sometimes confuse me, not just by their lower case "i" on the top. Of course, they are different, but in American life style, I feel that iPod in the US has taken over iMode's position in Japan; a very personal entertainment device, coupled with micro-payment platform that is wide open to various long-tail contents. Over there, interactivity of mobile phone fitted well in train-riding lifestyle, whereas in the US, niche time to use such device is the time while you are driving, when you really cannot handle the device, so connecting iPod to the car audio and keeping it playing make more sense.
Now with iPhone, wide variety of interactive apps and softwares, ranging from Light Saber toy to deeply integrated Google apps, are available at iTunes Store. As in the case of iMode, iPhone application providers don't have to worry about distribution and collection, the two biggest demons for start-ups, so it is a bonanza for venture companies. No wonder, at MobileBeat conference, everybody is not just talking about it, but is working on iPhone apps.
Venture capital community is excited too. Kleiner Perkins Caulfield Byers has iFund, dedicated to iPhone apps, and other VC's are naturally interested in this iPhone bonanza. People and money are rallying around iPhone.
And this enthusiasm is exactly the same as the one during iMode boom in Japan 10 years ago. Back then, everybody wanted to become an iMode star, hundreds of startups sprung up, money flooded in to this community. Eventually, the rule of survival of the fittest kicked in and only a handful remained to this day, but some, like Index and Dwango, still are operating as major players, though they have their problems here and there. And this enthusiasm built the foundation for one of the world's most sophisticated mobile cultures at the other end of the Pacific.
Today, 10 years later, some criticize that the most featured iPhone apps are from the established players such as Facebook, Google and Pandora, but you can still feel this iPhone enthusiasm in the venture community. I can easily see that some of the iPhone players today will survive to become majors later on, and some new culture or mini-industry will emerge.
So again, I am getting more confused between iPhone and iMode. Sigh.