New $20 Car Navi iPhone App Heading To Top Of Paid List

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ZENRIN DataCom’s[J] new application is a valiant push toward a genuine GPS car navigation system for the iPhone 3G. It’s currently sitting at No. 4 on the App Store’s Top Paid list and it only(!) costs 1,800 yen (at the time of writing, just under US$20). The application’s name is いつもナビ 地図+ルート (apologies if this is unintelligible) which translates roughly to “AnyTime Navi: Maps+Routes”. (OS 2.1 or higher required.)

The maps are multi-touch and their data is optimized for the iPhone, while the route data covers almost all of Japan with 400,000 entries (map and route data are ZENRIN’s own).

Functions include route planning, toll road information (toll roads are quite common here), GPS tracking, search (using keyword and/or data types). These functions and others can be gleaned from the following screen shots.

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Without voice instructions, the app can’t replace a standard navigation system, and could prove dangerous if constantly monitored by a driver. Using handheld devices while driving is against Japan’s Road Traffic Act.

The iPhone’s SDK does not allow realtime route guidance, but this app gets pretty darn close.

Serversman Serves Its 10,000th Man

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We recently covered Serversman (by FreeBit) on Asiajin, a free iPhone/iPod file/web server application available in the Japanese App Store. About ten days after its release, FreeBit announced that it had passed the 10,000 registrations mark (MyCom article here[J]).

Serversman (opens in iTunes) is similar to other file server apps like Files (opens in iTunes), but it doesn’t require Wifi, or WebDAV, or money (although the first two are supported.) The iPhone interface is mostly in English and the website is mostly in Japanese, but this is sure to change if FreeBit follows through on its plans for a US release at the end of March.

The system is quite easy to use. To transfer a file to your iPhone, start the app on your iPhone, login to the Serversman website, and upload a file. I uploaded a 53 page PDF file very quickly over 3G, but you probably won’t want to upload media files without a Wifi connection. (It took me just under an hour to upload a 60MB .mp4 file on 3G.)

Once a file is on your iPhone, you can view it (no widescreen viewing yet), rename it, delete it, or email it to someone in your iPhone’s contact list. This is done remotely through FreeBit’s servers. Unfortunately, it currently doesn’t appear to be possible to send an email to a new contact – you must choose from your existing contacts.

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Serversman has an interesting web server feature which allows you to share your location, photos, and voice recordings on a rudimentary web page located at http://serversman.net/username-node/ which can be made public or left private (see screenshot below). This data, which is updated in real-time, can be mashed up with other web services using (currently only two) XML files: gps.xml, and photos/photos.xml.

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Serversman supports the following file types: iWork (Pages, Numbers, Keynote), Office (Word, Excel, PowerPoint), PDF, text, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, XML, as well as image, audio and video files (although file types are not specified, as far as I can tell.)

Katana Japanese Sword vs. KATANA: Which iPhone App Remains Standing?

Currently number 4 on the (Japanese) App Store’s list of Top Free apps is Katana Japanese Sword by Hanatsuki Inc.[J]. A bit further down on the Top Paid list at number 28 is KATANA by Appliya Inc. Katana Japanese Sword is currently free (although the company’s website states that this could change at any time), while KATANA costs $1.99 (until February 28th, when it jumps back up to $2.99).

Both applications are very simple and involve swinging your iPhone (or iPod Touch) through the air in various slashing motions thereby maiming or killing imaginary enemies. Graphics are almost non-existent, as it’s quite difficult to look at your screen while ducking and swinging, isn’t it. Background audio accompanies both applications and of course, there are some nice sound effects of sword hitting sword, and flesh. To be honest, the apps are quite pointless, but I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the action. They really gave me a good work-out.

Of the two apps, I much preferred the free Katana Japanese Sword (opens in iTunes). It has a lower average rating in the App Store, but this seems to be because some reviewers were unimpressed with the developers’ English level. One complained about the spelling of sword (the app’s main page spells it “sord”) and another commented on the app’s English description, each giving the app a rating of one star. The majority of reviewers however, awarded the app 4 or 5 stars.

Katana Japanese Sword (KJS) starts with some really nice traditional Japanese music and gives the user the option of a Japanese or English interface. The instructions are clear and simple.

Katana Japanese Sword Instructions

When you hit “Play!”, you are taken to the app’s main screen, which displays a long katana and two options: “BGM” (background music) and “Quit”. KJS has four looping BGM options, as well as a silent mode (until you start slicing that is). I thought two of the BGM options were a bit corny, but the other two really set the mood. There are quite a variety of sound effects, including swords clashing, slashing, the yells of your opponents, and the sound as they hit the ground. With each swing of your iPhone sword, some virtual blood spatters on its screen and then fades away. Once you’re worn out from all the fighting, press “Quit” to see your results. Here are mine:

Katana Japanese Sword results

I’m unsure if I dodged 8 opponents or if 8 opponents dodged me. But, it’s quite clear that I “killed” 22.

KATANA (opens in iTunes) begins with the following warning (see image below) which is quickly sliced away to reveal your katana in its scabbard. (Only a short portion of the katana is viewable during gameplay.) The app has a few different backgrounds which change randomly each time you play the game.

KATANA main screen

The main screen displays sound and info options. There is only one rather short BGM option and it sounded a bit too peaceful for such a violent application. To begin “fighting”, move your finger upward to draw your sword, and start swinging. KATANA’s sound effects were quite limited and not as realistic as those in KJS. Once you return the katana to its scabbard, only then do you hear all of your opponents fall loudly to the ground. There is no blood in this katana app, so it’s slightly more kid-safe than the other. You can watch one of Appliya’s promotional videos for KATANA here.

As mentioned above, I think the free app is a much better option. The music is better, the sound effects are better, and the cost is better. Unfortunately, KATANA loses this sword fight.

(Warning: My iPhone almost flew out of my hands during testing. Perhaps I let my samurai spirit get the best of me. You have been forewarned.)

Air Yakiniku Offers Virtual Meat For These Hard Times

As we go through this “great recession”, some of us may find that our wallets feel a bit lighter than usual. We can no longer enjoy the pricey cuts of beef we like so much, nor can we splurge on expensive bottles of wine.

Many Japanese people are no doubt feeling the pinch as well. In these cases, a typical response may be to reluctantly downgrade from domestic beef (i.e. safe, delicious, marbled, beer-fed, and massaged) to foreign (i.e. mad-cow ridden, plain, tough, and cow-brain-fed). But, what if your wallet is so light, that even this is not an option?

This is where the Air Yakiniku website comes in. Air Yakiniku is a sizzling visual and auditory web-based substitute for real meat. (For those of you who don’t know what yakiniku is, go here. Or better yet, go to a real yakiniku restaurant.)

Air Yakiniku

Using the Air Yakiniku system is simple (see video on the site). When setting your table, leave enough room for a laptop computer in front of you. Place a bowl of rice and some dipping sauce on the table, get chopsticks ready, and access the website. Focus on the grilled meat on the screen. When you see the chopstick sign, click it and watch a disembodied hand pick up the meat and move it offscreen. Fill your mouth with rice. Can you taste the meat? (I couldn’t. But, maybe you’ll be luckier.)

Is your laptop’s keyboard full of rice and sauce splashes? Dress it up with the optional paper apron. Are you an Air Yakiniku newbie? If so, then practice by chewing on meat substitutes like erasers or blue-green pixelated things (again, see video).

Air Yakiniku might not translate well in western countries. However, the idea has potential if carefully localized. Consider: Air Bacon and Eggs, Air Chicken Wings, or Air TV Dinner.

Breakfast, lunch, dinner. With your girlfriend, or with your family. Enjoy Air Yakiniku any way you like!

Air Yakiniku was produced by Recruit, a publisher of employment, housing, and travel-related books, magazines, and web sites.

(P.S. Some visitors to Japan have scoffed at yakiniku, okonomiyaki, and other such foods which require restaurant customers to more or less cook their own food. However, once the food has been cooked (which is fun), and eaten (delicious), the scoffing typically stops cold.)