au BOX: KDDI, Motorola and Opera intro new multimedia terminal in Japan

Yesterday KDDI, one of Japan’s many telecommunications powerhouses, held a press conference in Tokyo to present the so-called “au BOX” to the general public for the first time. “au” is KDDI’s cell phone brand and the reason why the company can call itself Japan’s second biggest cell phone carrier.
Based on the Motorola VIP1830 IP, the au BOX is an integrated set top box that is supposed to bridge the gap between three different pieces of hardware: TV sets, PCs and mobile phones. Users are able to enjoy music and video material downloaded via their TVs on their au mobile phones. The main selling point: There is no PC needed. In fact KDDI stated that its main target group is PC-averse Japanese people aged between 10 and 39.

Subscribers can browse the web on their TV sets as well as on their handsets with Opera Devices 9. In addition to playing music CDs (or music downloaded from the web), the au BOX also doubles as a DVD player. Music CDs can be ripped and transferred to mobile phones afterwards (or some of Sony’s Walkman models) via USB.
The Linux-based au BOX features 1 GB of memory (200 MB for music), stereo speakers, a LAN interface, 2 USB ports, an AV connection etc.  KDDI said they will showcase the device at next week’s CEATEC exhibition.
The box will be made available on November 1st. Pricing: 315 Yen (3 USD / 2 Euros) per month for subscribers of au or the so-called “Hikari one TV service” (a video-on-demand service). Users can access au’s own “mora for LISMO” service to download music and the “LISMO Video Store” to save themselves the trip to the next video rental store. All fees can be paid via the cell phone bill using au’s “matomete au shiharai” (all-in-one payment) system.
This seems to be a pretty cool example for tech convergence, but too bad it’s Japan-only.

1 comment

  1. “its main target group is PC-averse Japanese people aged between 10 and 39” … Considering that you need FTTH to get the device in the first place, I don’t think there are many people with high-speed fiber in their homes, but without a PC. Especially in the 10 and 39 age group. At 315 Yen/months, it is much more likely that users get the box _in addition_ to a PC.
    I’m also not convinced by the title selection in their video service. 5000 titles, that’s one wall in a video rental store. Laughable. And it’s not on demand, but streamed in 30 channels.
    Plus, who would ever download music to a device with a meager 200 MB storage? And lock-in to 64kB compression. And abysmal integrated speakers instead of a high-quality audio out? Judging by their video selection, the music store won’t be much better.
    Plus, Internet on the TV? That idea was already dead 1998. It even looks like you can’t connect a keyboard. So much for doing mixi on the sofa.
    All in all, there is nothing in the box that you can’t do with a laptop and a few extra cables. It may find its customers as a cheap rental DVD player. The rest suffers from the same problems like all of these boxes:
    – vendor lock-in with the services: Does it play songs from i-Tunes?
    – lack of storage
    – cheap hardware
    It’s nice that mobile service providers realized that they need to push interoperability to stay competitive, but instead of throwing tons of money towards inferior locked-in services, increase usability of their devices!
    For example, any digital camera I buy has a USB cable so I can load the photos to my PC. Try the same on a cell phone! It’s a connector nightmare! And on a cell phone, USB is needed even more, to upload mp3s, to use it as a modem… Making it easy for me to use a cell phone as a modem might even generate revenue for the telco, and even in their main business (connection fees, in case they didn’t remember…)

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