Netbooks being disruptive in Tokyo

A few days ago, I visited Akihabara here in Tokyo – otherwise known as “Electric Town”. When you come up from the Akihabara (H15) metro stop, the first store right in front of you is Yodobashi Camera Store. Don’t let the name fool you; its not just a camera store. Its huge – I’ve been in many smaller shopping malls in US and Ireland.

They had everything from 103″ TV (unstitched – its truly one giant LCD screen, not a collection of smaller LCD screens) to computer chips to robots to freestanding washing-machines being demo’d *running* on the sidewalk outside the front door. I remember one really long aisle just for computer mice, while graphics tablets were in the next aisle. The rest was a blur.

The bit that really got me was the netbooks. They took up most of the ground floor, and were definitely where most of the lights, shouting, bell-ringing and crowds were. It was quite overwhelming – reminded me of some rowdy bazaar-like atmosphere.
The range of netbooks available was dizzying; I tried to count but kept losing track – say 25-50 brands? All the usual brands I knew, but then many more I’d never heard of before. There were plenty that were too small for me to ever use – keyboards so small that I had a hard time clearly hitting one key at a time with one finger. There was a few machines that had keyboards acceptable for short periods. The HP2133 had an outstandingly great large keyboard – I was surprisingly even able to touch type on this, and came away convinced I could use it as my primary daily keyboard!

The interesting part for me was the two ways you could buy these netbooks. Some people were paying the $200-$400 for their new netbooks. However, most people were buying them as part of a data-only plan with a cellphone provider. One typical plan I saw with eMobile was:

  • 2yr contract
  • $50-ish for the netbook (eeePC, or HP or lenovo or…). Some vendors gave you the netbook for free.
  • free wireless-data card, specific to that cellphone provider
  • $50 per month for unlimited data usage anywhere in Japan, no roaming fees
  • 7.2GBMbps (megabits per second) wireless connection in every major city in Japan (gaps in coverage in portions of countryside). Even you only get half that, 3.6GBMbps, with a bad signal somewhere, its still faster then what I get in my house in San Francisco.

Its not technically a cellphone, but with that kinda bandwidth, skype and a bluetooth headset, whats the difference? And with those kinds of deals, who needs home DSL or home cable anymore?

This is definitely a big new disruptive trend in computers, and I’m happy to see this spinning up as a side-effect of the OLPC project. We live in interesting times!

(Side note: for a machine that is basically a web browser running on a keyboard-screen-wireless-connection, I was disappointed to see how many were running WinXP with the default bundled Internet Explorer. It might have been somewhere in the smallprint, but I didnt see any being demo’d running linux or with Firefox pre-installed!)

UPDATE: fixed typo on units of connection speed – sorry about that – wireless connection of 7.2 GigaBytes per second would be quite amazing. Also, didnt know this was available within the US, I’ll investigate that! joduinn 14mar2009

5 thoughts on “Netbooks being disruptive in Tokyo

  1. I think you mean 7.2Mbps peak / 3.6Mbps otherwise down, 1.4Mbps peak / 384Kbps otherwise up.

    It’s just your normal HSDPA connection. You can get this in the US as well, from AT&T or T-Mobile. I think most countries have one or more carriers offering it by now.

  2. […] All the activity around netbooks which I saw while I was in Japan earlier this year made me curious. While they might be good for casual/student use, would they be sufficient for someone who works at his computer most of the day? Even though I’ve been a very happy with my 17inch MacBookPro for the last few years, I decided to keep an eye on these new netbooks, and be willing to experiment if something suitable came along. […]