As the release in Japan of Apple’s iPhone surely gets closer and closer, what is the latest news leaking out about what the device may look like? Piecing together the news I can begin to get a clearer picture of what it will look like, and how my previous predictions may be realised.

3G. 3G, or high speed data transmission speeds is absolutely essential in Japan for Apple’s iPhone. This seems like a fair bet, what with rumours of existing 2G stocks being sold off at firesale prices and becoming sold out in the UK. However, with many eyes watching the FCC web site and their equivalents in many other countries, no-one has spotted an Apple device seeking approval. The process of approval can take up to three months, so it looks like it will be Autumn before consumers will actually be able to get their paws on the Applie iPhone in Japan or any other country around the world. I speculate that there must be some kind of battery life or other issue delaying the release, as there are no concrete rumours of production orders for the additional third-party hardware required to power a 3G iPhone.

Japanese input. With the upcoming Apple iPhone v2.0 software, perhaps to be announced at the June Apple WWDC, many developers have got their hands on the beta versions of the software and are only too happy to leak details of what they are finding. MacRumors, for instance, has announced that the software has handwriting recognition for Chinese but not Japanese. Although Japanese kanji and Chinese hanzi are very similar and indeed Japanese has a much smaller set of commonly-used characters, the lack of Japanese handwriting can only be down to licensing issues; whether it means they haven’t yet closed a deal, been unable to close one, or are just not bothering is anyone’s guess.

However, the interesting news that confirms one of the requirements for Apple’s iPhone in Japan that I previously specified, namely that the iPhone has, for compatibility with the numeric keypad standard on almost all phones, introduced a soft kana keypad. This means that to enter, for example, Apple in Japanese, spelt APPURU, instead of using a standard QWERTY keyboard to type in A-P-P-U-R-U then press a conversion key to change to katakana, you press the kana A key once, the TA key six times to cycle through TA-CHI-TSU-TE-TO-small TSU (or TA thrice then the make-small key), the HA key thrice to got HI-FU, the rendaku key (the same as the previously-mentioned make-small key, according to the screenshot) twice to go BU-PU, then three RAs to go RI-RU. Finally, a conversion key allows final selection of katakana. Although this kana keyboard requires 16 keypresses instead of 7 in this example, with a much larger landing area for each key even the fattest thumbs will have no problems typing, and there will be almost no learning curve required.

Having said the above, singing the praises of their foresight, the screenshot I saw had the infamous HELLOWEEN dictionary feature that Sony-Ericsson mobiles all have! Type in HARO in Japanese, and the predictive input suggests HELLOWEEN as one of the top four choices. Indeed, the whole predictive input seemed far too keen to suggest any word that might vaguely resemble what was being typed, regardless of any weighting for the frequency of each word. Admittedly, this is still a beta but behaviour like that is not going to endear Apple’s iPhone to the Japanese.

So, some small snippets of news point to some movement towards the East, but it appears that their eyes are on China; when will Japan see Apple’s iPhone?

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