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I remember getting my first WAP phone when I was still Editor of Personal Computer World magazine. The hype surrounding the launch of WAP was massive and I was expecting an amazing experience when I connected for the first time. Unfortunately I was sorely disappointed, and WAP proved to be slow, poorly implemented and often expensive. One of the things that annoyed me most about WAP, was that I was well aware that the Japanese were enjoying the benefits of i-mode.
You see, all the way back in 1999, Japanese network operator NTT DoCoMo had launched its i-mode service. This was a simple packet-based data service that allowed users to perform all kinds of tasks, and access all kinds of services via their mobile phones. Not only was i-mode content rich, it was also much faster and far more intuitive than WAP. With this in mind I gave up on WAP and waited for i-mode to appear in the UK – I waited and waited and waited, but to no avail.
Now, six years after NTT DoCoMo launched its i-mode service in Japan, us Brits are finally getting a taste of what our friends in Japan have been raving about. Yes, a UK network operator has finally stepped up to the plate and launched an i-mode service, and that operator is O2.
Launching i-mode was always going to be a tricky proposition in the UK, after all WAP was hardly welcomed with open arms. But O2 seems to have done everything right with this launch – handsets were available from day one, there was loads of content on offer at launch and the pricing structure has been made clear and simple. I don’t know how long O2 spent on planning the rollout of i-mode or how many people were involved, but I can only imagine that the man hours were significant.
Although the title of this review is the NEC N411i, what I’m really looking at is the i-mode service as experienced on said phone. NEC is one of the handset launch partners for i-mode along with Samsung, although NEC managed to get two phones to market for launch. The N411i is the high-end handset in the NEC line up, despite the fact that the cheaper and less featured N343i will probably outsell it, due to its iPod looks.