Kurt Hanson: Report from Tokyo Part 4

RAIN founding editor Kurt Hanson is reporting from Tokyo, where he is surveying the tech, culture, and audio landscapes. This is his fourth report. See the first report here, the second report here, and the third report here.

KH - flip phone 638w

Although iPhones are astonishingly ubiquitous here in Tokyo, as I wrote in an earlier report — and I’ve since noticed that they’re virtually 100% white — there is an interesting occasional exception to the rule: a long, thin flip phone (pictured above) that, as far as I know, is unique to the Japanese market.

This particular form factor is known as a “previous type phone” or more colloquially called a “garakei,” which translates to “galaphone,” which is a portmanteau — whichI learned from “Archer” is a clever mashing of two words together, like “Spam” for “spiced ham” (super-popular in Okinawa) or “tactileneck” for the “tactical turtleneck” that a stylish secret agent might wear) — of the term “Galapagos phone.”

The reference is to Charles Darwin’s Galapagos archipelago, in which a specialized creature in an isolated ecosystem manages to find a niche and survive!

The users of garakei seemed to be two-fold: non-techies who simply want to make phone calls and nothing else (e.g., some small children, some seniors, the extremely budget conscious), and, I believe, some consumers who use an iPad as their primary mobile device.

Carrying a small, dedicated feature phone around for telephone calls makes some degree of sense if you’re already carrying around an iPad, since the features on the iPad and iPhone are so duplicative. (As I wrote in RAIN the first weekend iPads were released to the general public, once you have one, you start seeing your iPhone as a miniaturized, shirt-pocket size version of your iPad.)

Sure, as many RAIN readers have discovered, if you own an iPhone, you may well want to get an iPad.

However, if you approach the issue from the other direction, as some Japanese have, and go iPad first, then the garakei, at least for a while, may be a practical solution for you — and allows you to revel in your unique Japaneseness!

(By the way, I’ve read that many or most galakei have built-in FM radio, a la NextRadio here, but I don’t believe I’ve yet seen a single consumer on the streets on or a train with headphones plugged in for that presumed purpose.)

Brad Hill