On February 22nd, 1999—that’s 18 years ago yesterday—NTT DoCoMo held a press conference to announce the launch of i-mode. It was the world’s first mobile Internet just barely, but definitely the world’s first successful such service.
It’s European competitor, WAP, didn’t have its first functioning site until October of that same year, whereas i-mode launched with the full participation of Japan’s major banks—an anecdote I remember reading in a chronicle by i-mode creator Mari Matsunaga. Living in Canada meant that yours truly had to first sample WAP on a Nokia 7190 in the spring of 2001, before his first true taste of i-mode in Tokyo that summer. At the time there was maybe one English-language i-mode site, The Daily Yomiuri, and I distinctly remember the geeky delight of scrolling through its headlines on my rented Japanese keitai, while sipping coffee at the restaurant of my hotel… LIKE A BOSS.
If you thought an archaic small-screened Internet was Japan’s only contribution to mobile technology, you’re about to get schooled by Akihabara News. These other innovations also came from the land of the not-too-distant future:
The first camera phone;
The first mobile wallet and mobile payment services;
Unfortunately I don’t have any sake on hand, so I’ll instead raise my morning cup of coffee in a toast to i-mode, and the other wonderful things it enabled.