Japanese convenience store offers PDA content to go

Family Mart subsidiary Famima Dot Com, which runs the stores' online division, and Sharp have reached an agreement to provide services for Zaurus PDA users at terminals currently stationed at 1300 of the company's 7616 Family Mart stores in the Tokyo metropolitan area. An additional 200 stores plan to have the terminals by June, the two companies said Wednesday.

Family Mart started providing services such as ticket reservations, music streaming and online shopping to its customers via "Famiport" electronic terminals installed at stores in late January this year, according to Masahiko Tanaka, a spokesman for Family Mart. The terminal functions have been prepared to be used by mobile devices such as PDAs, he said.

At first, it plans to distribute game software and electronic book contents for the Zaurus from Sharp's existing Internet service, called "Sharp Space Town," which is exclusively provided for users of all of Sharp's computer hardware devices. The convenience store terminals, unlike the Internet, do not charge a telecommunication fee and enable users to download one megabyte of content in approximately 10 seconds, the companies said.

The price of game software will range from 500 yen to 1,570 yen ($8 to $24) and the e-book from 100 yen to 840 yen, Tanaka said.

The companies hope to expand the service to offer more varied content and use more advanced technologies in the near future. At the beginning, memory cards will be needed for downloading, however, they plan to install Bluetooth wireless personal-area networks on both terminals and PDAs, according to Tastuya Kofuji, a spokesman for Sharp.

"It is now a matter of cost. The technology is ready but we need to produce a Bluetooth-embedded Zaurus at the reasonable price", Kofuji said. "It won't be longer than a few years".

In Japan, convenience stores are located nationwide and in cities can be found on almost every other block. The stores are usually open 24 hours a day, seven days a week and attract not only the young but many people who stop by on their way to and from appointments. It is therefore an ideal place for mobile PDA users to purchase content, Kofuji said. "Especially young businessmen, who often use convenience stores, are likely to be PDA users and even for older generations, convenience stores are easy to go in."

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Kuriko Miyake

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