Cutting edge technology is one of the things that many people think of when they think of American society. However, in many areas of technology, other parts of the world have a significant technological edge. Cellphone technology and cellular communications is one such area. Believe it or not, most experts agree that Japan is at least two years ahead of the United States when it comes to cellphones and cellular networks. But by looking at the Japanese market, we can get a pretty good idea of what sort of features will soon exist on American cellphones.

The place to start is by looking at some of the features that already exist here but are very high end and costly. Some examples are radio, TV and streaming video for the cellphone. Customers in the US must pay an extra monthly subscription of around $10 and $20. Japanese customers on the other hand can get these services over a much wider range of handsets, and the service is more comprehensive, faster and less expensive. GPS enabled phones are also just starting to enter the US market but have been available in Japan for some time. Japanese cellphone software developers have developed a number of terrific GPS-aware applications, including mapping and direction finding applications, and even position-aware mobile games.

One of the biggest differences between Japanese and American cellphones is of course the phone itself. Japanese cellphones typically have much larger screen sizes (typically 240 by 320 pixels), while the higher end American cellphones are still generally 176 by 204 pixels. Japanese cellphones also have speedier processors and more memory, which enables these phones to play better games, process more multimedia data, and store much larger address books than American phones.

One cellphone feature that is available in Japan but not yet in the US is fingerprint scanning technology. Fingerprint sensors on the phone can be used to verify that the person using the phone is authorized to do so. The cellphone is evolving toward being a device for storing personal information, like credit card numbers, bank account information and other sensitive information, and it is becoming more and more important for cellphones to be able to store this information securely. Cellphone manufacturers, most of whom are companies located outside the US, are now developing cellphone models for the US market with small fingerprint scanning sensors on the phone. These are generally sliding sensors where the user slides his or her finger over the sensor to enter a fingerprint. Software on the phone will try to match features of the newly scanned fingerprint with information stored from previous scans to validate the user and, if validated, give the user access to private data that had been previously on the cellphone.

The use of fingerprint scanning technology is also a foundation for another revolutionary cellphone feature already found in Japan, which is the use of cellphones to make payments wirelessly. In Japan, cellphone users with enabled cellphones can use these phones to buy soda from machines or enter public transport systems, all by sending encrypted financial information from their cellphones. All financial transactions require the digital equivalent of a signature authorizing the transaction, and this is where fingerprint verification is used. Financial institutions in the US are already working with cellphone manufacturers to bring these same features to the United Stated market. The technology itself already exists, but the financial institutions are working to develop the infrastructure and information security systems that are necessary to enable such a system to be successfully rolled out across the US market.

In the first generation of these systems, payment transactions are conducted by sending and receiving text messages. Further down the road, wireless network technologies may be used instead. For some early systems that do not have fingerprint authorization, a PIN code can be used to authorize the payment. Fingerprint verification methods are used for payment validation on phones where this technology exists. Of course, the use of fingerprint validation offers a higher level of security than does the use of PIN codes, so it may be the case that mobile payment technology will be delayed in the US market until the release of a wide variety of handsets that have built-in fingerprint sensors.

While the debate continues on how exactly these new features will be rolled out, it is certain that the cellphone two years from now will be much more capable than it is now. Who knows, maybe we can even pay our soaring phonebills wirelessly from our cellphones! Only time will tell.

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