Tokyo Stars as Home to Cutting-Edge Electronics Many electronic gadgets can only be found in Japan. From the latest cameras to the smallest computers, Tokyo is the epicenter for the smallest and most intriguing devices. And it sometimes takes a while for the products to arrive in the U.S.

Tokyo Stars as Home to Cutting-Edge Electronics

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Some of the world's must-have gadgets are products that you normally cannot have if you shop in American electronics stores.

This has created an opening for Internet entrepreneurs who put some of this stuff up for sale on the Web. Freelance writer Mario Armstrong has been reviewing what's available, and he brought some stuff along.

Good morning.

Mr. MARIO ARMSTRONG (Freelance Writer): Good morning. Glad to be here, Steve.

INSKEEP: All this stuff is amazing! I'm just, I don't know where to start. Maybe this little red item here, which is...

Mr. ARMSTRONG: Yeah, this is...

INSKEEP: ...the size of a cell phone, maybe.

Mr. ARMSTRONG: Yeah, the size of a cell phone. Can fit in the palm of your hand so you...

INSKEEP: What does it do? It's a video camera?

Mr. ARMSTRONG: It is a, it's a video camera as well as a digital still camera: a high definition video camera, and a still camera, digital still camera, all in one unit that actually works pretty well.

INSKEEP: This is high definition TV when I play it back?

Mr. ARMSTRONG: That's correct.

INSKEEP: You hold it a little bit like, maybe a squirt gun, almost. And where is this available?

Mr. ARMSTRONG: So that, that's the question. There's still nothing really on the market in the U.S. that really can compare to this. Online is the best place to find middlemen - companies that have scoured Tokyo's tech Mecca, looking for the best electronics that are in Japan, and then converting those products to be usable in the United States.

INSKEEP: How long has it been for sale in Japan?

Mr. ARMSTRONG: It's been for sale in Japan for over a year.

INSKEEP: Why would it be for sale in Tokyo first, rather than the largest consumer market in the world?

Mr. ARMSTRONG: There's been this concept that technology and consumer electronics in Japan are adopted faster. We do have a good early adopter rate, but a lot of times, people don't want to step out on the limb and buy the first iteration or the first version of a product. They'd rather wait to see if all the bugs and kinks are going to be out.

INSKEEP: And so, now, what is this next gadget you've got here, which is - well you tell me. It looks kind of like a BlackBerry, with a screen and a keyboard, but it's maybe two or three times the size of one of those.

Mr. ARMSTRONG: It's about two or three times the size of that. It's a five-inch widescreen that you can see. It's only one inch thick, so this can actually fit in my back pocket. I can actually close the screen down over top of a keyboard that's really...

INSKEEP: Are you going to tell me this is a fully functioning computer?

Mr. ARMSTRONG: That's exactly what I'm going to tell you.

INSKEEP: Ohh!

Mr. ARMSTRONG: This is comparable to a desktop or a laptop experience that can fit in a purse or in my back pocket.

INSKEEP: This little knob is supposed to be the mouse?

Mr. ARMSTRONG: You have a little knob to the right-hand side of the unit that's almost the size of an eraser.

INSKEEP: Um, does this come with a new pair of eyeballs, because it's very hard to see anything this small.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ARMSTRONG: That can be a challenge. You can adjust the screen resolution to be able to see the images, and that's part of the reason why, you brought up the point why Japan first. I think they're more used to it.

INSKEEP: Okay.

Mr. ARMSTRONG: They're more mobile. They've adopted text messaging years ago, so they are more used to being able to type full documents using their two thumbs. For me it's a bit of a challenge.

INSKEEP: So how long has this been available in Japan?

Mr. ARMSTRONG: This has been available for almost two years.

INSKEEP: And in the United States?

Mr. ARMSTRONG: And in the United States I'd say it's probably been about a year. The company...

INSKEEP: That it's been available online?

Mr. ARMSTRONG: Online.

INSKEEP: But as far as going into an electronics store you still can't get it?

Mr. ARMSTRONG: You cannot go into your local computer store and get this product.

INSKEEP: So how are the Web sites doing that are selling this stuff?

Mr. ARMSTRONG: Some of them are doing phenomenally well. What we're seeing, though, is that the product cycle is shortening. It used to be this window of 18 months or 12 month lag time, and now you're starting to see some products show up sooner. That was really their only hook, if you will, of being able to get you the product before someone else can. If that goes away, the majority of their business model goes away.

INSKEEP: Well let me ask - are European and Asian electronics companies starting to realize there is a market in the United States and doing some kind of simultaneous release?

Mr. ARMSTRONG: There has been a lot of that. Nintendo, a recognizable name in the video game industry...

INSKEEP: Um-hmm.

Mr. ARMSTRONG: ...they decided to take their new handheld Nintendo DS video game, which is a...

INSKEEP: You're picking this up. It looks like a really tiny book, or a pamphlet. It's about that size.

Mr. ARMSTRONG: It's about that size. But, they decided to launch it in the states relatively quickly, as they launched it in Japan. So it was a significant change in the thought direction.

(Soundbite of Nintendo game player)

One of the games that I have on here that I think is great. When you're thinking of back to school and how to reinforce education, and how to do it in a fun way, there's a game called Brain Age...

INSKEEP: Um-hmm.

Mr. ARMSTRONG: ...which is actually a fun game for adults to play. It's almost kind of like a treadmill for your brain, if you think of it that way.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ARMSTRONG: And this is a much more rewarding experience with music...

INSKEEP: I love the music.

Mr. ARMSTRONG: ...and sound. And you can play multiplication tables, all types of things to keep you thinking about math, and other things that keep your brain moving.

All right. So what I'm doing is I'm going to give you a stylus, and you are going to solve problems.

INSKEEP: This is one of those things where you can, it's like a pen and you can poke the screen and it's like you're writing on the screen.

Mr. ARMSTRONG: Correct. So on the left-hand side of the screen you'll see the...

INSKEEP: This guy is saying: ready, let's go.

Mr. ARMSTRONG: And it...

INSKEEP: And now, all right, it says: press here to start.

Mr. ARMSTRONG: Correct.

INSKEEP: So we're going to start. How many yellow numbers?

(Soundbite of beep)

Yea! How many red numbers? This would be good for my daughter.

(Soundbite of beep)

Mr. ARMSTRONG: So what you're doing here, to describe what you're seeing...

INSKEEP: It's a bunch of numbers of different colors, a two or a nine, or whatever. How much of each color, how many red numbers this time. I've got four numbers here. There's some yellows...

Mr. ARMSTRONG: Correct.

INSKEEP: ...and there's two reds.

Mr. ARMSTRONG: So what this game is suggesting that it's doing is its activating your pre-frontal cortex, of making you not only read but comprehend and write, all at the same time.

INSKEEP: Pre-frontal cortex? You just made that up, didn't you?

Mr. ARMSTRONG: Yeah, well, I read that. I'm...

(Soundbite of laughter)

INSKEEP: Okay. All right. Two of them. All right. There we go. I'm doing okay. How many yellow numbers.

(Soundbite of bleep)

INSKEEP: Seven? One, two, three, four, five, six, seven. Oh, there's an eighth one that I just completely overlooked!

Mr. ARMSTRONG: Try erase, maybe, first.

INSKEEP: Erase, yeah. There we go. How many yellow numbers...

(Soundbite of beep)

INSKEEP: How long is this going to go on, anyway?

Mr. ARMSTRONG: Not long, but at the rate you're going...

INSKEEP: Pretty, oh, quite a while!

(Soundbite of laughter)

INSKEEP: Okay, fine. There we go.

(Soundbite of music)

INSKEEP: Yeah, I'm done!

Mr. ARMSTRONG: Okay.

INSKEEP: Are there products that are big sellers overseas, but when they get sent to you, because someone's now marketing them on the Web, you just can't see why anybody would ever want it?

Mr. ARMSTRONG: Yeah, there are some products that do kind of fit in that category. One product that was released in the states that I thought would do well was a waterproof mp3 player. Actually being able to dive in the ocean or dive in the swimming pool, so that was one of the ones that I thought would sell better that I'm not convinced that its done as well as I thought it was going to do.

INSKEEP: Mario Armstrong, thanks for coming by.

Mr. ARMSTRONG: It's been a pleasure. Thanks for having me.

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