The Japanese no-brand retailer Muji is taking an interesting approach to their iPhone and iPad apps. Instead of just having a product catalog/store app (although they have that too), they're also offering apps that are very much like the products they offer in their real-world stores. There's a simple calendaring app that syncs with Google Calendar, a notebook app for sketching and note-taking, and an app called Muji to Go that combines a bunch of different functions that travellers might need (weather, currency exchange, power socket guide).
Results of the 2008 Muji Award design competition. Winning entries include a drinking straw made from straw, a garbage bag that stands up by itself (no can needed), and a stapler that gets that staple in the corner of the page every time. (thx, dj jacobs)
The Muji Chronotebook combines the flexibility of a plain paper notebook with the utility of a daily planner.
For each function or feature you add, you lose a purpose. A blank sheet that could've been used in a million different ways can now only be used for a few. Artists aren't going to buy a calendar if they're looking for something to sketch on. Writers aren't going to pick up to-do lists to use as a journal. This isn't a bad thing per se -- by narrowing down on a purpose, a blank sheet of paper can become more useful and relevant to certain people.
Each page of the Chronotebook has a analog clock in the middle, around which you can freely form appointments (just draw a line to the time for the meeting), sketch, make lists, or anything else the mostly blank page beckons you to do. Fantastic idea.
Update: Here's the same idea in whiteboard form. (thx, michael)
Muji announces their NYC Soho location...it'll be on Broadway just south of Grand. The store opens in November 2007 and will carry furniture, appliances, clothes, and a bunch of other stuff (food?).
Update: No food and no cafes. (thx, armin)
Ok, one last wrap-up post about Hong Kong and then we're focusing on the matter at hand in Bangkok (short summary: having a great time so far here). So, three things I really liked about/in Hong Kong and then some miscellaneous stuff.
1. Octopus cards. I really can't say enough about how cool these cards are. Wikipedia provides a quickie definition: "The Octopus card is a rechargeable contactless stored value smart card used for electronic payment in online or offline systems in Hong Kong." It's a pay-as-you go stored value card...you put $100 bucks on it and "recharge" the card when it's empty (or when it's even more than empty...as long as your balance is positive when you use it, you can go into a HK$35 deficit, which you pay when you recharge the card). You can use it on pratically any public transportation in the city: buses, trains, MTR, trams, ferries, etc. It works with vending machines, at 7-Eleven, McDonald's, Starbucks, and the supermarket. You don't need to take it out of your wallet or purse to use it, just hold it near the sensor. Your card is not tied to your identity...there's no PIN, you can pay cash, they don't need to know your credit card number, SS#, or anything like that. They even make watches and mobile phones that have Octopus built it, so your phone (or watch) becomes your wallet. Mayor Bloomberg, if you're listening, NYC needs this.
2. The on-train maps for the MTR. Here's a (sort of blurry) photo (taken with my cameraphone):
The current stop blinks red -- in this case, Tsim Sha Tsui (blinking not shown, obviously) -- with the subsequent stops lit in red. If the next stop connects to another line, that line blinks as well. A small green arrow indicates which direction you're traveling and there's an indictor (not shown) which lights up either "exit this side" or "exit other side" depending which way the doors are going to open. Great design.
3. Muji! We located one in Langham Place (an uber-story mall) in Mong Kok (for reference, the store in Silvercord in TST listed on their site has closed). Muji is kind of hard to describe if you've never been to one of their stores before (and if you live in the US, you probably haven't because they're aren't any, aside from a small outpost in the MoMA Store). Adam (see previous link) roughly translates the name as "No Brand, Good Product", so you can see why I like it so much. They sell a wide variety of products (take a look at their Japanese-only online store for an idea of what they carry); at the Monk Kok store, they had snacks & drinks, some furniture (made out of sturdy cardboard), their signature pens and notebooks (a display of the former was completely surrounded by a moat of teenaged girls, so much so that I didn't get a chance to test any of the super-thin pens), some clothes (including some great pants that they didn't have in anything approaching my size), dishes, cosmetics, bath products, and containers of all shapes, sizes, and uses. I wanted one of everything, but settled for a couple of shirts (with absolutely no logos or markings, inside or out, to indictate that they are Muji products).
m1. Big Buddha, worth the trip. It'll better when the tram from Tung Chung and back is built, although then you'll miss the boat ride (fun) and the bus ride (harrowing at times).
m2. The Peak Tram. Touristy, but also worth the trip. The weird/ugly anvil-shaped building at the top is currently under construction, so the views will be much better when its finished. Go at night for the best view.
m3. The view from the waterfront in Kowloon of the Hong Kong skyline at night is one of the best in the world.
m4. Speaking of, Hong Kong is a night-time city. All the buildings are lit up, there's a nightly light show at 8pm (think Laser Floyd without the music), and buildings that appear monolithic in the daytime transform at night, either by disappearing into the darkness while leaving a graceful trace of their outline or acting as huge screens for projected light shows. Reminded me of Vegas in this respect.
m5. We had tea in the lobby of the InterContinental Hotel (go for the view, it's incredible) and the live band played the theme song from The Lord of the Rings. I tried to get a recording of it with my phone (iPod was back in our hotel room), but it didn't turn out so well. Very weird; we were cracking up and expecting the theme from Superman or even 3's Company to follow.
m6. Oh, I'm sure there's more, so I'll add it here as I think of stuff.
Shopping is huge here in Hong Kong, second only to dining as a pastime for travelers to the city (and I'm not even sure that's true). Yesterday we checked out Shanghai Tang (various locations around the city, including Central, in the Peninsula Hotel, and the InterContinential Hotel). Many of the clothes are a little too Asian-styled for me (I'd feel a bit conspicuous wearing them in NYC, a concern obviously not shared by the American woman who was trying on some black pants with a white sequined dragon emblazoned down one pant leg), but aside from that, the designs were very simple and stylish, with clean lines and good use of bold color.
Speaking of simple and clean, that reminds me that we've yet to track down a Muji store here...today perhaps.