Travel abroad lately? You likely found a few products and services you wanted to bring home. Here's a round-up of some wildly popular overseas products that Americans can only envy.
Nokia 808 PureView
In late February, 2012, the official Nokia blog announced
the relase of the Nokia
(NOK) 808 PureView smartphone in Spain. Featuring a “41 megapixel sensor,” and oversampling technology, which allows a user to eliminate “visual noise,” zoom in without sacrificing image details, and resize for sharing, it contains the highest performing optics on a smartphone to date. The Nokia 808 PureView is also “the world’s first video recording device to allow recording without distortion at audio levels beyond the capability of human hearing.” Ready to run out and buy it? You’ll have to use your passport to get your hands on this smartphone, which is available globally—except for in North America. Back in August, Nokia announced plans to get out of the Symbian business and focus all efforts on Nokia’s Windows phones in the states. In an interview with AllThingsD
, Chris Weber, the head of Nokia's US branch, explained that the North American market is important for Microsoft
(MSFT), and winning here ultimately means winning the global smartphone war.
In the United States, parents of infants who develop colic, or frequent and inexplicable crying spells which usually appear between two to three weeks of age, are left to cover their ears and hope the spells pass quickly. While there is some advice for soothing colic, like playing music, swaddling, and changing the nursing mothers’ diet, there is no condoned medicinal colic treatment sold in US pharmacies. But in countries like India with an orientation toward homeopathic remedies, there has been an over-the-counter remedy for centuries: baby gripe water. Though formulations vary, gripe water typically includes ingredients thought to soothe the digestive tract, including alcohol, sodium bicarbonate, and herbs like chamomile, fennel, caraway, ginger, peppermint, and cardamom seed oil, according to the Palo Alto Medical Foundation
. Why can’t American parents try it? Despite being recommended by alternative medicine practitioners for centuries, gripe water has not been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration mainly because of the inclusion of alcohol and sodium bicarbonate, which it believes is harmful to babies. American retailers do carry a less effective version of the remedy, one that doesn't contain the same recipe used in India.
Smart Cards for travel
If you’ve ridden on Amtrak lately, you might still be wondering how it is that paper tickets have survived the era of technology. Aside from the United States, they generally haven’t. Also called IC cards (short for integrated circuit), smart cards have all but eliminated the use of paper tickets for travel overseas, though names differ based on where you are. (For example, London has the Oyster Card, Hong Kong calls it the Octopus, and in Belfast, it’s the SmartPass). Beyond acting as a wide-reaching form of travel credit, smart cards in Europe and Japan multi-task. For example, in Japan, the SUICA card, produced by JR-East
, can also be used for payment at vendor-approved kiosks, stores, and restaurants, and provides valuable mobile marketing intelligence. According to the SmartCard Alliance, over
100 countries also use smart cards instead of coins in their pay phones. Why is the United States lagging? Largely because of the massive infrastructure issues that a smart card switch entails. Because there is no universal system, the overhaul is complicated—and expensive. Considering that Amtrak relies largely on federal subsidies (it received $1.4 billion in federal funds last year), and has struggled to provide consistent Wi-Fi service to passengers, don’t expect a change soon.
KFC's Beef Tortilla Pentagon
Sold in China, this tortilla filled with Schezuan beef, tortilla chips, lettuce, tomato, and mayonnaise is a self-contained taco of sorts, but you won’t find it in the United States. Why? Unlike other major American brands like McDonald’s
(MCD) and Wal-Mart
(WMT) that have struggled to find solid footing in China, KFC parent brand Yum
(YUM), which also owns Pizza Hut and Taco Bell, has seen wild success overseas exactly because of its ability to adapt abroad. Yum has hired and sourced locally, and designed menu offerings that complement existing food preferences, instead of forcing “the American way” in foreign lands. Take, for example, the KFC Beef Tortilla Pentagon. Instead of cheese, which is not a key ingredient in Asian countries (though it is becoming more so thanks to Western influence), the product includes mayonnaise, a hugely popular condiment in China and Japan. The strategy has proven effective. In February, Yum Brands reported better-than-expected profits for the fourth quarter of 2011, jumping 30% from the same period last year. China's demand was credited as a key driver of that growth.
(Have a favorite fast food item that's only sold overseas? Tell us about it in our comments section.)
Super high-speed Internet
Few things are more frustrating than waiting for an Internet connection, but, in Korea, it’s not a problem. By the end of this year, the country strives to “connect every home in the country to the Internet at one gigabit per second.” (That’s a rate more than “200 times as fast as the average household setup in the United States,” according to the New York Times).
And they’re not the only ones putting our broadband speed to shame. Hong Kong and Japan rank second and third, respectively, and even Sweden is beating our connection speeds. Will we ever catch up? Though the National Broadband Plan
, which aims to improve our high-speed service in the US by 2020, kicked off in June 2010, there are caveats, including the definition of high-speed, and who can access it. The plan does aim for one-gigabit-per-second load times in some areas, but those speeds are reserved “to anchor institutions such as schools, hospitals, and government buildings.” If you’re one of the 100 million American homes identified in the plan to receive “download speeds of at least 100 megabits per second, and actual upload speeds of at least 50 megabits” you’ll see an improvement—but it still won’t hold a candle to users in Korea. Blair Levin, the chief architect of the FCC’s 2010 National Broadband Plan explained in a 2010 interview with NPR
that overseas, connections are determined by one major telecom provider, versus the many interested parties here. Though the FCC and President Obama are working to auction digital TV airwaves from broadcasters to be repurposed for broadband, the effort is being met with political resistance and protest from companies like AT&T
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