Fujitsu to launch smartphone for the elderly

The phone targets Japan's aging population with a special touchscreen and a version of Android with larger text and buttons

Japanese electronics giant Fujitsu on Monday showed a new smartphone for the elderly, with a simplified Android user interface and a new touch screen designed for senior users.

The F-12D phone is the latest in Fujitsu's popular "RakuRaku" line, a series of feature phones with simplified features aimed at Japan's aging population. The phrase "rakuraku" means "easy" or "comfortable" in Japanese.

(See YouTube footage of the phone from Tokyo.)

Fujitsu said it negotiated directly with Google to use Android without requiring the creation of a Google account, which it said could be confusing for older users. The company designed a user interface that is meant to be inviting and easy to use, with large text and buttons and only simple, vertical scrolling.

"We developed a phone that will let customers step up from traditional feature phones," said Nobuo Otani, a Fujitsu executive who spoke to reporters at a press event in Tokyo.

As smartphones continue to standardize, manufacturers like Fujitsu are trying to differentiate their Android-based handsets with unique user interfaces. Last month, Sharp said it had designed a new "Feel UX" user interface, and rivals such as Sony and Samsung also offer their own interfaces that sit atop Android.

Fujitsu's new phone also features a touch screen designed for first-time users that aren't comfortable with technology, after testing by the company showed many elderly users had trouble adapting from the physical keys of feature phones.

The screen gives way slightly when pressed, to recreate the feeling of a physical button. Tapping icons and links on the phone only highlights them, and a stronger press is required to actually select something. The phone's software is designed to ignore "false touches," such as when fingers used to hold the phone are accidentally moved over the screen.

Otani said he is unaware of a smartphone aimed at elderly users outside of Japan, and Fujitsu is eager to pitch the phone to foreign operators that are interested.

In Japan, Fujitsu has retained a 55-year-old actress, Shinobu Otake, to promote the phone to older customers.

The phone will go on sale in Japan from early August under NTT DoCoMo, Japan's largest operator. DoCoMo is offering the phone on a two-year contract that costs about ¥4,000 (US$50) per month if users download 500 MB or less in mail and data.

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