Smartphone keyboard that links with touch-card technology to launch in Japan

Users simply lay their phone onto the keyboard, which costs about US$240, and begin typing

Japan's Elecom said Tuesday it will launch the world's first smartphone keyboard that uses NFC touch-card technology to link with Android handsets.

The keyboard is designed with a large gap down its middle in which a phone is placed between the keys controlled by each hand. Because it uses NFC (near field communication) technology, the keyboard requires no plugs or pairing as with Bluetooth connections, although an initial setup is required via a special Android app.

NFC is limited to a range of several centimeters, and currently is used mainly for touch-card applications, such as train passes and e-payment platforms. It is standard on most Japanese phones, and is increasingly built into global models such as Samsung's flagship Galaxy S3.

The Elecom keyboard uses the technology, commonly used for exchanging secure payment and personal data, to send keystrokes to a handset. The company designed and developed the keyboard together with One2Touch, based in Norway. One2Touch and Elecom first announced the device in January.

The silicone keyboard uses a built-in battery that can't be replaced, although Elecom said it will power the device for 18 months when used for eight hours a day. It has a 45-key layout, including the standard letter and arrow keys. A function key is used to type numbers and additional punctuation.

Measuring about 34 centimeters long and weighing 144 grams, it can be folded up for storage in a small case.

Elecom will launch the keyboard in Japan by the end of this month, for ¥18,690 (US$239) with tax. A company spokesman wasn't immediately available to answer questions about sales of the device outside of Japan.

The company said it has released a mobile app that makes it easier for Japanese typists to use a Western keyboard layout. This is separate to the app used to initially set up and sync the keyboard.

One2Touch has posted a video of the keyboard in action on YouTube.

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