Andrew Hill Fujitsu’s crisis-proof phones for Europeans

Fujitsu’s plan to enter the European smartphone and tablet market has a 1980s ring to it. By the early part of that decade, Japanese companies had already grabbed large shares of the markets for televisions, hi-fi units, calculators, electronic toys and digital watches. These days, Europeans are more used to hearing about new Chinese, Taiwanese and South Korean entrants.

But in phones, Japanese manufacturers have largely concentrated on domestic consumers, using country-specific technology and features. It will be interesting to see how many of these features travel, and how many have to be tailored to local tastes, as Japanese phone makers break out of their national silo. (There have been reports that Panasonic is also planning to launch a mobile phone for the European market* and Sony Ericsson – already present – is, as of last week, wholly owned by Sony.)

Fujitsu’s smartphones will certainly feature electronic money technology – enabling owners to use NFC, the mobile payment system – and biometric recognition to make their use as mobile wallets more secure. But handsets for the Japanese market have gone further – and become quirkier. Fujitsu’s Regza Phone T-O1D, launched in Japan in November last year, includes a “human-centric engine”. Here’s how the press release described it:

The smartphone is equipped with an alarm clock system that monitors and analyses the user’s sleeping condition for the best wake-up call time; a 3D motion-sensor technology to diagnose the body posture; and sound control technology that responds to the noise level in the environment and the hearing ability of the user.

In one respect, the Fujitsu foray into Europe looks oddly timed. Less than two months ago, Masami Yamamoto, the Japanese company’s president, said he was “very concerned” about worsening economic sentiment in the continent. “A possible financial collapse in Europe is the most obvious risk factor for next year,” he told reporters in Japan.

Perhaps that’s why Fujitsu’s European range – like its Japanese handsets – will be waterproof. Not only can you use the phones in the bath, but they continue to function when the whole economy is underwater.

*Update, February 20, 11pm:

Panasonic has duly gone public with its own smartphone plan for Europe, timed, like Fujitsu’s, for the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona next week. It will launch the slimline Eluga handset, which also doubles as a remote for Panasonic TVs. It’s waterproof, of course.