KDDI Shows Low-cost Joystick for Mobile Phones

Japanese telecommunications company KDDI showed a low-cost, 3D joystick for mobile phones at Ceatec on Wednesday.

The system consists of software on the phone and a piece of hardware, resembling a spring, mounted over a handset's camera. The spring attaches to the phone's camera with a magnet and can be easily attached and removed. The company showed two different types of spring units, one that looked homemade and another one that was slightly more polished.

Underneath the top of the spring are two squares, one red and one blue, that the camera focuses on. The software tracks these squares as users move the spring side to side, up and down and in and out, allowing control on X, Y and Z axes. For example, if a user pushes down on the spring, the software could interpret that as a mouse click or it could zoom in on a photo or a map. The unit can also be rotated to control the rotation of a picture, for example.

KDDI had two different applications on display for use with the technology, one gaming application and another one for viewing photos. For the photo application, a user navigates through a grid of photos by moving the joystick from side to side or up and down. If the user presses down on the joystick, the application zooms in on a photo. If the user rotates the joystick that changes the orientation of the photo, from portrait to landscape mode or vice versa.

With the gaming application, the joystick on the phone was used like a full-sized gaming joystick.

Once commercially available, the spring unit will cost ¥100 (US$1.12) and can be bought through mobile phone stores. After two years of development, the software is complete but the joystick won't be on the market for about another month, according to an engineer.

The joystick will first be available in Japan through KDDI. An engineer said they may license the technology to NTT Docomo or Softbank and may also make it available internationally.

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