Sharp to launch new Android-based smartphone user interface

Japanese electronics maker says new Feel UX offers simplified screens for apps, widgets and hardware and shortcuts

Japan's Sharp said Monday it will release a new user interface for its smartphones in an attempt to differentiate them from the Android masses.

The Osaka-based electronics maker's new "Feel UX" will feature a simplistic design with large icons, and allow many phone functions, such as camera, photo gallery, and music player applications, to be accessed directly from the lock screen. Once unlocked, the interface has three main screens, one each for apps, shortcuts to phone features, and widgets such as calendars and clocks.

The phone's lock screen can also automatically tweak its background photo to match the current weather, and displays updates on stocks and other real-time info as well as messages and missed calls. Unlike with competitors such as Apple's iOS, the photo featured on the lock screen is never obscured by time or message information, which appear across a section in the bottom third of the screen in images provided by Sharp.

With the majority of smartphones based on Android and having increasingly similar feature-sets and specifications, manufacturers are hoping unique-looking software user interfaces will differentiate their products and hook customers. Sharp joins rivals such as Sony and Samsung in offering user interfaces that run on top of various versions of Android.

Sharp said it will initially phase the new design into its Japanese phones, but is "exploring its potential use in smartphones destined for international markets."

Sharp, known mainly for its own line of LCD TVs and as a global supplier of LCD panels to other manufacturers, is also a major handset maker in Japan, offering smartphones based on its Aquos TV brand. The company also sells a limited number of mobiles abroad.

The new user interface was designed and built together with software design firm Frog Design, headquartered in San Francisco. Frog said the interface was developed over a nine-month period, and is being launched on seven different Aquos-brand smartphones in Japan.

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