Digital | ON: TECH

Changing the way we do things

by Chiho Komoriya

Tapping for information

The Biglobe Touchcard may sound like the latest in e-money or points services, but it’s actually a public relations tool that brings together a little bit of old-school physical card usage with digital tech. Released by Touchcard and the internet service providers Biglobe, it is basically a tap card that activates a touchscreen, which could be a smartphone, tablet or even PC.

The cards are printed with Touchcard’s patented conductive ink circuitry, which a touch screen can recognize the same way it does a fingerprint. When placed over a screen, the device will be directed to a linked webpage. The cards can be printed with original designs and each side can direct the user to different online content.

Suggested applications have been for companies to offer their customers exclusive online content, such as videos, audio, images and discount coupons. Biglobe and Touchcard also envision the cards being used as collectors items, for example as sports cards that direct users to information about individual members of teams featured on the cards. Other ideas include giving cards to visitors at events, so they can be directed to online multilingual information about the event and surrounding facilities.

Shimizu S-Pulse, a J. League soccer club, is already using the cards and is offering its fans who bought this year’s official uniform merchandise a bonus card that allows them to view original video clips of the team.

bit.ly/touchcard (Japanese only)

Look, no hands

On the subject of touch screens — how annoying is it to get grease all over a screen when snacking on something like a bag of potato chips?

In 2010, just a few years after the first iPhone was launched, toymakers Takara Tomy came up with a quirky solution. It released the Potechi no Te, a daft little tool that turned out to be huge hit with snack fans. Essentially a miniature long arm grabber, Potechi no-Te (meaning “potato chip hand”) was designed for users to pick up potato chips, leaving their hands grease-free.

Smartphones are now so popular that Takara Tomy has discovered many people are eating snacks with chopsticks, just to keep their screens clean. So Potechi no Te is getting a re-release, with a new name, an update and a little extra branding.

The new Smart Potato Chips gadget has the same special hand mechanism that prevents users from crushing a chip (no matter how hard they push the button), but it now has a touch pen at the other end. Users can grab a chip, eat it, then flip the gadget over and use the pen to operate a smartphone or tablet. In a savvy branding move, Takara Tomy have also collaborated with Calbee potato chips to offer four colorful designs — based on the packaging of Calbee flavors — each priced at ¥1,382.

bit.ly/smartpotatochips (Japanese only)

A rubbish app that’s good

Sorting the garbage in Japan is a notoriously laborious task, especially in cities where there are strict rules on recycling. But one of the biggest issues is remembering which day to put out which kind of trash. Shaxware, in collaboration with the prefectural government in Kobe, Hyogo Prefecture, has released Gomi-Maru, a garbage guide app that works with Amazon Alexa and can tell users how to deal with different types of trash and which days to put it out.

Shaxware originally released the service in its hometown of Toyohashi, Aichi Prefecture, in August last year and it won the 2018 Alexa Developer Skills Award in the lifestyle category. Since then, it has been approaching other local governments, Kobe being next on the list to collaborate. Users in Kobe and Toyohashi can now ask Alexa to dictate the classifications of garbage and how to prepare it; which items needs to be disposed of on a particular day; and when the next pickup day is for any specific kind of trash. For those using an Alexa device with a screen, it also illustrates its answers. The app is being touted as something particularly useful for those with visual impairment and people who have other issues checking paper or online schedules.

There are plans to roll out the app to other cities in the future, and it is downloadable for free at the Japan Alexa Skills store on Amazon. However, it’s in Japanese only, so some language skills are needed.

bit.ly/gomimaru (Japanese only)