By Reiji Murai and Sophie Knight
TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan's Fujitsu Ltd is hoping demand in Europe for its easy-to-use smartphone for the elderly will help pull its mobile unit into the black, after a French pilot with carrier Orange SA proved a word-of-mouth hit.
The IT company is looking to sell the Raku Raku, which features bigger buttons, louder ringtones and larger fonts, to senior customers across Orange's European network, Chief Executive Masami Yamamoto told journalists on Thursday.
"We started off by offering it on a limited basis to French customers (in June), but orders have been so strong we have started to expand nationwide. The next step would be across Europe and of course we want to sell it worldwide," he said at the company's Tokyo headquarters.
The Raku Raku is the first smartphone Fujitsu has made available outside of Japan.
"We've had two to three other carriers approach us after seeing the success Orange had with the handset."
Fujitsu's mobile phone unit lost more than 20 billion yen ($193.79 million) in the six months to September as it remained under the gun at home where Apple Inc makes up over two-thirds of smartphone sales.
Fujitsu aims to shift 4.2 million mobile handsets for the year to March. It declined to disclose sales figures for the Raku Raku, which went on sale in Japan in August 2012, but said it hopes carving out a niche will mean it is still around even when current market leaders are no longer dominant.
"After 3 to 5 years there's a high possibility Apple and Samsung will have disappeared and a totally different company will be at the top. We want to survive past that point," Yamamoto said.
The CEO said the company should be able to pull into the black next year as long as it produces 300,000 handsets a month - with help from demand from elderly customers in Europe, where demographic patterns are following those of greying Japan.
"There are some things that are more difficult for elderly customers, whether they're Japanese or European, and yet they still want to do them. They are looking for a service that can scratch that itch, so to speak," said Yamamoto.
For example, to ease the shift for a generation used to physical buttons on their phones, the Raku Raku's touchscreen requires a deliberate push to select options, unlike the light brushing and tapping used for other smartphones.
Yamamoto said he imagined there would eventually be demand for such a phone in emerging nations like China, but that Fujitsu is not planning to enter those markets for some years due to the strength of makers of low-priced smartphones there.
(Editing by Christopher Cushing)