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Sharp looks for an edge in iPhone stakes

From a company that's often been in the forefront of phone design comes a touch screen for three fingers or more.

CHIBA, Japan--The iPhone won't be the only finger-flicking phone on the market for long.

Sharp Electronics is showing off a touch screen at Ceatec, Japan's big tech trade show taking place here this week just outside of Tokyo, that lets you control the interface with finger swipes. Just as with Apple's iPhone, you can flick to shrink the size of images, blow them up, and scroll left to right or up and down. The device is called the "system LCD with embedded optical sensors"--not quite as catchy a name as iPhone.

Sharp iPhone rival
With Sharp's phone, you don't just make calls--you can also scan in business cards. Michael Kanellos/CNET

But it's no imitator. Sharp has been working on the project for about three years. The company recently started shipping samples to manufacturers.

Unlike the iPhone, which lets you use only two fingers at a time, the Sharp screen lets you use three fingers or more. Where that would come in handy with Web browsing or a phone call, I don't know, but it was sort of cool to see. With a music-playing application Sharp had on display, you can perform three-note chords. I was able to hit do, re and mi simultaneously.

Each pixel in the screen contains an optical sensor. You can also scan business cards in easily, as the picture shows. In this shot, the screen with the sensor on every pixel scanned in the business card and plopped it onto the larger LCD.

You don't hear a lot about Sharp phones in the U.S. but the company has often been on the cutting edge of phone design. It came out with the first LCD TV phone and one of the first phones with a camera embedded in it.