A glimpse at future mobile phone functions

A trio of DEMOmobile vendors unveiled technologies that might dramatically change users’ interactions with handheld devices, especially cell phones.

Notebook computers, which apart from getting thinner and lighter, are still and have been for years a keyboard, touchpad and folding display. But handhelds remain a fertile field of at times remarkable innovation.

That’s probably a result of the fact that handhelds are nothing if not small: small screens, small buttons and wheels, small keypads or keyboards. To make actually using the things worthwhile, designers have to come up with ways to make them easier to use.

Three vendors unveiled some ideas to do just that: F-Origin Ltd., with software for navigating by tilting and moving the device, and a touch screen that offers “tactile feedback”; Mobile Complete, with hardware and software for highly controlled application testing on live cell phones; and Synaptics Inc., which is adapting its laptop touchpad technology to be used in some unexpected ways on handheld devices.

F-Origin, in Oulu, Finland, created a gravity sensitive technology and software algorithms. The software mimics the motions you would use to view your face with a small handheld mirror: tilting the screen to the right, to see the right hand side of a Web page, tilting down to see the lower part of the page. The motion is very smooth, controlled, and intuitive: you’re able to quickly and easily scan an entire, fullsized Web page. A cursor appears on screen, acting like a kind of compass, to guide you in relationship to where you are on the page. If it’s a long document, you can “freeze” it in place and scroll down.

The motion control technology can distinguish between your deliberate movements and bumping against the device or shaking it: in the latter cases, the display won’t respond.

The touch screen technology, dubbed HaptiTouch, uses four force detectors, software algorithms and a hard, clear plastic lens, covering a standard LCD touch screen.

The F-Origin software creates tactile feedback: as you press on the hard plastic plate, you can “feel” a button or surface give way under the pressure (some background on haptic technology). “When you touch, you ‘feel something happen’ and then you know you have actually done something,” says Jukka-Pekka Mets

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