These days, touch screens are in vogue in virtually every segment of consumer electronics. Inspired by the success of devices such as the iPhone, we now see them in not only phones, but also PMPs, MIDs, UMPCs, desktop PCs, and other appliances in our daily lives from the home to the office. Synaptics, the well-known user interface company behind a majority of laptop trackpads and phone touch screens, was one of the first to demonstrate the potential of a touch screen in a phone in 2006 with its Onyx concept. The company is now back with a new concept device, the Fuse, showing off what they believe is the next step forward from the 2D touch screen-based interfaces of today.
Representing an evolutionary rather than revolutionary development, the Fuse uses the multi-touch capacitive touch screen of today as a starting point, but rather than limiting all input to the screen they are combining a range of technologies including force, grip, and proximity sensors around the sides and back of the device, as well as implementing haptic feedback into the touch screen and a GUI that incorporates 3D graphics. Although some current devices already possess some of this in one form or another, this is the first time these features and the new sensors have been combined in a single device to create a new type of user experience.
A motto for what the device aims to achieve is “beyond today’s touch screen,” trying to create a touch device that can be operated with one hand and that can also be operated blindly. The new arrangement of sensors facilitates this by allowing new gestures when holding the device in one hand, such as scrolling by stroking the side of the device, navigating by using the back as a trackpad, physically squeezing the device to reset applications or return to the home screen, and tilting the device to switch to different panes/windows. These are all achieved without having to touch and cover the screen at all, although a more conventional multi-touch interface is also included for two-handed operation. Haptic feedback should allow users to know where their finger is on the screen, aiding use without having to look at it. An example of this is dialing a number while the phone is in your pocket, like on a regular keypad. Check out the video of a prototype below for a better idea of how these technologies are implemented.
A collaborative project between Synaptics, Texas Instruments, Immersion, TheAlloy, and The Astonishing Tribe (TAT), the Fuse has a 3.7-inch WVGA AMOLED screen with Synaptics’ latest ClearPad touch screen technology and is powered by a TI OMAP 3630 processor. The 3D user interface was designed by TAT, who is behind many UI designs for all the major phone manufacturers including contributing to the design of Android. The overall design of the device and experience was led by TheAlloy, a design firm based in the UK. The Fuse concept will be demonstrated at CES in January and the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona in February.
I’m pretty impressed with some of the ideas on show here and especially like some of the solutions to tackle one-handed operation with the back and side sensors and the implementation of haptic feedback in the screen. Although it won’t be manufactured and sold to the public, I’m hoping handset manufacturers will be considering and implementing some of these technologies into their future products.
[Synaptics via pocketnow]