Are rear touch panels the next step in touch devices?
One of the recent developments in the world of smartphones that appears to be gaining traction in a couple of devices is the addition of a rear-mounted touch panel on the back of the handset to complement the main front-facing touchscreen.
First seen in the Synaptics Fuse concept (shown above) unveiled last December, the radical smartphone design included a wide range of additional sensors including those for force, grip, and proximity set around the sides and back of the casing. Unlike today's touchscreen devices, the full-size rear touch panel allows a user to navigate the screen without obscuring it. Another major benefit is it should allow you to navigate the screen using one hand rather than two.
A new video from Pocket-lint (below) better demonstrates the rear touch panel and some of the other new ideas incorporated into the Fuse and its GUI by The Astonishing Tribe (TAT), although in the clip the user uses two hands for demonstration purposes.
The video also shows an innovative solution to represent where you are touching when using the rear touch panel through a mix of 3D graphics and lighting that creates a "visual cursor" in place of the conventional arrow cursor.
As for rear touch panels appearing in actual devices, the first seems to be the upcoming Motorola Backflip, which includes an interpretation of the concept with a trackpad behind the screen revealed when you flip around the QWERTY keyboard. Simply called "back track" by the company, the laptop-style trackpad allows navigation, scrolling, and double-tap selection just like conventional trackpads. The video below gives a good overview of the device and the back track pad, but what it fails to show is an implementation of a cursor, which is really more to do with Android than the hardware.
Perhaps more significantly, it has been rumored that the next-generation Apple iPhone will also implement a touch-sensitive shell including the ability to use the back surface of the device as a touch pad much like the Fuse concept.
Personally, I think this is a good, thoughtful innovation that gives users more flexibility in using their devices, especially with regard to one-handed operation. What do you guys think of this feature and is it something you want to see in your next smartphone? Let the discussion begin in the comments!