Smartphone development round-up: hand-friendly innovation

“…borne out of frustration” is a bit of a hackneyed phrase used by start-ups the world over, but there’s no denying that frustration is still a great spark for innovation.

We’ve started to track a trend in smartphone-related developments that resolve or exploit the functional limits and advantages of our hands.

Mainstream awareness of haptic technology moved on from simple vibration alerts earlier this year when Apple’s third-gen iPad was rumoured to feature ‘never before seen touch technology‘.  Haptic technology leaders Senseg appeared to confirm a working relationship with Apple, (as yet undemonstrated in the market), that will take our touch screens and turn them into ‘feel screens’:

We got hands-on – literally, as it’s the only way to experience the haptic interface – with a couple of demos on a developer unit: an image of the kitchen tile that felt smooth until you hit the bump of the grout and a representation of a solid bit of slate-like material which had a missing part so as when we slid our finger over it, it almost felt as if the tablet gave way and our finger dropped a bit. Clever stuff indeed.

One major complaint about touchscreen phones is that the lack of tactile feedback on a touchscreen keyboard generally results in a higher error rate and less desire to type on screen.  There are many and varied physical keyboard accessories on the market ranging from the Omnio WOW-KEYS to Spike iPhone cases with integrated keypads – one of our favourite Kickstarter projects – but most are relatively crude and cumbersome.

Tactus Technologies has developed a new tactile user interface for touchscreen devices that enables real, physical buttons to rise up from the screen’s surface on demand, and then recede back, leaving a perfectly flat, transparent surface.  Here’s their video:

Tactus Introduction from Tactus on Vimeo.

The Tactus technology exists on another separate layer from the integral display of the device so is able to be installed relatively easily on virtually any display.

A little more fun, but still a useful innovation, another Kickstarter project that caught our attention is TapCaps, the Phone-fooler.  Tapcaps are patent-pending capacitive stickers that you can stick onto any glove to make it useable with a touchscreen.  They work on leather gloves, motorcycle gloves, biking gloves, and even thick ski/snowboard gloves so you can use iPhones, iPads, and anything else with a touchscreen, saving your digits from the cold on wintery days.

Recently debuted at Wireless Japan 2012, Japanese mobile company, NTT Docomo collaborated with Fujitsu to create a unique transparent OLED screen that houses touch sensors on both its front and back, allowing users to multitask on two screens with one device, using thumb and index finger.


Lastly, students from the University of Calgary have developed a new software technique called Fat Thumb that takes advantage of your thumb’s wider surface area and varying pressures to allow for simple one-handed phone use.

According to Engadget: a light touch performs the usual commands, pressing the flat surface of your thumb triggers the equivalent of a multi-touch gesture, such as a pinch to zoom.the advantages for comfort and grip are self-evident and users are far less likely to drop their valuable smartphones.

The inventors claim that Fat Thumb may well be faster than other one-handed manipulations – well worth a watch:

To see more of the devices, technologies, design and packaging things that inspire us – Follow Cellpak on Pinterest.