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The future of touch

03 июня 2009

Next generation of touch-screen technology is in development. For mobile touch technology, it's only the beginning.

Apple Inc.'s iPhone revolutionized the mobile phone with easy-to-use touch-screen technology that allows users to surf the Web, tap out messages or control any number of inventive applications. But the iPhone and the touch-screen handsets every major phone maker has since come out with have only scratched the surface of the potential of touch.

The next generation of touch technology, now in development, promises to be even more intuitive and user-friendly."All the work is on improving the speed of devices, the reliability and how they interact with humans," says Chris Ard, director of marketing for touch technology at semiconductor maker Atmel Corp., based in San Jose, Calif.

Among the highlights: Developers are working on new applications for "multitouch" screens, like those on the iPhone, the GD900 from LG Electronics Inc., due for release in the U.K. imminently, and others soon to come, including Palm Inc.'s Pre.
These screens can process commands the user gives with more than one finger, which broadens the possibilities for applications. Other developers are working on advances in "haptic" feedback -- vibrations and other physical sensations that are now used, for instance, to let a gamer know she's reached a new level, but that can also be used to communicate emotions and may soon give a touch-screen keyboard the feel of a physical keyboard. And for those who still prefer to work with keys on their phones, even some traditional keyboards will perform certain functions in response to touch commands, like a finger run lightly across the keys.

When the iPhone was introduced in 2007, its multitouch capability was among its most eye-catching features. Apple Chairman Steve Jobs demonstrated how photos could be resized simply with a pinching or expanding gesture using a thumb and a finger on the screen.

Software developers set to work on multitouch applications. Some, for instance, allow users to play virtual musical instruments on the phone. But multitouch developers have largely focused on games.

Last month, France's Gameloft SA released a Terminator Salvation game for the iPhone to coincide with the release of the movie with the same title. The game makes use of half-circle, or arc, gestures on both sides of the screen to control the characters' movements and view -- a refinement of the slide gestures that many games use to move characters through their environment.

The game is designed for users to control characters with two thumbs, as they would in traditional nonmobile games. Gameloft says that this takes into account the natural rotation of the thumb bone to achieve the most comfortable and intuitive movements by the user.

Another innovator in multitouch games, Illusion Labs AB, is planning a new release for the fall. The Swedish company is the creator of Sway, in which the user's thumbs control the swinging movements of a monkey-like character, and TouchGrind, in which two fingers of one hand direct the motion of a skateboard.

Haptic technology already has many nonmobile applications. In videogames, for instance, it can give gamers the sensation of actually steering a car they're controlling on the screen. In medical training, it can make procedures like endoscopy performed on a simulator feel real, so that medical personnel can develop a better sense of how to perform them.

The use of haptics in mobile phones is still in its infancy, with Samsung Electronics Co. leading the way. Its Omnia phone, for example, vibrates to confirm each touch of the screen, and a vibration that shudders to a stop indicates that a call has been dropped.

But the wider deployment of haptic-enabled phones will open the door to new applications.

Immersion Corp., a haptics developer based in San Jose, Calif., says that in the next nine months three mobile carriers will be launching applications it created that allow users to communicate emotions nonverbally. For example, frustration can be communicated by shaking the phone, which will create a vibration that will be felt by the other party. That person might then choose to respond with what the developers call a "love tap"-- a rhythmic tapping on the phone that will produce a heartbeat-like series of vibrations on the other party's phone.

Immersion's general manager of touch business, Craig Vachon, says the next step is developing a phone that can deliver a physical sensation based on the position of a finger on a touch screen. One application would be a touch-screen keyboard that feels like a traditional keyboard, so that users could more easily distinguish exactly where each key begins and ends. The idea would be to help users avoid errant taps on the screen and the resulting garbled messages.

"The technology is such that we could blindfold you and you would be able to feel the demarcation between the keys of a keypad, on a completely flat touch screen," Mr. Vachon says. The technology is being tested in handsets now and should be made available to consumers sometime in the next 12 months, he says.

For now, at least, many mobile users prefer the accuracy of a physical keyboard rather than a touch screen. A new technology is being designed to allow the best of both worlds: a keyboard that can also respond to touch commands.

The keyboard, being developed by Berlin-based Tech21 Sensor GmbH, responds normally when a letter or number is pressed. But a user could, say, scroll down a Web page by running a finger lightly across the keyboard; pressing a little harder might be the command to scroll faster or zoom in on a page. The technology is expected to start being deployed in mobile phones in 2010 or 2011.

"We want to provide any object with keys or a keypad with smarter keys," says Tech21 Chairman Christian Lindholm.


Источник: Total Telecom

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