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Tap tech brings touch to dumb phones

mobile phones

By Stewart Mitchell

Posted on 10 Sep 2010 at 11:19

Mobile manufacturers are testing out a way to turn "dumb" phones into a touch sensitive input device.

According to TouchDevice, the Cambridge-based company behind the technology, the system uses the microphone to turn any surface on a handset into a touch-sensitive input panel.

“What we're doing is using the existing microphone to detect sounds - the different areas of a phone have a unique sound signature,” said Mike Bradley, founder of TouchDevice. "An algorithm matches the sound profile to the phone against a known template.

We're using the existing microphone to detect sounds - the different areas of a phone have a unique sound signature

“For example, where icons are displayed on a non-touch screen display, you could tap on there and it would activate the application.”

According to Bradley, users would have to give the handset a significant tap to register the noise as there is a threshold to prevent false inputs from users holding the handset or while it is in a pocket.

The idea could appeal to phone manufacturers because it would enable them to put controls on the side casing or back of the phone without the need for hardware buttons.

TouchDevice believes there are two markets for the technology, firstly to augment input potential in touchcreen smartphones, and secondly as a way of adding touch to “dumb” displays.

“It's a lot cheaper than a touchscreen because it is a software-only technology and the microphone is already in there,” said Bradley. “A touchscreen costs between $5 and $15, but we licence TouchDisplay for less than $1.”

Each handset model would need its own set of signatures because each phone would have a unique audio fingerprint, but the technology should work out of the box, with no need for users to train the software.

The number of potential inputs is almost endless, with Bradley describing the resolution of the system as being "fingertip size over the whole of the phone".

According to TouchDevice, the technology is currently being trialled by mobile phone manufacturers and handsets featuring the input system could appear at the Mobile World Conference in February next year.

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User comments

Title is misleading

It doesn't really bring touch to dumb phones, does it? My view is that a dumb phone is one that isn't a 'smartphone', and the distinguishing feature isn't necessarily anything to do with input mode. On balance, more smartphones than dumb phones have touchscreens, but I would argue that my old (non-touchscreen) Nokia N95 was a smartphone, as it had the usual complement of e-mail, internet, downloadable apps, multimedia, GPS, etc. Similarly most Blackberry devices in use have no touch screen, but they are smartphones.

This tech potentially *might* allow some limited touch capability in non-touchscreen smartphones with sufficient processing power, but you'll need an app to achieve that, so it's not going to magically make dumb (aka 'fashion'/'lifestyle') mobiles into touchscreen wunder-devices.

By flyingbadger on 10 Sep 2010

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