We are all aware of the phenomenal growth in smartphone and tablet use. However, these are often designed with the needs of media and internet access above plain telephony. Touch screens do not have tactile feedback leading to mistyping, especially problematic when using touchtone-based phone services, for tablets especially, the form factor is far from optimal, … and try answering your phone call quickly by sliding your finger across the screen!
There are solutions. A recent gigaom post “Here’s why tablets (yes, tablets!) will replace the smartphone” suggested that hands-free headsets were already common, hence reducing the brick-to-the-ear effect. This of course does not deal with the key pad, but there are some solutions to this using the vibrator motor to give simulated tactile feedback, and various technologies are in development that will (in time) allow tactile features to be programmed onto the screen (e.g. see “Mobile tactile tech gets physical“).
Over a slightly longer time frame we can expect smart materials to develop to the point that concept pieces such as Fabian Hemmert’s Shape-Changing Mobiles will become possible. Instead of being a fixed shape not only will your tablet screen be able to develop solid buttons of all shapes on demand, but will potentially become travel mug, long-haul flight pillow or angle grinder.
The trouble is that not only are such technologies some years off, they are also tinkering at the edges, attempting to fix piecemeal some of the fundamental flaws of smartphone and tablet technology when it comes to telephony. Clearly a more radical approach is required.
While Bluetooth headsets are effective, they tend to suggest call centre rather than cool, a single device would be preferable. In addition this should ideally include some form of miniature key pad to facilitate typing telephone numbers (more extensive tasks such as address book management can be performed on the full-size tablet screen, especially if this is augmented with tactile feedback). Furthermore, for times when it is inconvenient to carry your full size tablet and it is in your handbag, rucksack or its custom wheelie bag, the perfect telephony attachment should also have a small additional screen to view the number you are dialing.
As a result of extensive research into user needs and in the spirit of the information appliance, the single purpose device optimised for a a single purpose, I have devised the perfect device: small, yet not too small to be lost, pocket sized so that it can be easily accessed when you receive a call, tactile, exploiting the deep understanding of the physicality community and knowledge from writing TouchIT. It will connect via Bluetooth to your existing smartphone/tablet and of course via WiFi or (in premium models) using 3G/GSM direct to mobile networks if you accidentally leave your smartphone at home.
I plan to demonstrate my early prototype at the forthcoming Physicality 2012 workshop, where Fabian will be giving a keynote.
I like the idea of the tactus or some form of “feelable” thing. But vibration…nice mid-step, hopefully won’t be adopted long term. Vibrations can be very uncomfortable to those with nerve damage and I’m sure mobile developers and other technology developers don’t want to alienate a section of their market.