Hands Do the Talking on Squeezable Smartphones

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Ever squeezed your phone in a way you wished the person on the other end could feel it? Whether conveying frustration or love, a new smartphone prototype could help you do just that.

A group from Nokia Research and the Helsinki Institute for Information Technology has created a smartphone prototype dubbed ForcePhone. During a live call, users squeeze the phone to convey different kinds of messages. These physical messages, called "pressages," are communicated through both users' phones as varying vibrations depending on how pressure is applied.

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Unlike similar tech in development, ForcePhone wouldn't have preloaded audio-tactile messages. Instead, users could come up with their own. Let's say you want to give your loved one a cuddle at the end of a long-distance call. There's apparently a pressage for that.

The Finnish research group, led by postdoctoral researcher Eve Hoggan, presented a ForcePhone paper (abstract) and prototype recently in Cambridge, Mass., at the Symposium on User Interface Software and Technology. Technology Review contributor Nidhi Subbaraman blogged that she got to try out one of the phones firsthand.

Only one of the ForcePhone prototypes was working at the symposium but when squeezed it vibrated in her hand like the other person's phone would, Subbaraman wrote.

In their paper, the researchers said their studies have shown that "such a system has value as a communication channel in real-world settings with users expressing greetings, presence and emotions through pressages." The testers were three long-distance adult couples who ended up using the phones to cuddle, express annoyance during a fight, and do other things not appropriate to describe in polite company, according to Subbaraman.

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Not to get all mushy, but I could see such functionality helping couples literally stay in touch. In different hands, it could drastically change a certain, ahem, phone industry as well. If only certain large company's reps picked up with ForcePhones. Pressing customer service calls indeed.

Photo: The ForcePhone would let you send messages as physical sensations. Credit: Nidhi Subbaraman, Technology Review

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