If there’s anything I’ve learned in my almost-five years of tech blogging, it’s to never believe that we’ve exhausted the capabilities of any technology prematurely. There have been so many instances where it appeared that we’d found all the uses for one particular aspect, only to find out that there’s so much more we can do with it.
I’m not sure anyone particularly thinks that we’ve exhausted touchscreen functions, but it does seem that we’ve reached a comfort level with them. But thanks to some work by folks at Carnegie Mellon, we might see touchscreen, and therefore smartphone, functionality take another step forward.
Their development: sensing the particular part of your finger touches the screen. Using a microphone — though not the phone’s existing internal microphone — the researchers were able to distinguish various types of taps. That is, they could tell the difference between a tap with the fingertip and with the finger pad. It could also distinguish a nail tap and a knuckle tap. It doesn’t take much imagination to think of the possibilities this creates for future app development.
There are still some kinks to work out in this technology. Again, they weren’t able to use the internal microphone on the smartphone. The only practical solution is to have manufacturers install a second microphone with the express purpose of picking up these sounds. The accuracy will also have to increase, as they’re at only 95 percent currently. That’s great for an initial run, but in order for it to have use in a practical setting the accuracy has to be closer to 99 percent.
One thing they can figure with almost perfect accuracy is the difference between a stylus and a finger. We haven’t seen styli used much with smartphones; they seem like antiquities from the early days of the Palm Pilot. But they can have plenty of uses, especially when it comes to note-taking. As screens get bigger a stylus makes more sense. The ability to sense the difference between a finger and a stylus, then, can make stylus input even more accurate.
I have a feeling that we’ll see the comeback of the stylus in the not so distant future. Will this technology catch on? It’s tough to say for sure. It seems useful and practical, but that’s for investors to decide. But given the myriad advantages it can provide, and given the manner in which it can advance smartphone functionality, I’d wager that we’ll see this technology developed in some form or another. It might take a while to get the accuracy to an acceptable level, but once they’re past that point we could see this implemented on future smartphones.