Us tech geeks often complain that you can't get the really cool stuff in the United States. That usually goes double for cell phones in Asia and Europe, which seem to be a year or two ahead of their US counterparts in terms of features and overall coolness. Of course newer and cooler doesn't always mean "better."
Cases in point: This week I read two stories on the wire about "advances" in mobile handset technology set to debut in other parts of the world. While mentions of faster wireless data and better cameraphone quality always make me green with envy, these two just sort of made me shake my head.
First, NTT DoCoMo - a leading mobile service provider in Japan - has announced the Sony Ericsson SO703i, a mobile handset featuring a "scent sheet" system that releases relaxing aromas into the air when the user opens the clamshell handset. You can read more about the so-called "Smelly Phone" here: http://www.businessweek.com/globalbiz/##PATH_US_EN_CONTENTjan2007/gb20070117_054350.htm?chan=globalbiz_europe_more+of+today's+top+stories
Next, Immersion Corporation announced the Samsung SCH-W559, the first touchscreen-based mobile phone in the world to use Immersion's VibeTonz® System to provide tactile feedback for touchscreen interactions. The handset, which will be sold by China Unicom (the world's third-largest mobile phone provider), will provided vibrating feedback through the touchscreen for operations including virtual key presses - the idea is to provide tactile feedback during operations like dialing and message composition in order to make "typing" on a touch screen more physically akin to the action of pressing mechanical buttons. VibeTonz can also be used to add feedback to everything from alert tones to mobile games.
Read more about VibeTonz here: http://biz.yahoo.com/bw/070117/20070117005098.html?.v=1
Actually, the VibeTonz idea is interesting. Touch screens provide infinite flexibility for UI designers, which can be a huge benefit on a complex but physically small device like a mobile handset. But the experience of trying to type - or even dial - on a buttonless "virtual keypad" is less than satisfying. If the tactile feedback provided by vibrations can approximate the sensation of pushing actual buttons, maybe touchscreens can really catch fire as an alternative to cramming dozens of tiny buttons onto the face of a mobile phone.
What will they think of next?