Many times now, I've harped on the shortcomings of smartphone displays. While they provide us with a more direct interaction and functionality than, say, a trackball or trackpad, they lack the tactile feedback we get from physical keyboards and actual buttons.
I've covered many attempts to replicate tactile feedback and make typing on cold, flat displays less alienating: SureType, haptic feedback and pressure sensors, detachable physical keyboards, etc. While they are all noble (and novel, for that matter) attempts, we're still tapping away on smartphone displays the same way we were four and five years ago – nothing has really changed.
Fortunately, we always have the future to look forward to. And manufacturers, visionaries and engineers around the world are working around the clock to make the smartphone easier and more comfortable to use ... for everyone. Recently, we've witnessed the showcasing of a lot of new and impressive technologies, like flexible display panels, flexible and transparent batteries and the beginnings of wearable computers. While we'd like nothing more than to see all of these things happen by year's end, the chances of that happening are slim.
Even more unlikely this year is a phone design that popped up on popular design blog, Yanko Design, earlier today. Called the Floating Phone, created by Messizon Li and a slew of other designers, this particular device has some unique advantages over your typical smartphone, particularly in terms of the display. Using what Li and his team are calling the floating display, the display itself turns three-dimensional and can raise in areas.
A few examples shown in the infographic were braille, actual raised buttons for gaming and a tactile map (shown above). And instead of calling it a "touchscreen phone" they are dubbing it a "touchable phone." There is also mention of preview 3D models (to an extent, obviously). The possibilities of a true, tactile 3D display stretch far and wide. Quite possibly the most important feature of all, however, would be a raised keyboard.
The wheel at the bottom is a sensor that rotates. It isn't very clear what the sensor actually does, but a quote from the infographic reads, "With the sensor circle rotating, there will be more surprise for your personalization." Another says, "With the hole, there may be more interactive games come out [sic] for people to have fun." There are clearly some language barriers in place, so take it for what you will. But the idea, I believe, is that the "hole" or "sensor circle" is similar to a directional pad.
Considering this is only a concept and anything similar is likely years from production, there are a lot of questions left unanswered. But that's the fun part. How would a visually impaired individual read braille on a touchscreen without triggering an action? What would the limits of the 3D be? Would it also be able to recess? The technology for a tactile 3D display as such isn't outside the realm of possibility, but it's not something we'll see this year or next ... if at all. Nonetheless, this is a very cool and unique design concept, and it would be something I would be deeply interested in getting my paws on, as usual.
Now, let me clarify that I hate current 3D technology. There is nothing about a 3D movie, 3D phone or 3D anything that even remotely moves me. But a 3D display that I can touch and feel ... in 3D – a tactile display – is an entirely different story. With flexible phones and transparent displays on the horizon, your standard smartphone display is beginning to lose its luster. I need something like this to keep me content.
What do you guys and gals think? Is the Floating Phone a worthy concept? Or is it too outlandish? Do you like the idea of tactile 3D displays?