Microsoft Research is set to present a paper this week outlining an entirely new set of notification tools for mobile phones, including communicative tapping and rubbing mechanisms, complementing the blunt, simple, and often not-so-silent 'vibrate' function with a set of truly quiet 'rub' and 'tap' notifiers. They argue that user notification is a communications bottleneck for current cell phones, and that rubbing or tapping motions could notify users as well as communicate common messages, to which there could be assigned simple patterns of movement.
This idea is fascinating, and I'd love to see it mature beyond the research stages, but Microsoft needs to be aware of something: it seems nearly impossible to write about this without sounding like you're penning erotic fiction. Take PCMag's sultry writeup:
In both tapping and rubbing, a voice coil, such as one found in a standard 3.5-inch hard disk drive, was used. To "rub," a long arm was mounted on the actuator, so that the arm would "swing" through a 30 degree angle or so. A nub was then mounted orthogonally to the arm, so the rubbing could be felt on the bottom of a user's palm as he rested it on the frame. Tapping was much simpler: all the users needed to do was to mount a "hammer" onto the head, so that its movement created a tapping sensation.
In a series of small tests, users were asked to experience a series of taps and rubs, and to determine which of a pair was strongest, and then which of a series was the hardest or fastest. The group was also asked to determine which taps or rubs felt the most natural.
The researchers determined that the softer taps felt more natural, while faster taps blurred into vibration. Interestingly, the "rubbing" technique that the researchers used couldn't actually generate enough pressure to feel natural.
Whoa, take it easy there, PCMag guy. This is just a research paper he's talking about — I don't even want to imagine what the first review of an actual product with this tech will sound like. [PCMag]