This ingenious shell adds buttons and a wheel

To respond to smartphones where everything goes through the touch screen, researchers at Columbia University have created a shell with physical buttons and a wheel, much more convenient to play, raise or lower the sound or zoom on an image.

The current trend among smartphone manufacturers is to eliminate the physical buttons of their devices. First, the keyboard has been replaced by a tactile version displayed on the screen, then the buttons on the sides have disappeared and finally, the Home button has also been dematerialized on most mobiles. Even the speaker and the fingerprint reader have been integrated into the screen on some recent models.

The transition to a fully tactile use allows to integrate a screen that occupies the entire front without edges, but it brings its share of disadvantages. Current smartphones require learning new gestures, such as pinching the screen to zoom in on an image.

Purely Mechanical Buttons

These manipulations very often require the use of two hands, to hold the device and perform the gesture, and the hand often hides the screen, which prevents to see if the operation had the desired effect before having removed. On-screen controls are also a problem for games because it reduces responsiveness and the absence of tactile feedback prevents the player from knowing if his fingers are centred on the buttons without deflecting his gaze from the action at the centre. of the screen.

To compensate for these shortcomings, researchers at Columbia University in the United States created a shell with physical buttons. The research was published in an article whose title translates as  Widgets: mobile widgets for mobile devices where they detail their concept of widgets: push buttons or knobs that can slip into slots provided for this purpose on a simple plastic shell. This solution is inexpensive because it does not include any electronic circuit, and therefore no battery or wireless connection. The hull works on a purely mechanical principle and relies on the internal sensors of the smartphone to detect the use of buttons.

A system based on the use of internal sensors

The widgets have been designed to create distinctive vibrations when in use, which can be identified by an application on the mobile. Continuous analysis of sensor data, such as the gyroscope and accelerometer, uses very few resources; it distinguishes the specific vibrations and movements created by the buttons of the other manipulations of the smartphone.

The researchers published a video showing the buttons and the interest of their invention. This shell, which adds the kinds of pushers on the edge of the mobile, allows, for example, to answer the phone while wearing gloves, or to zoom with the camera with a wheel, and thus take a photo with one hand. The modularity can adapt the buttons according to their preferences, or according to the current user, for example, to create triggers for a game. The widgets can be placed on both sides, the hull is suitable for both right-handed and left-handed.