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How A Simple Software Update Could Make Your iPhone Screen Smarter

From your finger’s angle of attack, to gestures like twists, researchers have developed algorithms to make any touch screen smarter.

When you touch your iPhone screen, it basically sees a few dark spots with no other context. From that alone, it’s brought us landmark interactions like the swipe and pinch-to-zoom. But to do more, Apple had to rebuild its own touch screen, adding the pressure sensitivity of 3D Touch.

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Now, researchers from a Carnegie Mellon University startup called Qeexo has developed a new touch technology that can milk more interactions out of the dumbest, 3D-Touch-less touch screens. Their breakthrough is called FingerAngle. Just by looking at the shadowy spots of your fingers, it can understand your finger’s angle of attack.

Imagine if you could touch your Apple Watch, twist your finger, and turn up the volume. Or if by tilting your finger, you could rotate a 3-D model. It’s all possible with the FingerAngle algorithm, which is actually nothing more than smarter software that’s more capable of discerning your finger’s context in relationship to the screen.

“Unlike Apple’s ‘3D Touch’ (which is really just pressure sensing), this technology is actually figuring out your 3-D touch—X/Y position and X/Y rotation,” writes Chris Harrison, CTO of Qeexo. “As a result, we can do some nifty things in place (where the finger’s position doesn’t change, but rather rotates) and also some totally new 3-D manipulations never before seen on touch screens.”

Apple has recently spent a lot of energy to solve the very problem that FingerAngle addresses. The Apple Pencil employs accelerometers to measure the angle of the stylus as you draw, creating think or thickly extruded lines in response. But the most promising part of FingerAngle is that it isn’t a hardware solution. It could come to all the devices you know, with no physical modifications, if companies like Apple or Google added the technology to their operating systems. And that wouldn’t be completely unheard of, because some of Qeexo’s touch technology is already inside Huawei smartphones.

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About the author

Mark Wilson is a senior writer at Fast Company. He started Philanthroper.com, a simple way to give back every day

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