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Issue #2003 - 21 (July 2003)
(Updated July 17, 2003)


Mobile Gaming May Become more Hip with Haptics

Source: Victoria Shannon International Herald Tribune July 7, 2003 

The wireless industry is bent on making cellphones more interesting devices to carry not just for communications but also for games. Now comes the technology that the business is calling haptics. It derives from the Greek for the "science of touch."

For anyone who plays video game consoles like the Sony PlayStation, you may be familiar with haptics as "force feedback" - that drives a car off the course in a racing game. Then the control pad starts shaking to simulate, if ever so lamely, the sensation of driving on gravel. Telephonic haptics could be called "inventive ways to make phones vibrate".

All of the major manufacturers are looking at ways to make haptics a fun or useful add-on. Dean Chang, chief technology officer at Immersion, a California company that develops haptics for several industries, said his company was in talks with the big phone makers around the world and with many mobile carriers in Asia and the United States for a licensing partnership.

He hints that a deal to put Immersion's haptics technology in cellphones could be announced this autumn.

Before you dismiss haptics out of hand as a notion somewhere up there on the ridiculous-o-meter with the idea that PCs will ooze the odor of chocolate when you visit the Godiva Web site, consider how it might work.

"We already have a range of gaming products that can simulate the sensations of a light saber, or an earthquake, or a machine gun," Chang said. Cellphone haptics just translate that technology into a tinier motor, which Chang said is as light as and uses less power than existing mobile phone vibrator motors.

"Our technology can do the equivalent of crescendos or staccato or chords in music," he said. By combining high- and low-frequency vibrations in the tiny motor, Immersion imbeds the phones with another way to communicate snippets of information.

Take "touch chat." Chang said Immersion's technology can send the equivalent of a high-frequency high-five slap of skin or a low-frequency belly laugh. These little riffs can be "sent" to a cellphone the same way that text messages are sent today.

Another category of cell-phone haptics would be as a navigation aid. When you scroll to the top of a screen, the phone might give some burst of tactile feedback.

"The screens and buttons are so tiny," Chang said, "any additional guidance is quite helpful. You want to be able to push buttons and scroll without having to look at the screen, just like you can dialing a number."

A third big area for phone haptics is in gaming. A version of the force-feedback that Immersion provided for the Tony Hawk Pro Skater skateboarding PC game is already incorporated into the mobile phone form of the game, he said. A product like Nokia's N-Gage, the cellphone designed to be a game pad, would be an ideal venue for haptics.

In theory, you could also download "vibe tones" to your phone, the same way many people download new ring tones. That would be another rich vein for phone carriers to mine, especially among the younger crowd. Imagine a vibration that evokes "The Hulk" or another fad flick.

And, of course, you could program your phone to vibrate differently depending on the caller: long and choppy for calls from work, slow and mellow for that special friend. We may never hear a piercing phone call in a movie theater again.

Is this crazy? Not necessarily. Bear in mind that there was no mass market for camera phones two years ago, or that there is no market, per se, for browsing the Internet via cellphone. Was there a market for TV remote controls before infrared technology made them possible, easy and cheap? (Actually, there well may have been: I once found in my grandparents' attic an electrical cord with a plug at one end and an odd button at the other. It turned out to be a wired - not wireless - remote control for turning off the TV from bed.)

In another example of invention being the mother of necessity, researchers for Siemens in Munich are working on technology that will combine the fields of voice-recognition and cybersecurity. The goal is for you to say something like "twenty-four" into your phone in order to turn it on or to authorize a purchase.

First, you would train the cellphone to recognize how you pronounce numbers by repeating the numbers "one" through "nine" and the multiples of 10 from "twenty" to "ninety." Then, each time it needed authorization, the cellphone would generate a random two-digit number that it would display on the screen. To gain access to a service or to authorize a payment, you must say the number displayed for the computer to recognize. Siemens says the technology holds potential in banking, online investing and voice-based billing for phone calls.

In other words, we shouldn't underestimate the power of a saturated market in bringing innovation to market, whether we need it or not. According to a report last week from Forrester Research, European cellphone subscriber penetration will hit 70 percent this year and climb to 79 percent by 2008, "just shy of the 80 percent saturation that forms a hard ceiling."

It makes you wonder if there's anything that couldn't be done on a telephone. What will they think of next?

Source: Victoria Shannon International Herald Tribune July 7, 2003 

MobileInfo Comments and Advisory: Haptics may have promise but cellphones will find it difficult to truly simulate the kind of sounds, sensations and effects that a real gaming device can produce. Mr. Chang is enthusiastic no doubt  and he should be. There is some sort of fun in watching the score of a ball game on a PDA but then there is the real ball game. 

Note: This news release may contain forward-looking statements within the meaning of section 27A of the Securities Act of 1933 and section 21E of Securities Exchange act of 1934 in USA. Similar provisions exist in other countries. There is no assurance that the stipulated plans of vendors will be implemented. MobileInfo does not warrant the authenticity of the information. Readers should take appropriate caution in developing plans utilizing these products, services and technology architectures.  All trademarks used in this summary are the property of their respective owners.

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