My kid coulda done that

Shake it like a Polaroid picture

Samsung has announced a new phone that will have an “accelerometer” in it, allowing you an unique way to do data input — you wave the phone around in the shape of the thing you’re trying to spell. Draw an “O” in the air, and you type “yes”; an “X” types no. The idea is so spectacularly daft that you have to wonder: Has the designer ever met anyone who actually uses a phone? Like, in public? I was impressed that CNET was actually able to find an analyst willing to take this idea even half-seriously:

“This is characteristic of the types of enhancements you’re going to see made to cell phones going forward,” John Jackson, senior analyst, Yankee Group, told TechNewsWorld. “It’s designed to beget innovation and beget development; it’s an enabling technology.”

Enabling, yes … in the sense that it will enable mobile-phone users to inadvertantly bash in the heads of innocent bystanders while frantically attempting to “type” CUl8r on their phones. Saved by technology.

I’m being mean. The truth is, haptic sensing is actually a sort of interesting concept for interface design. As phones get smaller and smaller, and there’s less and less room for buttons on their screens, a motion-sensitive phone could offer some intriguing ways to manipulate data. If you’ve got a big list of phone numbers, you could tip the phone forwards and backwards as a way of scrolling through a long list, and shake it once quickly to select one. Indeed, several interface designers have played around with these concepts. What’s neat about haptic interfaces is that they turn data into something physical — as if the lists of phone numbers on your phone were a long list of beads you could roll back and forth.

You could make some pretty kick-ass games for that phone, too. How about a sword-fighting game, where you physically swing the phone around to perform moves? Or to cast spells in an RPG, with the precision of your swing determining the success of the spell? Come to think of it, the only successful haptic data-manipulation device that I’ve ever seen was, in fact, a game: Kirby Tilt ‘n’ Tumble for the Gameboy, where you moved Kirby around the screen by tilting the screen around.

(Thanks to Gizmodo for this one!)

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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