Primetime: HTC's Squeezable Phone Is Not A New Idea

HTC's Edge Sensors are a borrowed idea and although they are quite likely to be a big hit with users and it will certainly make using the device itself much easier and convenient, the concept of gripping the sides of the phone as a means of initiating a device function is not necessarily new. In fact NTT DOCOMO was working on prototypes of this technology back in 2012 as a means to incorporate grip-based actions for easier one-handed operation of a device. As smartphones still tend to be growing in size it becomes more challenging to use the phone with one hand, but NTT DOCOMO's use of the technology was an idea that they were working on so that users could more easily grip the device and still operate it.

A published technology report from a few years ago (2014) discusses NTT DOCOMO's efforts and shows off a handful of diagrams that depict what the technology could look like when used. They were calling the technology a "Grip UI," and as shown in the first image in the gallery at the bottom of this post a user could grip the phone to complete an action. One use case would be waking the display by simply giving the phone a light squeeze. Based on the report NTT DOCOMO's work with the technology was even pretty thorough, citing that the Grip UI must work regardless of various factors like the user's gender, age, or physique, and there were a number of requirements for the phone being able to detect the user gripping the phone to initiate an action like pressure sensitivity, pressure distribution, and pressure time transition. If this sounds familiar that's because HTC's Edge Sensors work in very much the same way.

In the images above you can see the layout of how HTC's Edge Sensors work. Users are able to configure the feature with everything from the pressure of the grip to how long they squeeze the sensors on the sides of the phone. One image even shows the various functions that can be completed once everything is set up with options to launch apps or open shortcuts to other features or settings. While not entirely the same this is very similar to how NTT DOCOMO's Grip UI prototype functioned, as both the Grip UI and the Edge Sensors are meant to be a means of convenience for the user and allow them an easier way to operate their device without having to use two hands.

Since HTC's U 11 has not yet been announced officially there is no way to know exactly how the Edge Sensor technology operates, and it's possible that HTC may choose not to share the exact details of how it all works, in fact it's highly likely that they wouldn't. After all, it will be their protected technology and they likely don't want just anyone being able to incorporate it into their own products. That being said, there is a small chance that it works similarly to the way that NTT DOCOMO describes their Grip UI. During the development process of their prototype technology NTT DOCOMO used what they called tactile sensors that were able to measure multiple points of pressure. This was so that they could accurately have the Grip UI detect both the intensity of the pressure being applied as well as the distribution of the pressure so that Grip UI could tell where pressure was being applied, which would then allow the user to potentially launch a different action or function based on that pressure location. HTC's Edge Sensors don't necessarily have pressure distribution detection but they do detect sensitivity which is what will allow the user configure the sensors to launch different actions, based on how hard or soft they squeeze the device. The point is that HTC's Edge Sensors are not exactly new technology. Sure, it's a feature that hasn't really been used on mobile devices, but it's also a feature that isn't brand-new as NTT DOCOMO began working to develop something similar around five years ago.

That of course isn't to take away from what HTC has accomplished and integrated with their newest upcoming device. Whether it's new technology or not, you won't find this in any other flagship smartphone right now, and it's a different implementation of making the phone easier to use one-handed for various functions. However, it just goes to show that much of the technology that's implemented in the devices we use on a day to day basis may seem new but are really just implementations of technology that have been inspired by something similar. Take for example Samsung's iris scanner that's been integrated into their newest devices, the Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8 Plus. These certainly weren't the first phones to do this, even in Samsung's camp as they used it on the Galaxy Note 7 last fall. Microsoft's Surface Book laptops have iris scanners too, which came out before the Galaxy Note 7. In the end, HTC may not be integrating an entirely new technology into the HTC U 11 with the Edge Sensors, but that doesn't mean it won't be a great feature.

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