Over recent years, new technologies have given us nifty new ways of interacting with our mobile devices. Novelties like touchscreens, motion detection and haptic feedback quickly became essential features once developers came up with clever ways of using them. The other day a colleague was showing me a currency conversion app on his smartphone that, if you shake the phone, it resets the value in the numerical field to 1, meaning you don’t have to delete the previous value in order to get a quick reference to the exchange rate. I love things like that. Maybe it’s just a case of a small thing amusing a small mind, but it’s a simple example of how motion detection has put a tool into the hands of developers to facilitate easier interaction with the user.
Ultrasound might be poised to trigger the next revolution as user interfaces look towards a touchless era. This year, at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, a company called Chirp Microsystems demonstrated a single-chip ultrasonic time-of-flight sensor that lets users interact with electronics, such as wearables, that either have no screens at all, or screens that are too small to accommodate accurate touch input. The technology consumes only microwatts while performing ultrasonic echolocation, and makes use of gesture classification and software libraries to provide 2D and 3D position tracking. It provides impressively accurate range information (to the millimetre) and the company says the ultra-wide field of view means that ultrasound-based systems do not suffer from occlusion problems that plague optical tracking systems.
HMD Global, the Finnish company that bought the licensing rights for Nokia branded phones, has gone in completely the opposite direction by relaunching the iconic 3310. While it will run on Android, sport a colour display and camera, and support web browsing, the most notable features of the ‘new old’ phone will be the ones it inherits from its 17-year-old ancestor: keypad buttons, a nearly eternal battery, and Snake.
The biggest question mark over the new model, and one which only time will answer, is whether it can possibly be as nigh-on-indestructible as the original? I could fill every page of this magazine with Internet memes about how tough that thing was (and still is, in some cases). Do yourself a favour and Google it, you’ll find classics like “iPhone falls to the floor, screen breaks. Nokia 3310 falls to the floor, floor breaks,” and how the only way to destroy one is to cast it into the volcano of Mount Doom, like in the Lord of the Rings.
Jokes aside though, I read a story recently about an ex-soldier in the UK whose 3310, bought in the year 2000, survived a tour of Iraq and a full cycle in a washing machine. It’s been thrown, stood on, the battery has never needed to be replaced, and the phone still works like it did straight off the assembly line. No wonder it sold 136 million units in less than five years.
It wouldn’t surprise me if the new 3310 turns out to be a monumental sales flop, but 22 hours talk-time and one month standby? Shut up and take my money.
Brett van den Bosch
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