New Mobile Phones 'Rub' and 'Tap' Users

Dennis Faas's picture

You are walking along, listening to the sounds of nature when all of a sudden you feel a slight rub or a tap on your inner thigh coming from inside one of your pant pockets. Don't worry. You are probably not the victim of a pickpocket. It's only your mobile phone informing you of an incoming call.

Microsoft Research is currently working on mobile phone settings that are a little more "hands on" than previous features used for identifying an incoming call. Among the traditional "silent" and "vibrate" modes will be two new additional methods of transmitting information: moving a small ball or nub to simulate a rubbing motion and using a similar method to simulate a tapping motion.

In both situations, the voice coil motor of a standard hard drive will be used as part of an emerging technology known as "SoundTouch". (Source:

The need for more interactive approaches to user communication is the result of recent criticisms observed when using current phone settings. Microsoft noted that in most cases, when the "silent" mode was activated on a mobile phone, the vibrations could still be heard by others close to the user.

The vibrations were also said to be frequently drowned out in crowded locations and noisy areas, so that users were constantly missing important calls. Adversely, the rubbing and tapping sensations are believed to be less likely to go unnoticed by the user.

The mechanics of the features are rather simple.

A voice coil is used, similar to the ones found in a standard 3.5-inch hard disk drive. .A long arm-like device is mounted on the actuator, so that the arm "swings" through a 30 degree angle, creating a rubbing effect for the recipient. A small "hammer-like" device can also be mounted on the actuator, so that the device motions back and forth to simulate a tapping sensation.

Both features will work best at low frequencies (under 20 Hz). While only 1Hz is required for the SoundTouch "arm" to swing back and forth, Microsoft has stated that the device can still function at frequencies greater than 20 KHz. (Source:

How has the public responded?

When asked to offer feedback through a series of small tests, many participants tended to favor softer, forceful rubs and taps. Many who contributed to the experiment liked the idea of a more innovative approach to receiving their phone calls.

Whether or not the rest of the mobile market agrees with the test participants is something Microsoft Research will be closely monitoring in the weeks ahead.

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