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Cellphones GUI Software Technology

Is the Bar of Soap Tomorrow's Smarterphone? 141

Barence writes "Researchers at MIT have developed a gadget that knows whether you want to use it as a camera or smartphone, just by the way you're holding it. So, if you hold the device, dubbed the Bar of Soap, out in front of you like a camera it will automatically bring up an LCD viewfinder. However, if you then switch to holding it as you would a mobile phone, it will bring up a touchscreen keypad instead. The Bar of Soap utilises a three-axis accelerometer and 72 surface sensors to track the position of the user's fingers and its position."
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Is the Bar of Soap Tomorrow's Smarterphone?

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  • Great (Score:5, Insightful)

    by clarkkent09 ( 1104833 ) * on Wednesday February 18, 2009 @05:00PM (#26907107)
    I look forward to the day when I wont have to face the arduous task of pressing the camera button when I want to switch to camera mode. And I am sure I won't look like an idiot twisting and shaking my phone back and forth, trying to get the damn camera on (like with iPhone switching portrait/lansdcape mode) because the feature will work flawlessly every time. Sorry, I tend to be in a sarcastic mood early in the morning. Yes, I know it's 1pm.
    • At least you won't have to twist and shake like an idiot for very long. Newer camera-phones enter camera mode pretty fast, less than 10 seconds.
      • by jsiren ( 886858 )

        And how do I twist and shake it to take a photo in a portrait format?

        I tagged this "rubegoldberg []".

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Mozk ( 844858 )

      I know people with bad vision who hold out their phone in much the same way as I imagine one would to switch to camera mode in this device, so I could see problems with this. Honestly it's not that hard to push a button, and a lot of phones have a dedicated button to bring up the camera interface.

      • by he-sk ( 103163 )

        I think the other error is far more likely, because when a vision-impaired person brings something in their hand to their face they look down and therefore the phone will be in an angled position. But what happens when you want to take a picture of something in that position?

        On the other hand, using both hands to hold a camera steadies it which leads to better pictures. The device could use its surface sensors to enforce this behavior (whenever possible), subtly helping people making better pics.

      • I'd agree with you that it is not that hard to push a button... I mean, you STILL have to push a button to take the picture... but the fact that there was a need, and this this app was developed to suit that need, proves that it *is* too hard to just press a button.

    • Re:Great (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Cillian ( 1003268 ) on Wednesday February 18, 2009 @05:08PM (#26907223) Homepage
      And I wonder how much all this extra tech/sensors adds to the price...... Personally, I'll go for the switch and keep the cash. I mean, sure, shiny stuff is cool, but if that's the best they can think of to do with the tech... *sigh*
    • Re:Great (Score:5, Funny)

      by cayenne8 ( 626475 ) on Wednesday February 18, 2009 @05:08PM (#26907225) Homepage Journal
      Hmm...sounds like a PITA.

      Have they never seen anyone lay down while they talk on the phone. I'd be pissed if I was laying down, heard the phone ring, picked it up, and when I said hello, I heard the fscking thing taking pictures of my ear.....

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Locke2005 ( 849178 )
      I am sure I won't look like an idiot Hey, you already look like a schizophrenic when you walk down the street talking loudly into the bluetooth headset that nobody can see... how can you possibly look any worse twisting your phone around when you want to take a picture? Perhaps the cell phone manufacturers are just trying to avoid being mandated to produce a loud "shutter" noise every time you snap a digital pic -- a feature I'm sure people that take snaps of animals will absolutely love.
    • Why is this scored as Troll? He has a good point.
    • by Chabo ( 880571 )

      Yes, I know it's 1pm.

      I don't live in your time zone, you insensitive clod!

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      laf. from the article:

      Unfortunately, the disparate demands of the individual interfaces has remained a barrier to complete convergence.

      yes its shocking that the interfaces of camera and phone have not suddenly become identical simply because of the possibility to sell them in the same enclosure. *gasp*

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by againjj ( 1132651 )
      To bolster your comment, I note that they state that there is only a 70% accuracy (at this time) which goes to 90% if it is trained to a specific user. Not exactly very reliable.
    • Re:Great (Score:5, Funny)

      by PuckSR ( 1073464 ) on Wednesday February 18, 2009 @06:28PM (#26908633)

      I agree...

      Have you heard about the new computer interface devices called "mice"? They try to interface with a computer via movement of the device across a flat surface rather than just typing in a command. Absolutely useless, and I bet they don't work worth a crap

      "There is no evidence that people want to use these things."--John Dvorak(discussing the computer mouse)

      Useless and silly technology!

    • That's my experience as well: the iPhone accelerometer is useless and a nuisance.

    • Re:Great (Score:4, Funny)

      by Chris Burke ( 6130 ) on Wednesday February 18, 2009 @07:22PM (#26909445) Homepage

      (like with iPhone switching portrait/lansdcape mode)

      One of my first experiences with an iPhone was a coworker trying to show me a picture of their son. They'd taken the picture with a different camera, held sideways, so it showed up sideways on the screen. So he rotated the phone. And the iPhone obliged by rotating the picture 90 degrees so that his kid was still sideways.

      Needless to say, I was deeply impressed. ;)

  • I can't wait for teen girls & college women to carry their "bar of soap" into the shower, and while washing accidently press the "take picture" and "send" buttons.

    Of course most women do that anyway. They've created a whole new category called "mirror teens".

    • However it was mistaken as a bar of soap. You will either a black screen as the skin has blocked all the light. Or the shower stall.

    • People generally don't talk on the cell phone when they shower... and if you have a camera with you in the shower/bathroom, something funny is going on already.

      Beyond making it far to noisy to hear (or be heard), most cell phones don't do well in the presence of water.

  • Better (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    The Bar of Soap utilises a three-axis accelerometer and 72 surface sensors to track the position of the user's fingers and its position."

    And what's the advantage over using a single "surface sensor" (i.e. a button)?

  • In what position do I need to hold it in order for it to know that I want it to vibrate instead of making noise when somebody calls?
  • what if? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by sl0ppy ( 454532 ) on Wednesday February 18, 2009 @05:06PM (#26907201)

    what if i want to take a picture of something in front of me, on my desk, while i am sitting down. i've actually done this a few times, so it's not too much to ask.

    hopefully there will be an easy override button i can press?

    sometimes gadgets try too hard to be "smart", and end up infuriating the end users.

    • Re:what if? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by hobbit ( 5915 ) on Wednesday February 18, 2009 @06:09PM (#26908297)

      Quite. Not to mention that if you ask a teenager to mime "taking a picture", they'll probably mime holding an object in portrait orientation and pressing a button on the side nearest them. Whereas twenty/thirtysomethings will probably mime pressing a button on the top of something in landscape orientation, and forty-and-up-somethings will probably mime holding something up to their eye.

      • ... and the rest of us will just say it, and refrain from gesticulating like a mental patient.

      • by dgatwood ( 11270 )

        Nah. I've seen plenty of over-40s using cell phone cameras and modern digital cameras and plenty of teenagers witih real cameras. I'm in the middle category, but I still hold something up to my eye. SLR is the only way to photograph. If you've ever tried to take a picture in a dark environment, you understand why. There's nothing quite like a bright LCD panel leaving you unable to see for 45 seconds after you put the camera away to guarantee that you WILL get mugged in NYC.... :-)

        It's not that I don't

  • Joy (Score:5, Insightful)

    by illegalcortex ( 1007791 ) on Wednesday February 18, 2009 @05:07PM (#26907211)

    Please god, no. I already curse my iPod Touch frequently enough when it decides how to rotate the screen for me. For example, ever try web surfing while lying down? What I wouldn't give for a "lock screen orientation" button.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Shakrai ( 717556 )

      What I wouldn't give for a "lock screen orientation" button.

      If you needed such a button then Steve Jobs would have provided it for you. Clearly you aren't using your iPod in the correct manner ;)

    • by solune ( 803114 )
      Wow. Every time I hear something else about the iPhone I feel even better about not getting one when I had the chance
    • by hobbit ( 5915 )

      Ditto. Although I'd rather have a status setting that would cause the OS only to signal a change in orientation after a "shakedown" in the new direction (like a sort of directional shake, such as you would make if you were trying to get wet sand to collect at the bottom of a glass).

    • Yeah, I know it sucks.

      Try turning it sideways (top pointing right), then flipping clockwise so the top is pointing down. You get landscape mode, and it's facing the proper way.

      OT I know, but maybe it'll help. I wish somebody made a jailbreak thing that would disable/enable rotation, shouldn't be too hard to do.

  • by nizo ( 81281 ) * on Wednesday February 18, 2009 @05:08PM (#26907227) Homepage Journal

    No matter how smart this phone is, you still shouldn't drop it in the shower.

    • I can think of several reasons someone might want to do that. At the very least it would help you make better shock sites like Goatse.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Talk about an utterly subjective and intuitive line of guesswork.
    Some will be obvious 99% of the time, others it'll be random guesswork on the part of the device as it won't know what it's relationship is to the rest of your body and the world. Just imagine trying to take pictures from odd positions. (around the corner, from your purse so he doesn't notice, etc.)

    It will absolutely need a manual override or there are going to be a lot of strange mistakes.

    • by Mozk ( 844858 )

      The article quotes 70% accuracy, which means it doesn't work once every three times you use it, or 90% if trained.

      Engineers from MIT intend to solve this problem by allowing the device itself to work out what you intend.

      And since when did computers start doing what they think I want and not what I tell them to do?

  • Oblig. tag (Score:3, Funny)

    by Eudial ( 590661 ) on Wednesday February 18, 2009 @05:09PM (#26907257)

    Why isn't this tagged "dontdropthesoap"?!

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Now what would be really interesting is if they added a mode that responded as such:

    a. Phone rotated 90 degrees such that the lens is pointing toward the sky

    b. Phone senses me taping it to my shoe

    c. Phone takes snapshots every few seconds.

    I'm an avid Upskir^H^H^H^H^H^H shoe-point-of-view sky photographer. It would really make my life easier.

  • And what about... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by thesolo ( 131008 ) * <> on Wednesday February 18, 2009 @05:12PM (#26907323) Homepage
    If you want or need to take a picture/video discreetly? Now you're stuck holding it way out in front of you, giving away the fact that you're filming/taking photos?

    I've snapped photos and video before by keeping the phone up against my ear like I was on the phone, but aiming the lens at the subject and tapping the button on the side of the phone. I know other people have done the same to film their local police using a taser on someone. If the cops know you're filming, they're likely to try to take your cell.
    • by mea37 ( 1201159 )

      On the one hand, I think this is a pretty useless "feature", likely to cause more trouble than it solves. (By that I mean, I think it's likely to cause quite a bit of trouble when it mis-interprets what I want it to do, and I don't think it solves anything at all.)

      But on the other hand, I see several of these "what if I want to do X or Y with it?" questions... and to me the answer is pretty obvious: If you want to do X or Y, this isn't the gadget you should use to do it. That isn't what this thing does.

  • ...pushing a button on the side of the phone to switch to camera mode?

    Isn't this kind of a like a Rube Goldberg device?

    • One thing I like about the N73 is the camera lens cover. Not only does it (attempt to) keep dust off the lens when it's not in use as a camera, but also sliding the cover open automatically activates camera mode. Easy to use AND functional at the same time.

      Of course, it does take 5 seconds to actually *load* the camera... that's one of the things I don't like so much.

  • by reality-bytes ( 119275 ) on Wednesday February 18, 2009 @05:15PM (#26907361) Homepage
    Okay, so not epic fail, but a bit of a potential fail if they manage to come up with yet another phone which despite having a really cool feature where it can change modes just due to it's orientation.... it still takes a bloody eternity to switch modes.

    Perhaps I'm the only one. Perhaps everybody else's phone can go from dial-a-pizza to 6-gigapixel with motion-stabilisation in 0.001 seconds but every handset I've tried has something between an annoying and an interminable wait before the thing actually starts functioning like something approximating a camera.

    If I really cared about taking reasonable quality photos on the spur of the moment, I think I'd still carry a dedicated digital camera.
    • by Chabo ( 880571 )

      I was telling one of my co-workers that my eventual plan is to buy a new thin point-and-shoot, and a digital SLR, and carry the point-and-shoot everywhere, then take the SLR if I knew I was going to be taking photos.

      He reaches behind him, pulls a strap over his head, and sets a pretty expensive-looking SLR on the table. "I carry this around with me wherever I go. I didn't think I was going to be taking any photos today, so I don't have my lens bag with me."

    • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      true. monday I've tried to take e photo of an ambulance cutting. traffic over some rails running along the road and failed due to Corners startup time
  • Finding Reception (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Maladius ( 1289924 )
    I'm definitely foreseeing a problem when you hold the phone out in front of you and move it around to try and find reception. That's a very similar position to the one you would use for picture taking.
  • If for some reason you want to use your phone or camera in positions or ways that might be confused for other uses? How would the phone work in zero-G? Nice idea, but I hope you get your patent fees back...

    • How would the phone work in zero-G?

      Is that your usual prerequisite when purchasing a mobile phone?

      • by Chabo ( 880571 )

        He doesn't have to be an astronaut to find that a valid question. Maybe he's a skydiver?

        • by AaxelB ( 1034884 )

          He doesn't have to be an astronaut to find that a valid question. Maybe he's a skydiver?

          You reach terminal velocity pretty quickly while skydiving, probably within a few seconds (it's hard to tell when you're falling, naturally, but they say the first 1000 feet take 10-11 seconds and each subsequent 1000 takes 5.5 seconds). Of course, if you wanted to take a picture of the plane just after you jump out (which is an awesome view, by the way), this phone would probably shit itself.

          • by Chabo ( 880571 )

            Now I've never been skydiving, but wouldn't you still feel weightless after reaching terminal velocity?

            • by AaxelB ( 1034884 )
              Well, it still "feels" somewhat weightless to a person, but that's just because you can both see and feel (from the rushing wind) that you're falling from the sky. A true zero-g feeling in your stomach is pretty similar to the high-on-adrenaline feeling in your stomach. Looking just at the forces involved, though, it's pretty much the same situation as lying facedown on a bed. You've got a force from below (the air/bed) which is equal to your weight, so you have zero acceleration.
  • Will it show a picture of a brick on the display?

  • I already have an idea for a useful app for a phone with 72 surface sensors that can detect the position of the user's hand - detect the size of the hand and if considerably smaller than an average adult-sized hand, immediately lock all functionality.

  • by pavon ( 30274 ) on Wednesday February 18, 2009 @05:35PM (#26907675)

    My younger brother got a new touchscreen phone the other day and was complaining about how the camera button was in a horrible spot, and was hard to use without pressing other buttons. I picked it up and held it sideways like a camera and none of my fingers came close to touching any buttons, except for the camera button that was under my right index finger right where the shutter button should be.

    Me: Seems fine to me.
    Him: Why would anyone want to hold it like *that*?

    I still can't convince him to to not hold it like you would when taking a picture with a flip-phone.

  • This will suck for people who like to take portrait-oriented photos more than landscape photos.

    Also, last I checked, my mouth was not on my neck directly below either of my ears.

  • I can see a problem if you are trying to get service for your phone, but every time you hold it up and away from your body to try to get better reception it goes into camera mode. Come on now, I can't be the only one that does that lol...
  • a phone that doesn't drop calls...or if it does try to reinstate the call automatically.

    I'm all up for all these gadgets and gizmos, but I really want the phone part of my phone to get some priority.

    If the phone is in my pocket automatically put it on vibrate. Or if it detects loud noise like a car radio change the ringer.

  • 72 Touch sensors = 1 (or 2) light sensors by the ear-piece.
    When the ear speaker receives insufficient light, it's a phone.
    A front-mounted light sensor, mounted near the lens, perhaps, acts as control. If intensity doesn't match, phone, if yes, camera, screen comes on.
  • As a former user of the first-generation T-Mobile Sidekick, a mobile phone with dimensions extremely similar to a Dove bar (soap not icecream), I hope this concept is not adopted by phone manufacturers.

    That thing was a joy to thumb-type on, but as a telephone it sucked donkey rocks.

  • What if i want a phone without a camera?? What will it do if I hold it like a camera?

    Dear mobile phone producers. Forget the camera thing. Build phones.
  • SO much more practical than, say, pushing a button.
  • On most phones, you can activate the camera with one button press. How, then, is it better to use "a three-axis accelerometer and 72 surface sensors"?

  • I refuse to buy a new watch, or a new cellphone or digital camera, until the day that a cheap one appears that is all three.

    Having to carry yet another thing that can be easily lost is just an accident waiting to happen.

    Dick Tracy had it right.

  • Best ever design (Score:2, Interesting)

    by know1 ( 854868 )
    Sony cybershot. Pull the lense cover down, goes into camera mode, with a button wierd you would expect it. Web browsing screen orientation is changed only by user demand - press asterisk to switch. I'm posting this comment from it now. Best ever.
  • by zullnero ( 833754 ) on Wednesday February 18, 2009 @06:23PM (#26908555) Homepage
    Quite a few that are in production or are set to be released utilize almost the exact same technology to reorient their screens and do a whole lot of other things. It doesn't take much to use that same accelerometers to do the exact same things that the article is talking about. The reason a lot of companies haven't gone quite as far as these researchers have is because enabling that by default is kind of a nuisance in practice. But it wouldn't be a bad option for some if they were used to it and wanted to minimize button/tapping/navigational interaction.
  • by limekiller4 ( 451497 ) on Wednesday February 18, 2009 @06:24PM (#26908571) Homepage



    *yawn. [fumble for cell on nightstand.] "Hello?"

    *snap snap snap

    "What the...??" [pressing "send" by accident]

    Now naked pics of my wife are all over the internets. Great.

  • Until you've perfected mind reading, please stop assuming you know what I'm trying to do At the very least, please provide a "no second guessing" mode. Microsoft, this especially means you.
  • If I'm aiming the phone straight up in the air, can it tell if I've lowered the phone much closer to the ground? And that there is reduced light where I'm aiming? Just curious.

    Although on the plus side, when you're busted, without touching anything you can bring the phone up as you would be normally talking and go "Look, it's in phone mode, don't know what you're talking about. Nice dress."

  • I guess that makes it useless to the working time-travelor, then.

  • ... will it be in whe I hold it down low, pointing up someone's skirt?

  • Unless it's actually waterproof, which I doubt.

"So why don't you make like a tree, and get outta here." -- Biff in "Back to the Future"