Tangible Interaction

A natural phone

This projects envisions a future smartphone that implements tangible interactions in order to allow for a more natural connection to technology.

Among me and my friends there is a very critical reflection on the usage of smartphones. One argument reappearing very often is that the technology not only connects but very often stands between one and a real-world interaction. As this by itself might not be a worst case scenario, smartphones very often interfere with our doing even without being actually used. Requiring a fraction of mental workload when a message comes in, means causing an interruption. According to Professor Paul Dolan such kind of a disruptive behavior could even have an influence on the emotional state of the user. In this project I tried to explore how the form of a smartphone, and the interaction that is triggered by this form, can be adapted to a natural surrounding and so form a less intrusive device. By creating a more lifelike experience, users should be able to connect to the device instinctively rather than intrusively.
The idea of the smartphone’s form grew on the dining table when some phones were lying around heads up. The typical smartphone is formed with a flat screen and a curvy back - however, looking at a water-drop, as a representation of nature, these design lines are turned upside down. A flat back connects very well to the ground while the top is shaped to be round.
When applying the drop shape onto a smartphone it creates a screen that basically sits on the table or somehow blends into it, leaving a less prominent and less intrusive appearance. The same goes for the interaction: Just as we expect a drop of water to change its form when being touched, we may do so when we interact with a roundly shaped object.

Prototypes: From physical to digital

My first concepts had been strictly following the water-drop shape. However, over time they grew less conceptual and came more inline with currently used phones. While developing the form on paper I also created physical prototypes to test the possible interactions. By using jelly in one case and a water-filled ballon in the other I simulated a more haptic touch input which was received very well by the test users. The outcome of talking to users, as well as the shapes that formed during the prototyping phase, led to different digital prototypes.

Final concept

The final smartphone concept is in its appearance similar to what is already known today, however, it has a curved and flexible display that is very much influenced by the water drop. The phone has a flat back-cover and so sits very tight on any flat surface.

Tangibility

The flexible display reacts to pressure and allows for haptic feedback. Interactions on the screen appear tangible, showing new natural possibilities of interacting with technology.

New ways to interact

The screen’s fluidity can be used for non-touch feedback, too, such as for incoming messages or phone calls. In this case waves on the screen can be triggered as an alternative to vibration alerts.

Personal reflection

This individual project was very much about 3D computer modeling, lo-fi prototyping, and user observation. I felt a very strong connection to the matter when developing the phone, as we are surrounded by smartphone usage so very coherently. As I mentioned in the beginning, and although I am a technology nerd and gadget lover, I am fond of keeping a critical reflection on how such technology changes our behavior. Technology should clearly not set us apart from moments or people that enrich our lives, but it should blend in as a helping hand. This project was an exploration on how that could possibly look like.
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