Michigan researchers invented a software-based alternative to 3D Touch that seems to work like a charm

Michigan researchers invented a software-based alternative to 3D Touch that seems to work like a charm

Since Apple introduced 3D Touch with the iPhone, Android manufacturers have been working to produce credible alternatives on the side of the green bot. While the sensor technology involved is complicated, and the software part of the equation requires intelligent thought put into it so the feature is genuinely useful. Moreover, the functionality cannot be implemented in older models, because the combination of sensors and motors that service it requires special engineering decisions to accommodate it.

However, researchers from the University of Michigan beg to differ. They propose a low-cost alternative, dubbed ForcePhone, that should work in almost every modern device. It's a feedback system based on technology that uses the readily available microphones and the screen's touch layer to recognize when actual force (weight) is applied to the screen and tell when the phone is being squeezed. Beyond these prerequisites, which are met even by the most basic of mobile devices, the solution is entirely software-based and essentially works like a sonar.

The signal capture process in action.

The signal capture process in action.

An application generates a constant 18kHz tone that's generally inaudible to normal humans but might (just might!) trouble your pet dog or your audio engineer friend. Emitted through the phone's speakers, the tone gets tiny shifts in its frequency as force is applied to the touchscreen or phone itself. This signal gets interpreted by the app and turned into commands which apps and games respond to.

Thus, a hand squeeze can flip eBook or browser pages, and many other shortcuts can be generated by sequencing squeezes, screen presses and taps. We can't know for sure whether the sensitivity of capturing tiny frequency compares to that of using actual haptic motors, but the mechanic is definitely clever and looks like a viable alternative.

While ForcePhone is still in an experimental stage, the researchers will present their invention at a conference in Singapore schedule for late June, and manufacturers will probably take notice.



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18 Comments

1. jesus_sheep

Posts: 279; Member since: Apr 18, 2015

More proof that Apple's features are just overpriced gimmicks to fool the ignorant public.

2. Wiencon

Posts: 2278; Member since: Aug 06, 2014

This is funny because when Android gets gimmicks all the time everyone says: "So it's bad that the technology evolves?"

11. marorun

Posts: 5029; Member since: Mar 30, 2015

No i dont say so. I hate it when Shamesung and such come out with gimmick options. Same as when Apple do it.

14. JunitoNH

Posts: 1946; Member since: Feb 15, 2012

Yup, just like the 64 bit chip, just a gimmick, so they thought.

4. Charlie2k

Posts: 112; Member since: Jan 11, 2016

Since Apple introduced 3D Touch with the iPhone, Android manufacturers have been working to produce credible alternatives on the side of the green bot. Eh... I think more correctly would be "Since Huawei introduced Force Touch with the Mate S Apple and the rest of Android manufacturers have been working hard to produce credible alternatives.

5. vincelongman

Posts: 5628; Member since: Feb 10, 2013

Nope Android manufacturers (and other manufacturers) have been working for several years to implement 3D Touch https://www.chipworks.com/ja/node/301

7. yyzamin

Posts: 379; Member since: Aug 26, 2015

3d touch was first seen on the Macbook and then the Apple Watch. Huawei released a phone with their half baked alternative a week before the 6s was released just so people would say Huawei did it first. The only issue is nobody cares about Huawei.

15. JunitoNH

Posts: 1946; Member since: Feb 15, 2012

Don't even bother to explain, why?

8. ToastedBacon21

Posts: 47; Member since: Oct 18, 2015

Force touch is nothing new to android. Force Touch API has been here since Eclair 2.0, ofcourse on the software level. I am telling this to show that its not revolutionary, but rather skipping a step in evolution(as Apple mostly does).

9. Wiencon

Posts: 2278; Member since: Aug 06, 2014

Jeez, sorry guys but you're so stupid. Who cares that API was there when no one used it? Honestly I think that whole discussion "who had it first" is stupid because what matters is who used it in right way but if you wanna talk about who was first then it was Apple and anyone denying that is idiot with half baked brain

10. willard12 unregistered

The first sentence of this article says Apple introduced 3D touch with the iPhone. That is factually incorrect. Anyone denying this is an idiot with a half baked brain, jeez. Since Apple began its quest to sue everyone, being first with something has been important. In spite of the fact they sued companies over things they were not first with, like slide to unlock, it helps to actually have things on devices before Apple.

12. marorun

Posts: 5029; Member since: Mar 30, 2015

Nice contradiction there. IF other created the tech but not used it its dont matter. Because apple created it first? wtf you the one with half baked brain.

13. yoosufmuneer

Posts: 1518; Member since: Feb 14, 2015

I'm sorry but hasn't Galaxy Note series has supported Pressure sensivity for the longest time? Note 4& 5 supported upto 2048 levels of Pressure sensitivity.

20. nithyakr

Posts: 161; Member since: Jun 20, 2014

Even though the API was there in the SDK, no manufacturer could create a pressure sensitive screen and a sensor for a smartphone until Apple did it with the Apple watch and Macbook and then later on the iPhone. Even now Google can add and a crazy new API which no body would use. Something like onAirTouch(Event event) to detect any air gestures like Samsung did with S pen. But that doesn't mean anybody would use it. So yeah ForceTouch is new to Android and Apple delivered it first.

6. vincelongman

Posts: 5628; Member since: Feb 10, 2013

This looks far better than Android's current software based method of measuring using area and time, which is very inconsistent This would be a great way to port 3D Touch features back to older iOS and Android devices

16. NexusX

Posts: 613; Member since: May 16, 2013

interesting concept. it basically layer your screen with sonar, so the mic senses the disturbances. the problem with this: An application generates a constant 18kHz tone to register force touch. it seems the app would impact battery life

17. NexusX

Posts: 613; Member since: May 16, 2013

i can see it working when you are phone is completely silent, any external noise ie gaming, video playback would interfere and disrupt the sonar you'd need a standalone audio output to make this work, therefore it's not hardware

18. natypes

Posts: 1110; Member since: Feb 02, 2015

Still have yet to meet an iPhone user who thinks it's something useful in day-to-day use. It's a waste of time, don't bother Android. I've heard as many people say, "It annoys me" as I have "I use it on a couple of apps".

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