Piezoelectrics enable displays to provide both audio and touch feedback

152 points5
mpaco5 months ago

> Replacing traditional speakers with piezoelectric transducers will allow devices to be much thinner.

I appreciate the fact that this technology could make mobile devices more durable because it has less moving parts, but I don't feel going any thinner than what's currently available is desirable from an ergonomics perspective. I just don't feel as comfortable holding a phone that's 7mm thick, or less.

And I certainly don't think it's worth the risk of it folding in my pocket.

addicted5 months ago

The possibility of it being thinner simply means you can maintain the current size and increase battery size.

I think phones are obviously too thin already as evidenced by the thick covers covering nearly every one of them.

audunw5 months ago

The covers is the very reason they need to be thin. Seems circular perhaps. But you really don’t want the bare metal/glass to be the thing taking a hit when you drop your phone. And lots of people like to personalise their phones with those covers.

So having phone+cover being the ideal size is realistically what will be best for most people.

That may leave the bare phone a bit on the thin side, but that’s a necessary trade-off.

You can also combine phone and wallet and still have it be a nice and reasonable thickness.

devsda5 months ago

> The possibility of it being thinner simply means you can maintain the current size and increase battery size

May be but I think they will utilize the space for more sensors and optical camera equipment.

Compared to early 2010s the current average smartphone battery capacity is 3-4x higher.

Do we know how much of that is due to increase in average battery volume vs increase in energy density?

spookie5 months ago

From an empirical assessment, volume has gotten bigger. Part of it stems from the devices getting bigger as well. However, I would wager energy density hasn't improved as much as the increase in volume, given that devices got bigger first.

I think this can also be corroborated by the fact that there are less and less small smartphones options. And while there are some, they're plagued by poor battery performance. See latest iPhone SE.

There's indeed, by this logic, reason to believe less space taken by other components lead to better battery life by the sheer volume available as a result.

Tagbert5 months ago

For me the reason for the covers is not to prevent bending (a problem with too thin devices) but to prevent scrapes and cracks when the phone falls.

enobrev5 months ago

Agreed. Although I took the cover off my old Samsung (s10e) about 18 months ago in the hopes for an excuse to replace it. I've dropped it and banged it on things and other such random potential damage so many times and there's barely a dent or scratch anywhere.

I'm impressed and annoyed. That said, I have very much enjoyed not having a cover. It feels so much better in the pocket and in the hand

PawgerZ5 months ago
Izkata5 months ago

For me it is to prevent bending and because the material on the back of my phone bothers my skin.

When I did my last upgrade the box was damaged and the phone bent at about a 20 degree angle. Made me a bit nervous about how sturdy they actually are.

samstave5 months ago

Ive had every iPhone since launch upto the 8s+

I have dropped and broken so many fn iphones - once, I had just picked up a new phone and went to dinner where the restaraunt had concrete floors... I had that phone for ~6 hours.

I dropped it and broke it because I hate cases, and the iphone is so damned slippery.

I berated Jony Ive (I sent him an email) and told him that the lack of a lanyard bracket was BS. (This was also when I was flying a lot to asia, and so many phones had lanyard brackets...

I think Ive gone through ~25 phones? I have a stack of several right here: - plus the one I took the pic with...

I think I have several more strewn about my tech graveyard...

What sucks is that I have called phone repair places what to do with them all, and they say they are all worthless.

"Throw them out"

I just feel bad for all those kids in China who died at the assembly line to make these worthless products requiring suicide nets. (Thats not a joke, that is really fn sad that people at Flextronics (who use to build a bunch of stuff for Lockheed as well) just killed themselves.)

(Oh and I had a MBP that was under recall for battery fires, CATCH fire in my bed when I was asleep...

It was also an AirBNB and I woke upto my MBP on fire.

Apple held it for two months, then even though the machine was under recall for fire, refused to replace it telling me I had the option to buy a new machine at full price.

They claimed that a moisture sensor went off so warranty (and recall) void.

it took them TWO months to make that statement and try to get me to buy a new machine.

lex-lightning5 months ago

you are specifically the person who should get a case. Or wipe your hands or something? This is an absurdly high rate of breaking phones. no one here has any incantations or runes that will safeguard you from physics

junaru5 months ago

Or you could make them even thinner and accelerate sales of new devices as you inevitably bend them and its cheaper to just buy a new one.

mulletbum5 months ago

This makes it sound like companies like Apple and Samsung are not trying to increase battery life, which is absolutely untrue.

toastal5 months ago

Shaving so low was the excuse for removing the beloved 3.5 mm headphone jack ubiquitous most portable electronic devices. I’d rather folks had room for good headphones than a screen-sized speaker.

stetrain5 months ago

I believe Apple said it was more about using that space for other uses, not making the device thinner.

Almost every iPhone since then has gotten thicker with a larger battery.

graphe5 months ago

I hated it at first but having wireless headphones is awesome. I haven’t missed my wired headphones at all since I got galaxy buds+ with 11hr per use. I tried the newer better sounding buds 2, the low battery life is atrocious (4hr).

You can always use a BT repeater for headphones too, I went that route at first along with dongles and gave up. I miss it but I moved on, reluctantly.

wongarsu5 months ago

The thing is, you were already able to use wireless headphones on phones with a 3.5mm jack. Removing it didn't add new capabilities, it only removed a feature many people liked in a thinly veiled ploy to get everyone to buy Airpods. Sure Airpods are great, but my wired headphones were great too, and in many ways better.

The_Colonel5 months ago
kiba5 months ago
graphe5 months ago
justsomehnguy5 months ago

It's always amusing to hear 'but now when I was deprived of 3.5 I'm happy with a wireless headphones!'.

I used a wireless headphones when some of HN visitors didn't even exists, I have a plenty of experience with them. No, I'm not happy with wireless headphones, partially because my old-style wired headphones works always. Not just 'always, though sometimes I need to re-pair them, or find the charging case for a super-mega-fast-charge for 10 minutes, or find the left one despite I swear I placed them both in the case' but always.

krisoft5 months ago
BriggyDwiggs425 months ago

My car is from 2013 so its bluetooth doesn’t work, which has caused hours and hours of annoyance over time as the phone dies on long trips or the fragile dongle breaks. I would much prefer to have the option when i purchase the phone rather than having apple’s vague, utterly useless futurism shoved down my throat.

htrp5 months ago

> I tried the newer better sounding buds 2, the low battery life is atrocious.

Or you could have wired that last as long as your phone battery does.

sandworm1015 months ago

>> having wireless headphones is awesome. I haven’t missed my wired headphones at all since I got galaxy buds+ with 11hr per use.

No. Wireless buds are evil. They get lost. They loose battery life over time, usually asymmetrically. And then there is the horror of "pairing" Bluetooth devices without a proper interface, holding buttons down and such. I love my Sony over-ear noise cancelling headphones, but when away from my desk I opt for wired devices every time.

ToucanLoucan5 months ago

Honestly I would've agreed with you wholeheartedly at the time they took away the jack, but several years on, I'm good with it. I've owned both the original AirPods and the original PowerBeats and now have a Sony WX headset for when I don't need buds. I've lost one... I left it on the hood of my car, unfortunately, my own damn fault and I was able to get a replacement ordered from Apple. Apart from that, never lost em, and in the odd event I forget to charge them, putting the powerbeats at least on a USB lead for about 5 minutes will get me roughly 70% charge into both beats, even if the case is dead, which is enough for several hours of playback time.

I thought I would miss it, but I genuinely just don't give a shit about the lack of audio jack.

scarface_745 months ago
graphe5 months ago

You sound emotional. Wired headphones are sometimes cheaper and may sound better. They are not immune to loss, asymmetry, or horrors such as pulling your phone when it’s snagged and causing your phone to drop.

mulletbum5 months ago

People like to complain, that is why this is still a complaint.

There is only one situation where wired is needed: Charging and Listening at the same time.

Otherwise, people can still use wired headphones all they want, especially now with USB C headphones. Even charging and listening at the same time can just be done with a splitter.

The premise is just a talking point because people want to use AUX. Well I still want to use VGA, doesn't mean they should be putting them on video cards.

nirvdrum5 months ago
wkat42425 months ago

The thing is that Jack headphones are so ubiquitous. When you forget your plugs or the battery is dead you can just grab a wired set for 3 bucks.

Forgetting doesn't help with adaptors which aren't really standardized, especially the passive ones. And the active ones are expensive..

My work phone still has a jack plug. I don't use it much but the times I do use it I'm really in need of it because I don't have anything else to use.

graphe5 months ago

I often use my Bluetooth headphones when my phone is charging, often in the next room. ;)

mrbigbob5 months ago

i agree that there is no need to make devices thinner but i think that companies themselves have finally realized that they cant make devices really any thinner without some serious compromises in thermals, battery life, or both

i personally wouldn't mind shoving even more battery in the area where the speaker is or adding more heat sink especially on the higher end ones

hshsnisnsi5 months ago

Making phones thinner, and hence more expensive is in some way pointless. Almost everyone gets a $20 plastic case and adds about 3-5mm to the thickness anyway. Wouldn't it be cheaper to just manufacture bulkier phones with more features like ports and which are sturdier so you don't need a case?

notamy5 months ago

> Almost everyone gets a $20 plastic case and adds about 3-5mm to the thickness anyway.

It’s not necessarily just about protection, it’s also about personalisation of the exterior beyond what the manufacturer provides.

networkchad5 months ago


QuadmasterXLII5 months ago

I think you've hit the nail on the head with "folding in my pocket." My understanding is that the current push for thinness is about getting a folding phone into that 7mm optimum

Izkata5 months ago

My wallet is about 25mm thick. If a folding phone is going to reduce its width/length, I think I'd want the folded thickness to be around the same as my wallet so I can stack them in my pocket without one slipping past the other.

This is how I used to carry my flip-phones, which were around that thickness which closed.

interpol_p5 months ago

I have been using an iPhone 14 Pro. It's thick, I think I got used to it?

Recently someone handed me an old Samsung Galaxy S7 to use for testing. It was a revelation: I wanted and dearly missed having a phone that thin. I really hope someone pushes for thinness again. I miss the iPhone 6 (Edit: a big part of this might be down to the weight, the squared off edges, and the enormous camera bump)

Same thing with laptops. I updated from a MacBook Air M1 to a MacBook Pro 14". The 14" is fast enough to justify its bulk — but barely. Every time I pick up the Air it feels effortlessly portable, when I grab the MacBook Pro it just does not feel thin and light enough

Synaesthesia5 months ago

That's why I like the non-pro iPhones, they're significantly lighter. I believe Apple fixed that with the Titanium 15 pro though.

And yes the Galaxy S21-24 are impressively light too.

gmuslera5 months ago

The trend of using them instead of the credit card may speak of some sort of convergence beyond functionality.

And they are already foldable, so in your pocket they may count as 2x its unfolded thickness.

causi5 months ago

I miss phones with curved backs. Thinner on the sides than in the middle, I mean. They were so much more comfortable to hold than today's square slabs.

phh5 months ago

No worries there. Despite all the incredible technologies evolution we've got, smartphones are getting wider and thinner every year, to pack more and more.

I think thinnest smartphones era was around 2014-2016 when thin was touted as a feature. But then thin feature phones were hype in 2004, so maybe there is a 10 years cycle of going back to thin.

EGreg5 months ago

Why not? Let's make phones you can't actually see, so they can be wearable. Why hold them? The screen and sound can be simply projected into your eyes. It can be personalized for you as an immersive experience.

russfink5 months ago

Just get one tatooed on your arm.

hardlianotion5 months ago

I'd love to watch an upgrade in progress.

hinkley5 months ago

I think I still may have a scar on the top of my foot from the time I got a pressure cut from dropping the old tapered-edge iPad on my foot. Landed corner first.

Thin metal, as Elon Musk is about to discover with the Cybertruck, is basically a dull knife.

mihaaly5 months ago

Feels like solving marginal 'issues' that noone is having.

"The sound is supposed to be coming from the image that our eyes see on the screen, but our ears know it’s coming from somewhere else." => Not something bothers most of us (also untrue) in current (and even historic) screen and stereo systems - with the support of surround and other spatial technology started in movies. We have a Sony TV where the screen is the speaker and the spatial immersion gain is unnoticable compared to good stereo speakers, while the sound quality is noticeably lower. In a mobile with narrow angle of view... even less significant.

"[current technology] are still big enough to limit how thin our mobile devices can get" => then we put thick camera in it that ruins thinness. Which is fragile enough already and requires followup 'inventions' sometimes (think about the iPhone 6 mishap, becoming the first foldable screen phone : ) ).

Having the vibration of sound crossed with tactile feedback? Sounds confusing like the idea of a transparent TV.

I know, I know, it is not about real needs but about pretentious additions to charge more money than necessary fooling customers with pompus needlessness that shouldn't be taken seriously, yet, I am still a bit grumpy when they try, repeatedly.

kurthr5 months ago

Yeah, I'm a bit disillusioned having watched this technology for years. Piezoelectric speakers (and even voice coil driven larger displays) have been around in laptops since the mid 2000s. That's 20 years. I think the Sony Acoustic Surface you're talking about was based on voice coils when it was introduced in 2017, but I wasn't involved in it. It could be piezo now... certainly 50-60in surface would make larger displacements (lower frequency at higher volume) competitive with regular speakers possible.

There are a lot of challenges with piezos in terms of cost, limited motion, and voltage (usually higher than 100V) that are difficult to make up for with thickness. Their performance (linearity) also seems to suffer quite a bit for any significant driving range. Generally, the bending moment (direct displacement is usually limited to a few % which is micrometers) is most useful for larger and thinner surfaces since deflection is nominally length^3/thick^3 or worse with strain.

The haptics are just as challenging (and you often don't want to hear them!) for similar reasons and usually can't be localized. Touch position sensing is possible but tends to be very sensitive to mounting, wear, and dirt. There are really cool technologies developed, but there's a reason you don't see many in mass production even after 20 years. You have to have a VERY reliable and useful feature to get integrated into UI and the OS.

elric5 months ago

Which I suppose means they will also become microphones?

ben_w5 months ago

Sure, but the same can be said of the accelerometer and the camera — the question is "how good is it at this task?" rather than "can it be used for this task?"

RugnirViking5 months ago

if you could extract a best-guess from each one of these bad options and paired it up with some sensor fusion and signal processing you could probably improve the accuracy of whatever microphone is in there already and maybe even get some directional sound localisation going. Could be a fun research project

visarga5 months ago

wifi sensing is also interesting, wonder what would come out of all of them together

grandma_tea5 months ago

Certainly not a good one.

iefbr145 months ago

Depends where you stick them on. I am using them in my diy raingauges and one of my first prototypes had a too thin surface (where the raindrops fall on) causing a light rainshower on my graph when someone was talking within a metre or 2.

refulgentis5 months ago

You're using microphones in DIY rain gauges? Interesting, what does it add?

iefbr144 months ago

It doesnt add anything. It replaces all mechanical stuff and makes the gauge maintenance free. An ESP8266 translates the sound of the raindrops to an amount. My first prototype is still running fine after 5 years outside.

rollcat5 months ago

Piezoelectric pickups are often used with stringed instruments, including classic/acoustic guitars, violas, cellos, etc. and sometimes also as one of the options in electric guitars (usually in addition to a couple of single or humbucker pickups). Their defining characteristic being a very "flat" response curve (second only to optical pickups, and much cheaper), they're appreciated in classical music, where accurate timbre reproduction is favored over giving an instrument "more color".

What are the defining factors that would make such a microphone solution sub-optimal?

alexjplant5 months ago

> Their defining characteristic being a very "flat" response curve (second only to optical pickups, and much cheaper), they're appreciated in classical music, where accurate timbre reproduction is favored over giving an instrument "more color".

I would heartily disagree. Every piezo pickup (undersaddle and body contact) I've ever used suffers from an inaccurate reproduction of the transients and over-emphasis of the midrange relative to the acoustic timbre of the instrument in question. Years ago the go-to solution to this was aggressive compression and parametric EQ - nowadays it's impulse responses. A microphone will always be more accurate relative to what's happening in the room. The problem is that microphones are less convenient than piezoelectric solutions because they suffer from bleed and can introduce feedback on loud stages.

Piezoelectric pickups are certainly more broadband than magnetic pickups as far as frequency response which makes them more ideal for post-processing but it's patently untrue that they're more accurate than a conventional microphone.

rollcat5 months ago

> it's patently untrue that they're more accurate than a conventional microphone.

My point of reference was a magnetic pickup, not a mic.

I'm actually interested in why piezo mics would be a bad solution for a phone.

pjc505 months ago

The phone already has a microphone. The speaker is very unlikely to be coupled to a digital microphone input.

maximus-decimus5 months ago

Can't all speakers be used as a poor man's microphone?

pjc505 months ago

In a technical sense, yes, but you need to think about what's on the other side: there will be a piezo driver amplifier, which may be driven directly from a digital output such as I2S audio from the phone ASIC.

Without some sort of preamp-ADC combination wired to the speaker, there's no way for software on the phone to use it as a microphone.

AbuAssar5 months ago

Xiaomi Mi Mix (2016) used a Piezoelectric Speaker through the screen for audio calling

gtirloni5 months ago

From what I'm able to find, it was through vibrating the metal frame, not the screen, and it was removed in later revisions.

kurthr5 months ago

It was the screen, but the piezo strain was applied at the mounting to the frame. They really aren't separate. I believe I worked on this design (though not directly on the piezo) and it was a pain. The easiest way to have a nice solid phone that doesn't rattle or come apart is to laminate it together. You can't do that, if the front surface needs to move relative to the back.

You need a large area (~10cm diameter) moving a reasonable distance (~100s um) to make a speaker work at acceptable volumes in the kHz frequency range.

matt_s5 months ago

Awesome if they find/build some accessibility features for folks that need it. But I'm anticipating it will end up being louder speakerphone calls we unwillingly will have to listen to in public spaces.

loloquwowndueo5 months ago

Argh yeah people who use their phone on speakerphone mode all the time drive me up the wall.

alias_neo5 months ago

I mind those people ever so slightly less than people who have their normal ear piece so loud that you can hear the other side of their conversation so loudly and clearly that it's as if they were on speaker phone.

Does nobody else instinctively turn the volume down to the lowest comfortable level for themselves to hear the other person when they answer a call?

nickspacek5 months ago

Here is an example video I found from the author's of the article, Synaptics:

I wondered what would happen if you were touching the screen, but it doesn't seem to interfere with the audio too much.

klabb35 months ago

Interesting. The camera man says you can feel the vibration on the screen.

Whether that’s terrible annoying or completely fine is hard to say. Some things you get used to..

guardian5x5 months ago

So, does this still work for touchscreens, and how does it sound when you touch the screen while playing music?

zaroth5 months ago

Excellent question!

How does it work when you’re touching the screen? Obviously that will distort the sound by some amount…

pbmonster5 months ago

The harder the vibrating plane, the lower the actual distortion.

Putting a light finger on a nylon string (or a classic speaker membrane) makes a huge difference, a thick steel contrabass string doesn't really change its frequency until you quite forcefully push it into the fingerboard.

I expect you'd have to push hard into the vibrating gorilla glass of a smartphone screen to influence the sound audibly.

maximus-decimus5 months ago

Sounds like that would also make it harder to be accurate if your input device is vibrating.

wkjagt5 months ago

I guess the bigger impact is when gaming, which is when there is sound, and you're touching the screen.

sandworm1015 months ago

>> This perceptual dissonance limits our ability to immerse ourselves in the experience.

As opposed to the perceptual dissonance of seeing a person inside a small rectangle we can hold in our hands? Or the strangeness of hearing an entire orchestra while sitting on a bus? The fact that sound emanates from a slightly unnatural place or direction isn't a problem worth addressing, despite the fact that fixing it might make phones 1mm thinner.

How about this: Give me a phone with a proper usb port, a couple sim cards, an SD slot, a replaceable battery and a headphone jack. I couldn't possibly care any less about making it any thinner. It's going into a protective case anyway.

haswell5 months ago

> As opposed to the perceptual dissonance of seeing a person inside a small rectangle we can hold in our hands?…

I don’t think it makes to frame this as “opposed” to any of the other factors you’re mentioning. This is setting up a false dichotomy.

Having experienced “Spatial Audio”, there is a clear benefit to a sound system that more closely mimics the expectations of our brain’s auditory processing. More than just the sound itself, there’s a certain kind of “presence” or “thereness” that you can experience as a viewer that isn’t possible with traditional speakers, and it can transform certain kinds of content. The person (or whatever you’re watching) is indeed still shown on a piece of glass, but the experience of that can be improved significantly. If a speaker-in-the-screen can achieve something similar, that’s compelling.

I don’t see the relevance of the bus scenario, where externally broadcast audio is never the right choice.

The phone you describe sounds terrible to me (I’d like the headphone jack back but the battery is a tradeoff) but that’s because you and I have different preferences and priorities. And there’s nothing preventing all of the above from being integrated into a device should there be a market for it. And phones aren’t the only devices that can benefit.

sofixa5 months ago

> Give me a phone with a proper usb port, a couple sim cards, an SD slot, a replaceable battery and a headphone jack

without the proper usb port ("only" type C), LG had a number of phones ticking all those boxes (while being good phones, good cameras, good screens, the whole thing). They sold so poorly LG left the market.

gchamonlive5 months ago

That is a post-hoc fallacy, implying LG sold poorly because it stuck with these design choices. Even if you didn't mean that, the way you built your paragraph, describing the design choices and then saying LG sold poorly and left the market draws exactly this kind of causation.

These two articles indicate only that LG was struggling in the market and decided to focus elsewhere.

swores5 months ago

They provided two true statements, they didn't link them causally even if they could have done more to make sure people didn't assume that they were implying causation (or maybe they were implying that they think it's likely).

antiframe5 months ago

If I say "I hadn't done any of my homework in Calculus. I failed the class." Most readers would assume that the homework statement is related to the failure statement. Even if the real reason was the homework was with zero points and I failed the final exam because I left after five minutes to chase my future wife down before she flew home. That's the thing with language, it's not formal logic and readers make all sorts of inferences based on order and content of statements. That's what makes for good writing and reading between the lines.

I don't know what the poster meant, but drawing a conclusion that there is some correlation due to statement choice is normal.

sofixa5 months ago

> That is a post-hoc fallacy, implying LG sold poorly because it stuck with these design choices

No, clearly saying that LG tried all the OP was asking, but there wasn't enough of a market for it, so OP is obviously in the non-sufficiently profitable minority.

gchamonlive5 months ago

Smartphone market is much more complex than just ticking feature boxes. There is brand value perception, post-sales support and warranty, ecosystem, OS customisations, device exchange programs and other marketing strategies.

There might still be market for users looking for modular phones. Fairphone comes to mind in this aspect.

LG failing to provide a product for this specific market niche isn't enough of evidence to support the claim that the market itself doesn't exist, only that LG couldn't or had no interest in maintaining it.

dumbfounder5 months ago

All those things you want take up space. Wouldn’t it be good if current stuff took up less space so you could have more and better features? Of course it would. Not that you are getting those features, but other features like a bigger battery, a better camera, a bigger screen, blah blah blah are all easier to do if the necessary features take up less space and weigh less. And I think it’s cool, it might even open up a whole new gaming concept incorporating locational sound.

isodev5 months ago

Phones becoming thinner and lighter would be amazing though. Imagine iPhone 7 sized device packing the features of iPhone 15 Pro.

Having the screen be responsible for (or assisting) haptics will also mean “spatial haptics” can be a thing, with extreme precision. Also, no more “finger obscuring speaker opening” while holding your phone.

I’m all in on thinner phones with less parts.

nonrandomstring5 months ago

> This perceptual dissonance

Check out Michel Chion and the idea of the "audio-visual contract" [0]

I forget, but it has a more formal definition like source fusing in experimental perceptual psychology.

What happens is there is a brief dissonance, but it only lasts for a few milliseconds and then our brains _very_ quickly adjust to align what we see and hear, and crucially what we attribute as the source of sounds. This is a actually not a learned but a low-level adaptation because sound travels slowly compared to light and it reflects (echos) so our brains must be able to re-synchronise effortlessly.


scarface_745 months ago

The Homermobile of phones?

Do you also want a phone with a hardware keyboard and a dedicated push to talk button?

sandworm1015 months ago

Foldable screens, extra mini screens on the back of phones, wireless charging, little vibrators to simulate pushing physical keys, multiple cameras, accelerometers that track calories burned ... the modern cellphone is already well past The Homer.

NBJack5 months ago

PTT would be great with WhatsApp messages.

I would love having a hardware keyboard again personally, especially when I need fire up a SSH session to fix something. The inaccuracies of touch keyboards are a real pain sometimes.

scarface_745 months ago

I mean the newest iPhones have a programmable button on the side that will let you run a shortcut to launch any app you want to among other things…

jvansc5 months ago

There’s still room for my HAM radio, right?

aceazzameen5 months ago

But it will be great for marketing, a justification to increase the price of new phones, and overall great for shareholders. Also a no thanks for me.

ojosilva5 months ago

No, no, give me a phone that is light! What I want is paper-level weights, say 300 GSM (grams/sq-meter) which is the weight density of a business-card.

Let's fight repetitive stress first, the one related to the holding of smartphones for hours. Then we can tackle trigger-thumb related issues later (I hope) once, ie, it tracks eye movements reliably and efficiently. Our generation is bound for a lot of health issues related to hand-held devices.

sandworm1015 months ago

Correct. With enough effort we may soon be able to interact with others via our phones using only eye blinks. The one thing this generation needs is less physical activity.

itishappy5 months ago

Nothing gets my blood flowing like my Twitter routine, whew lad. Been moving up to 2400 calories per day of pure whey. These thumb gains aint easy, but the grind is worth it.

Nobody is getting their physical activity via their smartphone usage.

sandworm1015 months ago

Not yet. My startup is going to disrupt the cellphone battery industry by attaching a small crank to the back of every phone. We predict this will reduce child obesity, saving billions in health care cost the moment we go public.

darkerside5 months ago

Well, why not add a keyboard and call it a laptop?

justsomehnguy5 months ago

Motorola G-series. Not all of these, but still.

SV_BubbleTime5 months ago

Like the phrase “Nothing in our evolution could have prepared us for this”. I first saw it at XKCD.

fkyoureadthedoc5 months ago

> Give me a phone with a proper usb port, a couple sim cards, an SD slot, a replaceable battery and a headphone jack. I couldn't possibly care any less about making it any thinner. It's going into a protective case anyway.

Almost nobody wants this phone. Sure you'll get cheered on by some small group of people that wouldn't actually buy this phone either, but it just wouldn't sell well enough to justify its existence. There's probably already a phone with most of these features.

sandworm1015 months ago

Well, someone wants these features enough that many will soon be mandatory.

USB port = Mandated in the EU by end of 2024. Replaceable battery = Mandated in EU by 2027. Dual sim cards = common in the global south. Headphone jack = wanted by everyone not a youtube influencer.

Compromise: I'll accept TWO USB-C ports in exchange for the headphone jack. Usb to 3.5mm adapter wires cost maybe 6$ on amazon.

aceazzameen5 months ago

My next phone will be an imported EU phone. I won't even care if it doesn't connect to cell towers (it will though).

neoberg5 months ago

Other features you mentioned maybe but no one cares about the headphone jack anymore. I don't remember most people using it a lot even before it started to disappear.

sandworm1015 months ago
rrdharan5 months ago

I’m not a YouTube influencer and I don’t want a headphone jack. I haven’t used wired headphones in five years.

TeMPOraL5 months ago

Key part of GP's comment:

> It's going into a protective case anyway.

With that in mind, it seems it's not really customers that want ever thinner, ever more sealed and port-free phones. The very first purchase they make after buying a new phone already defeats the purported benefits of those design choices.

I maintain this market is supplier-driven, and customer preferences have near-zero bearing on how phones look like today.

krisoft5 months ago

> The very first purchase they make after buying a new phone already defeats the purported benefits of those design choices.

While protective cases make the phones marginally thicker they don't make them less water proof. Which is in my opinion the purpose of making phones sealed and as port-free as possible.

And even with the protective case my current phone is much thinner than any phone I had with a user replaceable battery.

The_Colonel5 months ago

That may be a justification, but IMHO not the actual reason. It's about cost cutting, improving reliability, making space for more marketable features like camera and battery.

BTW, Samsung Galaxy S5 had all those features, even replaceable battery and was still waterproof.

fkyoureadthedoc5 months ago

> With that in mind, it seems it's not really customers that want ever thinner, ever more sealed and port-free phones.

I definitely do, to some extent. More sealed is good, I don't want water and dust inside my phone. The thinner the phone the thicker and more protective the case you can apply before it gets too thick. Or you could stick a battery in the case, or a USB hub, SD reader, etc. What stops this case from existing right now?

nonrandomstring5 months ago

The question of "what people want" is fascinating.

Like forever, some of the smartest people around admitted that they did not know. They created the entire field of market research. Today I think that is dead. In the past decade we moved to an entirely different model of force-fed consumerism, which is driven, as you say, entirely by the supply side. Oddly the near communist era uniformity we see goes against our stated beliefs in data-driven, targeted markets.

A whole other layer is how we increasingly project our own desires onto others and assume they must be crazy not to want the exact same thing as ourselves. Where does that come from? Here on HN I get tired of hearing these very strident, cock-sure remarks about "what people want is...". Let's just admit we don't have much idea about what other people want. There's nowt as queer as folk. And some of the most interesting markets may in fact be marginal. Smaller markets do not mean unprofitable ones.

graemep5 months ago

> Almost nobody wants this phone.


> Sure you'll get cheered on by some small group of people that wouldn't actually buy this phone either

So all the people who say they want a phone like that are lying?

acdha5 months ago

Those features describe the average Android phone on the market until the mid-2010s. If there was popular demand, you’d expect the models which continued to have things like headphone jacks to sell well enough that someone would keep making them, but that just hasn’t been the case.

This suggests that however genuine the desire is, it’s just not widely shared enough to actually constitute a viable market – somewhere below the level of, say, manual transmissions on cars.

graemep5 months ago
krisoft5 months ago

> So all the people who say they want a phone like that are lying?

They are not lying. Just there aren't enough of them to make such a phone worth producing.

fkyoureadthedoc5 months ago

> So all the people who say they want a phone like that are lying?

There's phones with dual usb ports already, do they own one? If not, then it's not as important a feature as they are implying. And that goes for pretty much everything on the list.

> Evidence?

Asus ROG phone sales numbers? The fact that people keep complaining phones don't have whatever feature instead of just buying one?

brnaftr3615 months ago

I think there are actually a lot of demands that are unserviced in the phone market. There really isn't a way for the consumer to signal this, though. In lieu of consumers I think companies tend to listen to influencers and journalists. I got that impression from watching the evolution of the Xperia Compact which solicited a lot of hate from journalists for its appearances and the misalignment from the norms. Hate to which Sony in many aspects decided to bend a knee to, much to my chagrin.

I will say however, that I expect the biggest confounder is the expense to tool and maintain a niche phone makes it less feasible given the limited demand. It nonetheless does exist, and I hope that such costs can be reduced so the market can diversify its offerings and I can have another XZ1c experience.

matly5 months ago

You'd be surprised about the amount of people wanting this kind of smartphone. The success of Framework, who are doing something similar in the Laptop world, could be a robust indicator for the demand. Especially the replaceable battery is something we really should get back to IMHO.

scarface_745 months ago

The “success” of Framework? By what metric are you defining success?

dns_snek5 months ago
globular-toast5 months ago

Sony has somehow made it work (except the replaceable battery). I think the only thing they've got rid of recently is the notification LED.

It doesn't help when a very large number of phone users only care about one thing: it being an Apple phone. They will lap up anything Apple gives them every single time. It doesn't matter what the features are.

fkyoureadthedoc5 months ago

> Sony has somehow made it work

And yet every post about phones there's people acting like no phones that meet their requirements exist. They definitely exist. I think what they really intend to say is "Why doesn't Samsung put these exact features I want on the Galaxy S Whatever"

globular-toast5 months ago

Yes. iPhone users in particular don't even know about Android. There are two phone manufacturers: Apple and Samsung.

krisoft5 months ago

> They will lap up anything Apple gives them every single time. It doesn't matter what the features are.

Or, Apple actually makes well made good phones which people find desirable?

I understand it is popular to talk trash about them, but maybe their popularity is not all just a product of misguided masses?

acdha5 months ago

> It doesn't matter what the features are.

What is more likely: that millions of people spend money on something they use constantly without caring whether it’s actually good, or that your emotional attachment to Android has caused you not to reconsider whether your tastes are in fact universally shared?

Any time you see billions of dollars changing hands for years in a competitive market but don’t understand why, the answer is always to learn more about it.

scotty795 months ago

At some point phones will really just become a slab of very complicated glass like in SF movies.

actionfromafar5 months ago

Silicon is almost glass, so now just need some way to make the battery glass, too!

weikju5 months ago

then all we need is to figure out what to do with these slabs of high-tech glass beyond serving ads

scotty795 months ago

Ads are the ultimate goal for everything. The only way to avoid it is to nationalize advertising industry and ban private advert businesses. We did something bit similar with gambling. Why all those ads when single directory of products and services maintained from taxes could suffice for informing the consumers?

peter_d_sherman5 months ago

>"So by applying an alternating voltage, you can make the transducer vibrate with rather considerable force. These vibrations can be slow—the kind needed for haptic feedback—or very fast, to the highest audio frequencies and beyond.

While creating the effect with ceramic material requires relatively high voltages—in the range of 40 volts or more—it requires very little current

and, hence, little power—far less than the power used by mobile device speakers today."

I'm not too concerned about the high(er) voltage (than say 5V or 12V) requirement -- but the fact that this, well, let's call it "momentum in an oscillatory/vibratory (AKA trapped) mode" or, perhaps more broadly, "energy" -- requires very little current (AKA "power", AKA "energy") -- should be of interest!

In other words, what devices could be conceived of, for this effect, in the future?

Also, is there a potential connection here (if so, I don't see it yet! <g>) with warping space (AKA a future "warp field", if one could ever be created in the future) -- and "warping" (if ever so slightly -- on the microscopic scale) the dimensions of a piece of piezoelectric glass -- with a voltage?

Well, probably not!

(But then again... maybe! <g>)

Anyway, a very interesting article!

olelele5 months ago

As far as my experience goes and from what I know of audio engineering piezo-electric elements are terrible at flat frequency response and mostly unusable except as beep generators. There are (older?) models of Behringer cheapo PA-speakers with piezos as high-frequency drivers and they are beyond terrible.

Didn't deep read the article however found no hard info as to if some kind of breakthrough has been made.

wkat42425 months ago

I'm pretty sure that Xiaomi tried this with the first mi mix and LG with the crystal. They were all first gen full screen phones. The results were pretty crap. Muffled audio and such.

I don't really see the benefit because speakers are tiny as it is. And pressing on the screen will significantly alter its resonance.

Giorgi5 months ago

Correct, I had a Xiaomi Mi Mix back in 2017 and audio was nice, nothing of spectacular but not muffled.

wkat42425 months ago

Oh ok I never had one but I read that in some of the reviews, I was interested because I worked in mobile phone management and I really liked the idea of full-screen phones (which turned out so great that everyone does it now, of course).

Workaccount25 months ago

When I purchased my latest TV, I was prepared to also dish out for a speaker system to ameliorate the terrible sound that flat screens have. A junky small speaker shoved in the rear of the panel to wheeze out sounds directly into wall.

However in the specs for the TV I saw it mentioned that Sony uses the entire display as a speaker. I was skeptical for sure, but man when I turned it on the first time I was actually blown away by how good it sounded. To the point where I have had people ask "Where do you have the speaker?" when looking at my presently speakerless setup.

It's not perfect, it has it's rough moments, but overall it's really damn good for what it is.

krystianantoni5 months ago

Sound is supposed to be as normal, so quality & spacial and technology to deliver that as easy to use as possible

Haven’t thin/piezoelectric speakers been around for some time now without much success? What’s different now that makes them better

globular-toast5 months ago

> Speakers usually sit on the sides or back of our devices. The sound is supposed to be coming from the image that our eyes see on the screen, but our ears know it’s coming from somewhere else.

Then put the speakers on the front. Of course rear or side-firing speakers are going to sound like crap. This is a totally self-inflicted problem and could be solved by just having front-firing speakers like some phones still do. The ghost centre channel should be fine for smartphones. It's not like you have several people watching a single phone complaining that the ghost centre channel is 2 inches too far to the left/right...

adrianmonk5 months ago

> could be solved by just having front-firing speakers

That makes the bezel bigger, which (for a given screen size) makes the phone bigger and harder to fit in your pocket.

If this technology can move the speakers to the front without making the phone larger, that seems like a real benefit. Especially since phone size is such a common complaint.

CrypticShift5 months ago

So last month [1] a screen "became" a camera [1], and now speakers. Nice.


Kuinox5 months ago

Speakers also usually means microphones.

twen_ty5 months ago

So IEEE is now allowing click bait articles from commercial vendors?

gtirloni5 months ago

What's clickbait about this article? I thought it was very informative and didn't bait me into anything.

alok-g5 months ago

The surprise for me was that the the article is authored by someone at Synaptics, not by someone at IEEE Spectrum. Perhaps this is common and it's just me who did not know.

silentguy5 months ago

An interesting use-case could be localized haptic feedback on the screen. You could rotate a knob or push a button on the screen and get a localized sound and haptic feedback from the item on the screen.

You may even add haptic texture on the screen. close your eyes and scan the screen with your finger. It would feel like a series of mechanical switches and knobs. It would be useful for people who don't like using only the screen in their car because of lack of haptic feedback.

StreetChief5 months ago

Joe Grand has a fantastic video experimenting with the tech, where he builds "the world's thinnest boombox":

callalex5 months ago

This sounds like a repairability nightmare. The number of cracked screens you see on an average walk/bus ride is all you need to know that phone manufacturers are failing to consider and meet the needs of their users.

rcarmo5 months ago

I think this was tried before and bombed in real life applications because touch or even any sort of site tension would instantly muffle the sound--but I can't remember where I saw it.

aitchnyu5 months ago

If future laptops will have a screen replace keyboard and trackpad, can it mimic the sensation of fingers moving across physical keys and the notches on F and J keys?

prettydeep5 months ago

Didn't Sharp do this a decade ago with their Aquos line of phones? I have one. Quality is not that great, but it works just fine.

alok-g5 months ago

Anyone knows if this could produce better bass?

akmittal5 months ago

Speakers are hardly visible in modern smartphones. Do we really want everything to move inside screen

thiago_fm5 months ago

Really interesting. I wonder if this can also be used for cars and other appliances.

whalesalad5 months ago

afaik this is how the mouse in a macbook pro works. you can control the click sensation in software because it is 100% synthetic.

zython5 months ago

the home button in the iphone up until the X was like this aswell

elzbardico5 months ago

Really, I don't want a thinner phone.

twism5 months ago

reminds me of the best pixel to date. Pixel 5

wt__5 months ago

TLDR/advertorial halfway through: “But we at Synaptics think that we’ve met those challenges.”