Cell phones soon will produce more-nuanced vibrations
Immersion's Dennis Sheehan demonstrates a Samsung phone that he outfitted with a piezoelectric sensor.
November 15th, 2011
04:52 PM ET

Cell phones soon will produce more-nuanced vibrations

By Mark Milian, CNN

San Francisco (CNN) - Cell-phone addicts can be so attuned to their digital companions that they are able to feel the difference between a short vibration –signaling, say, a text message - and a longer one for a phone call.

Starting next year, they will have a new class of vibrations to get familiar with.

Apple, for example, began letting iPhone users with the latest version of its software assign customized vibrations to different contacts.

Other smartphone makers are preparing to deploy the latest hardware technology from Immersion, a San Jose, California, company that researches and licenses electronic vibration tools, company vice-president Dennis Sheehan said in an interview at a conference here.

Companies that currently use Immersion's tech in their products include LG Electronics, Nokia and Samsung. Microsoft and Sony, since settling their lawsuits over the vibration tech used in video-game controllers, are now Immersion licensees, too.

Sheehan declined to say which companies would be the first to use the new sensor, but he said it would come to mobile phones first.

The field of vibration in electronics that Immersion specializes in is called haptic. With Immersion's recent haptic breakthrough, phones can produce taps, some types of rolling movements and vibrations in various strengths, depending on the software developer's preference.

"You can communicate more information using haptics," Sheehan said. As a utility, an app can give subtle clues about scrolling through menus allowing the user to tap away on a touchscreen without looking down.

Having more nuanced vibrations in phones can be positioned as an advantage over competitors' devices, Sheehan said. In many cases, basic aesthetics, processor speed and random-access memory specifications are no longer the deciding factor for someone looking to buy a new phone.

"The differentiation is not in the industrial design," he said. "They're all black rectangles."

The sensor Immersion has designed and is promoting to partners is called piezoelectric. Apple's iPhone 4 and Samsung's Galaxy phones use a vibrating motor called a linear-resonant actuator, Sheehan said. Nokia typically uses an eccentric-rotating mass, he said. The piezoelectric, which is a type of ceramic, is different because it applies an electric-field jolt that bends a mechanism to facilitate various types of vibrations.

For a glimpse at where this might come into play, Apple's experiment with assigning custom vibrations, instead of ringtones, to contacts is worth testing out. Users can tap a sequence on the touchscreen to be executed when a friend calls. Apple offers some samples of its own, such as S.O.S. and the slightly creepy heartbeat.

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Filed under: Innovation • Tech
soundoff (30 Responses)
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    June 27, 2012 at 8:45 pm | Reply
  4. Aslan

    since you are a "music lover", why not try to show the science of music? elmpaxe how certain vibrations in the air caused by striking some object can be interpreted as a musical note. and how different notes put together in certain ways create chords and so on and so on. elmpaxe: line up several bottles and fill with water to increasing levels and demonstrate how density can change the vibration, etc.References :

    March 19, 2012 at 9:29 pm | Reply
  5. Sargon

    Great article! This technology is available for Android now too – ViBe lets you feel your incoming calls and text notifications with custom vibrations. market.android.com/details?id=com.base2apps.vibes

    November 23, 2011 at 1:38 pm | Reply
  6. Don

    Is this bending wave technology causing haptics? Seems to be VERY similat to hiwave haptics (piezo-electric). it would be ironic if immersion themselves were breaking someone elses patent.

    November 19, 2011 at 1:48 pm | Reply
  7. marcus

    I have an idea if u want longer battery life I say fore go the lithium batt and let's take it up a notch Uranium that is fone will never die u will b4 ur phone does I think I may patent this b4 apple steals it

    November 16, 2011 at 3:51 pm | Reply
  8. BuckoG

    What's the big deal? My old Motorola had multiple vibrate modes that could be assigned to different events, msg types, etc. This was abt 5 yrs ago.

    November 16, 2011 at 2:53 pm | Reply
  9. Grammar police go home

    Slang, abbreviations and 'made up' language have been the norm in communication since te Internet began. I have been a web programmer since the beginning and even in the BBS days. These people who want to feel empowered by bashing another grammar are in fact wrong about how communication on the web works. These losers need to go back to passing notes on paper.

    November 16, 2011 at 1:51 pm | Reply
  10. Susanbsbi

    The vibration being able to notify you of text, mail and phone calls needs to be changeable for each category and by type of calls, i.e., Work, Family Emergency and etc. I have my blackberry set up for calls that way and the it seems to vibrate according to my category of category. Tweeter text are very long vibrations on the blackberry. It took me a while, to learn all these features on my phone. Most of them are there but you just have to take the time to find them.

    November 16, 2011 at 10:37 am | Reply
  11. EG

    I say work on the bugs that seem to hang around from model to model. That and getting the monthly bill down.

    November 16, 2011 at 9:26 am | Reply
  12. JC

    What is it with people on this page and terrible spelling?! Sincerely, the grammar police

    November 16, 2011 at 8:53 am | Reply
  13. shannon

    I totally agree...I have a blackberry torch and the dang thing is always running out of juice. So I downloaded an app that is supposed to hold longer battery life and another app to tell me what is running in my phone so I can close them if I forget. The fact that they have apps for this says something. I am not aposed to new ideas like different vibrating durations just think being well rounded and working on current problems is a good idea too.

    November 16, 2011 at 7:04 am | Reply
    • alyssa

      opposed **

      November 16, 2011 at 12:59 pm | Reply
  14. TonyC

    TonyTX – you can thank Northwestern University. If you look at their homepage you can see they just had published a method for extending lithium-ion life quite a bit.

    You're welcome.

    November 16, 2011 at 1:55 am | Reply
  15. testing123

    I don't know what you all are talking about, custom ring tones is very useful. i leave my phone on silent most of the time and use different vibrations to tell me when i have an email, a text etc. i have different vibrations set for friends, family and work. This is no different than custom ring tones, except that they are private customization instead of public.

    November 16, 2011 at 1:11 am | Reply
    • Tia

      What I did in middle scoohl and I won the science fair was determining what type of fabric was the best insulator of heat. What you can do is go get like 5 or 6 different types of fabric. Examples: Denim, wool, cotton, polyester. You then need to get 5 or 6 identical glass jars with lids on them depending on the ammount of types of fabric you have.You rap the jars with the fabric and tape them so that the fabric will stay snug around the jars. You then pour boiling water into the jars and every 5-10 minutes check the temperature.You'll need to drill a hole in the lids in order to drop a thermometer into in to jar to measure the waters temperature.Do this for each jar for about 20-30 minutes and test each fabric 2x to verify your findings.Make sure you keep everything controlled except for the types of fabrics on the jars. In case you don't know what controlled means, it means keep everything the same. So keep the water that your pouring into the jars the same temperature. Use the same type of tape, use the same type of jars and so on. This is the expirement I did in middle scoohl and I won. It was a little time consuming but you can ask your parents for help.References :

      March 18, 2012 at 4:35 pm | Reply
  16. Jim J

    And the award for dumbest research idea goes to...

    November 16, 2011 at 12:58 am | Reply
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      March 20, 2012 at 1:50 am | Reply
  17. Nathan Sokalski

    What kind of a feature is custom vibrations? It's bad enough that everyone is using all these annoying ringtones, but now we're adding vibrations to use up extra battery power? Have your phone ring when someone calls or sends a text message, vibrate if you don't want it to make any noise, or just set it to silent if you're at the movies or don't want it to disturb you, but custom vibrations is just ridiculous!

    November 15, 2011 at 11:44 pm | Reply
    • Dover

      Yes, her commandant.

      November 16, 2011 at 12:15 am | Reply
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  18. I'm Blown Away!!!

    I had a phone years ago, prior to smart phones, that did this. Not new or news at all!

    November 15, 2011 at 9:51 pm | Reply
    • Siobanne

      Wicked is so fantastic, I saw it on suratday and I'm still buzzing from it, it was just so amazing. especially Rachel Tucker, her voice is unbelievable. We went to see Lee mainly (he sort of stole our pen again. he did that at Arthur Saville's Crime too but at least he brought it back both times) but even if he wasn't in it the show it would still be the one to see.

      March 19, 2012 at 10:33 pm | Reply
  19. michele helton

    i personally dont own a smart fone but i've heard several people complain about battery life as opposed 2 any interest in custom vibration.

    November 15, 2011 at 9:37 pm | Reply
  20. Bryan C.

    I think this is something that is not new, Ex. handcent sms for android has a customized system for this and some blackberry's do this as part of the default OS. So to give the fame to apple for their "testing" of this "service" is completely uncalled for. I personally love the fact that my phone never makes a noise, my phone like most ppl my age "27" usually have their phone attached to them in one way or another, mine is attached to my belt via a case and anytime i get a message or call i feel it. I have never had to worry about my phone ringing while i'm in the middle of a meeting with clients or with my agents. As I think about it, I don't even know what my phones default ringer is, primarily because in the 1 1/2 years i've owned this phone i have never heard it ring.

    November 15, 2011 at 8:28 pm | Reply
  21. TonyTX

    LONGER BATTERY LIFE. That's what they need to work on. Not fancy vibrations. Not Siri. Not anything else. The biggest drawback to having a smartphone instead of a regular phone is battery life. Get going, cell phone manufacturers of the world!

    November 15, 2011 at 5:21 pm | Reply

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