There is no question that the mobile phone will become the dominant technical platform that will be intimately involved in our everyday life. Control it, and you will greatly affect people and their actions.
There are several patents at are quite amazing as mentioned by Johnny Evans at Computerworld. One of them is for a major haptic enhancement for devices like the iPhone and iPad. In June 24, 2010 Apple was granted a patent entitled, "User Interface Having Changeable Topography." The abstract of the patent reads:
A user interface having changeable topography is disclosed. The user interface can have a shape changeable surface that can selectively alter according to an input so as to provide changeable topography of the user interface. The surface can include individual nodes that can raise above or lower below the initial surface. Alternatively, the surface can include a shape changeable material that can change the shape of portions thereof into discrete shapes above or below the initial surface. Alternatively, the surface can include a deformable material that can deform portions thereof into discrete forms above or below the initial surface. The changeable topography can define different user interface layouts. The user interface can, for example, be associated with input and/or output devices, such as touch pads, touch screens, and the like.The idea is to use shape memory alloys, for example Nitinol which have a memory of their shape when they were created. Depending on the temperature the alloy can be twisted and reshaped but with the heat will return back to it's "remembered" shape. Thus, the keyboard would pop out with its keyboard shape from the screen upon touch from a warm finger, and, would return back to a seamless screen when not touched as it cools down.
This is not the same as what we would call "simulated haptics." Haptic is the Greek word for touch. Simulated haptics is an attempt to trick the senses (sometimes very effectively) into thinking sensing touch. This is done either through a vibration as in the RIM Storm keyboard and some Android units or in the form of 3D graphics with some sort of device which gives the sensation of texture to the fingers. You can see this in these videos. If you cannot see the embedded video here is the link: http://tinyurl.com/4uw6cqq.
You can see some examples of this alloy Nitinol in these videos. If you cannot see the embedded video here is the link: http://tinyurl.com/5tc8c5y.
Shape memory alloys were first discovered in 1930s by Otsuka and Wayman. by the 1960s the United States Naval Ordinance Laboratory was developed with the trade name Nitinol (Nickel Titanuim Naval Ordinance Laboratories). Their present known abilities were discovered by accident by David Muzzey when he applied heat to the alloys by holding his pipe lighter under it.
Nitinol is only one type of memory shape alloy, the other common one being ferromagnetic shape memory alloy. As can be seen by its name, it relies on magnetism to change its shape.
Since the 1990s shape memory polymers have been developed which allow different shapes to be made in contemporary materials. It is this technology that we believe Apple might have been thinking of when they filed their patent on haptic surface topography. The applications of this technology are varied. They are set to revolutionize the world of the cell phone and we have not really begun to incorporate the most sensational technology - nanotechnology. If you cannot see the embedded video here is the link: http://tinyurl.com/4ucjs47.
The cell phone will become all the devices we need for communication, information management, purchases and lifestyle. We have only seen the very beginnings.