Part I: Making Mobile A 'No-brainer'
By Peggy Anne Salz, Wed Mar 10 04:30:00 GMT 2004

If users can't use their mobile phones, they won't access data services. This two-part series checks out the new technologies set to show up in phones by end-2004.


Why is mobile data use in the doldrums? One reason could be that users are overwhelmed by the increased complexity of mobile devices. Even when users successfully tap into new phone features, the question remains: Will users want to navigate a multitude of menus to get where they want to go? Not likely.

So, where does that leave the industry? In a word, worried. Operators, for example, fear they're likely to miss their optimistic mobile data usage targets if users can't (for whatever reason) access mobile data services. In fact, some operators such as Orange in the UK and, more recently, TIM in Italy, have devised a strategy to boost ARPU by training subscribers to access data services.

While the approach makes good business sense, it only addresses part of the problem. Users shouldn't need lessons in phone use; handset makers should design better usability into devices from the start. After all, as mobile phones morph into a new breed of network devices, it follows that manufacturers must provide us a flexible, easy to use method for navigating the spectrum of applications of applications they have packed into the phones.

One-touch Control

One company in this space is Atrua Technologies, a US-based pioneer in haptic processing (the science of human touch). During 3GSM, the company announced a key partnership with Purple Labs SA, a French design company that supplies phones to Spain's Telefonica Moviles and other major European network operators, to bring new capabilities to mobile handsets.

Atrua's patented technology converts finger movements into user commands. The company's technology is "currently being designed into handsets by major Asian manufacturers," according to Atrua President and CEO Anthony Gioeli. "We expect products shipping in Europe with our technology before the end of this year - and we expect the same out of Asia."

Put simply, Atrua's technology "senses" finger movements in four dimensions - up, down, left, right as well as pressure and rotation - and translates these movements into intuitive and responsive controls.

One result is a new analog rotation capability that's sure to boost the fun factor in mobile games. Take Asteroids, the game Atrua chose to demo at Cannes. It's tedious to play if you're using a 4-way navigation button, but Atrua's technology gave me greater control of the game. Rotating a finger left or right on the haptic sensor controlled direction and aiming - very intuitive and flexible. A slide upwards across the sensor triggered forward thrust and a slide down activated shields. Rapid fire power was a breeze.

As one executive at a leading European games developer put it, Atrua's technology makes it "unnecessary for us (developers) to dumb down games to make them work on mobiles." Since the executive preferred to remain anonymous, you can guess games that make use of this technology are in the pipeline.

The Quick Checkout

Atrua's technology should also boost the sluggish m-commerce market. The company, which has its roots in fingerprint recognition, has fine-tuned its sensors and software to allow one-touch user authorization.

Like the quick checkout at the supermarket, the company says its one-touch authorization will encourage purchases. What's more, it's likely to increase the adoption of m-commerce services and the probability that users will actually complete their transactions - a plausible argument in light of research that shows the 1-click checkout concept was key to the online success of Amazon.com and Co.

Against this backdrop it's also possible to imagine Atrua technology as the basis for a new breed of mobile pay-per-use services. Without the need to input PIN numbers and passwords, users might be more open to buying on impulse - and even try new mobile data services. And isn't that what operators are counting on to boost their bottom line?

Part II will be published on March 16th. Stay tuned!