Can You Feel Me Now?
By Carlo Longino, Tue Feb 01 22:30:00 GMT 2005

A few motion-sensitive mobile phones that let users control them and play games by moving them around have been announced in Asia. How long before people are making Graffiti movements in the air to compose SMS?

Vodafone KK this week announced a 2G handset from Sharp that reponds to movement, designed primarily for games, but also letting users establish motion-based shortcuts to control certain functions, following announcements of similar products earlier in the month from South Korea's Samsung and Pantech & Curitel. It's a little hard to see motion-sensing technology have much of an impact on user-interface design in the short term, but it could make for some interesting games.

Vodafone says it has a golf game that requires uses to hold the phone like a club, as well as a shoot-em-up where users must hold the handset like a gun, and Pantech & Curitel's got a fishing game where, yes, the user holds the phone like a fishing rod. None of them sound particularly enthralling once you get past the initial wow factor, but it does open up some interesting possibilities, even for simple puzzle games, and the mind boggles with potential games. It's not hard to envision Jedi wannabes having virtual laser-sword battles. Vodafone says it will also release a Java API so developers can use the function in their games, which should deliver some interesting applications.

But there are potential UI improvements as well, though they're likely to be much simpler than spelling words out in an aerial alphabet. Scrolling would seem a simple place to start. Alongside other interface improvements and new feedback mechanisms like haptics, it doesn't seem like it will be long before buttons, and graphics will be supplanted as mainstays of mobile handset UI.

The technology could also help open up mobility to users that have difficulty with button-based interfaces, such as blind users, and it's likely interface improvements for other users will arise from such development. Releasing APIs and making it easy for developers to utilize the functionality, like Vodafone has done, is crucial, though. Because the smart money says the coolest and most valuable use of it won't come from a device manufacturer or operator, but rather from some creative tinkering.