Will 3D Be The Next-Gen Mobile Interface?

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Keypads, navigation keys, touchpads and perhaps even touchscreens could be the mobile-device interfaces of the past if Nokia and Intel have their way.

The two companies opened their first joint research center at a Finnish university, where they will focus on creating new ways to interface with your mobile phone or other mobile device.

What ways?

Company and university representatives spoke of the potential for motion-sensing user interfaces. The new iPhone 4G and other smartphones already incorporate gyroscope and accelerometer to provide six-axis motion sensing for game play. A few years ago, SonyEricsson launched music phones with shake control to lets users shake a phone to skip music tracks, raise music volume, or put the phone’s music into shuffle mode. The phone’s gesture control lets users mute an incoming call or the alarm clock by sweeping their palm over the handset without pressing a button.

Perhaps the research collaboration could combine the iPhone and SonyEricsson concepts into something new.

Leveraging 3D (and game-style 2.5D) technology as a user interface (UI) is another avenue that the two tech giants will pursue. The executives who announced the research initiative offered little in the way of enlightenment, but perhaps they’re thinking that if they combine 2.5D and motion sensing, users would be able to scroll one-handed through menus, contact lists, or application icons.

When they talked of leveraging 3D technology for UIs, their comments became as abstract as some press releases that I have read. One thing is clear, however. They will look to “autostereographic displays” that deliver 3D effects on small screens, albeit with a narrow angle of view, without the need for 3D glasses. That pursuit could eventually deliver 3D video calling and 3D Internet streaming.

Why now? “Because the power of the platform and bandwidth were not here three years ago,” said Heikke Huomo, director of the Center for Internet Excellence at Finland’s University of Oulu.

How soon? Two dozen researchers will be employed for three years, and the fruits of their labor “will be implemented in products in small steps over a period of time,” Huomo said.

The R&D results will be shared on an open-source basis, just as Intel and Nokia are sharing their jointly developed Linux-based MeeGo OS, which is intended for mobile devices equipped with Intel’s Atom processor.

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