Adding Touch to Ring Tones

Opinion: Immersion's new tool lets companies build downloadable vibrations that can be played on upcoming cell phones from Samsung. Too bad the business model is more lockdown than open source.

"Im picking up good vibrations,
Shes giving me excitations,
Good, bop bop good, good vibrations."

The Beach Boys had it right, and their breezy pop anthem "Good Vibrations" keeps gaining relevance beyond hippie surfers. Its latest sphere of influence: the cell phone.

Haptics pioneer Immersion—the folks who brought you force feedback game controllers, Logitechs iFeel mouse and BMWs flawed iDrive—are driving that same technology into cell phones. Samsung will release the first haptics-enabled phone in November, and the company stopped by Friday to demonstrate the technology in advance of a big announcement Sunday night at the CTIA Wireless show in San Francisco.

How does it work? That same vibrating motor found in most modern phones can be controlled via a small piece of Immersion software. Add that and the companys bundled "VibeTonz Mobile" player, and the motors intensity and duration can be modulated programmatically. That lets users assign customized vibration patterns, instead of or in conjunction with ring tones, to identify inbound callers.

/zimages/5/28571.gifAre cell phone viruses real? Click here to read more.

Mondays big news: The companys development kit, called the "VibeTonz Studio SDK," is finally available. With the kit, anyone can create long or short vibration patterns that can be downloaded into a phone, bundled with game titles and attached to rings and other phone events.

But its more than just ring tones and games. Vibration patterns add a weird sort of depth to IM or SMS emoticons. Imagine sending someone a beating heart to show your love, or a swift kick to the solar plexus (as it were) if youre annoyed. It can even be used for location-based shopping or helping with GPS-based navigation (it vibrates harder when youre on the right path, slower when youre not).

Its even theoretically possible to send vibrations to someone as you chat. Imagine sending a vibrating "Jaws" theme when discussing lunch plans, or the start of the "1812 Overture" when sharing good news. But is all of this really a good idea?

Next Page: How its being packaged and sold.