“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.
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?
Look at Packaging
I can see why you might want different vibration patterns for different callers. Its probably a good thing to know when the babysitter calls during the movie, without illuminating the caller-ID screen. And customized vibration patterns can help you decide whether to take a call—without letting others know that youre being pinged.
But something about the whole thing makes me feel dirty. Im not sure I want someone else controlling what is, essentially, a vibrator in my pocket. At least not very many people. And when remote-controlled vibrating phones become popular, will the lubricant-resistant phone be far off? I see a whole new market for the phone-titillation industry—as if they needed yet another technology to corrupt.
But apart from the smarmy aspects, Im not bullish on VibeTonz success. But its not the technologys fault. Instead, blame it on how its being packaged and sold.
When VibeTonz looks in the mirror, it sees ring tones. And who wouldnt want a piece of that multibillion-dollar industry? But a string of vibrations isnt as valuable as a string of musical notes. Id pay a dollar to assign the beginning of the B-52s “Planet Claire” to incoming calls from my wacky brother. But its unlikely Id do the same for “Shave and a haircut. Five Cents.”
But Immersion, Samsung and the cell phone carriers want to restrict creation of these vibration strings. You can download the VibeTonz development package today and create your own vibrations—but itll cost you $5,000.
Phone users wont be able to create their own vibration strings, and thats just wrong. Vibrations are not the same as songs. Making a pulsating phone successful requires enlisting the vast audience of phone users—not restricting authoring to licensees.
Imagine a world where anyone can create vibration strings and then SMS them to friends. Vibrating phones will most likely be adopted by the 15- to 25-year-old market, whose members are always looking for something new. But without the ability to mix their own tones, the novelty will soon fade. Forget royalties and dollar a download. Every phone should have its own rudimentary authoring system as well as a player. PC- and Mac-based tools should be freely downloadable.
Immersion, Samsung and the cell phone carriers need to adopt an open-source model for VibeTonz. Give away the tools and let your users drive the success. Thats the only way to keep “reach out and touch someone” from remaining just an antique slogan for a long-dead brand.