The Promise of Back-of-Device Interaction

When it comes to mobile devices and their displays, hardware makers tend to pay a lot of attention to the interface found on the front, but very little to what’s on the back. Some notable new research milestones could change that, however.

Some of the milestones come from Patrick Baudisch, who’s spent years integrating back-of-device user interface interaction into mobile gadgets. Baudisch’s latest effort is called Nano Touch, which as you can see in the video below, allows for touch-based interface input on the rear of a small device — as opposed to on the front display. This brings two benefits: One, it expands the total amount of device real estate that the user can interact with; and two, the user’s own fingers doesn’t have to occlude the display while input is taking place.

According to Baudisch’s research page for the Nano Touch project, this back-of-device interaction would be especially applicable for very small devices, including touch-capable electronic jewelry.

Baudisch isn’t the only researcher who sees the value of a backdoor. This weekend at the Siggraph Asia show in Yokohama, Japan, MIT researchers will demo a prototype of their hand gesture recognition technology for liquid crystal displays (LCDs). It works by integrating a layer of sensors on the reverse side of a display. The sensors take regular snapshots of hand movements made in front of the display to generate a 3-D model, which is then translated into directions by the device. A video of how this works is below:

If efforts to imbue the reverse side of devices and displays with user interface options succeed, they could have a profound impact on mobile applications. Mobile browsers, for example, could include off-screen elements and controls that could be accessed from the rear of a device without disrupting work going up front. That’s called making the most of your mobile gadget.

Image courtesy of Patrick Baudisch.

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