Kyocera thinks the old audio speaker in your mobile phone is passé. There are just too many steps: a diaphragm vibrates to produce sound waves that travel through the air down your ear canal, where they resonate off your eardrum. Kyocera would rather just skip all of those steps and funnel sound directly into your inner ear.
Kyocera has dug deep into its applied material roots – the company’s name is a shortening of Kyoto Ceramics – to create a ceramic transducer that replaces the speaker in a phone. The transducer generates vibrations on the phones face plate itself, which sends sound waves into the air: but if you touch the phone directly to your ear those vibrations travel through the tissues in your skull to your eardrum.
At CTIA Wireless, Kyocera director of corporate communications John Chier said that by passing sound waves through the flesh, not the air, the communication path remains unpolluted by outside noise, and he’s not lying. I tried out the demo phone, donning noise-cancelling headphones that drowned out normal air-conducted sound waves emanating from the phone. But as soon as I pressed the phone to my ear lobe or even the side of the headphones the audio came through clear as day.
“As long as you can block out ambient noise by blocking the path to your ear, you’re essentially alone with the phone,” Chier said. “That’s a perfect for a device like a smartphone, which naturally blocks your ear.”
Chier said the technology was originally designed for the sophisticated hearing aides, but Kyocera has gotten the cost of the technology down to a point that it can be used in smartphones. The first device using the technology will come out in Japan “very shortly,” Chier said, but Kyocera smartphones with the tech will make their way to the U.S. soon after.
Kyocera also added two new Android smartphones to its U.S. line. The first is called the Hydro, its first waterproofed smartphone intended for a mass consumer audience. While Kyocera has sold many waterproofed and water resistant smartphones in the U.S. they’ve all been ruggedized devices built to military specifications. Chier said Kyocera believes there’s a pent up demand for such phones among consumers given how easily phones become water damaged.
The second is called the Rise, which attacks another market Chier said is underserved in the U.S.: smartphones with Qwerty keyboards. Both are Android 4.0 devices with modest specs and CDMA radios. Kyocera typically sells to Sprint and several regional carriers, though Chier said it isn’t yet announcing carrier partners for the devices.