Synaptics shows off 3D display touch and other hacks

CES 2016: A lot of neat non-traditional touch uses

Synaptics LogoAt CES Synaptics was showing off three interesting variants of their tech, all non-traditional uses. SemiAccurate thinks touch is about to migrate to a lot of places, and Synaptics is hinting at some of them now.

The first one seemed quite plain, a side touch feature on the Xiaomi Mi4C phone. Touch on the sides of phones is nothing new, the ones on the market are not much more than curiosities at the moment and come with a decent bump in the BoM. The big news this time is that Synaptics has implemented side touch without sensors on the side of the phone, it uses the normal on screen hardware.

If you think about how capacitive touch works, if your device is sensitive enough it should ‘see’ touches on the side of the device through the edge pixels. How strong this signal is depends a lot on the phone design, the materials used, and of course the algorithms used to process the data. Synaptics has shown it is quite possible to do ‘sensorless’ side touch with a bit of smarts and a lot of engineering. Like the LG G2’s double tap to wake up, the Xiaomi Mi4C probably had a long engineering development cycle with Synaptics personnel, but it is on sale now so they succeeded. Quite the slick engineering hack, way to think outside the box guys.

Speaking of thinking outside the box we come to LEIA 3D’s display, a glasses-free holographic display. SemiAccurate saw a pre-production LEIA display at Siggraph last year and it works quite well, bright and really 3D. The display is limited to 200×200 pixels per view with 64 views possible per image, more than enough to simulate a full 3D hologram. It works by using microlenses/prisms that change the pixels viewable depending on the angle. It works well and seamlessly, at least during the two times I saw it.

LEIA 3D display with Synaptics

3D comes across badly on 2D screens

Synaptics comes in because a holographic display is nice but if you need to manipulate the screen/data/object/whatever, a clunky controller breaks the experience. Depending on the use case, touching the screen may do the same, it depends on what you are trying to accomplish. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could simply manipulate the image in mid-air? See where this is going?

Yes Synaptics’ ClearPad S3528 touch controller is ‘hover-enabled’ so you can manipulate the image without touching it like magic. Or like the movies, just with a much shorter range. That said you don’t need to touch the device to manipulate the hologram and that is a trick. It may not be Minority Report level yet but it does come really close, just at a shorter range, lower rez, and with a smaller display. Things will progress, they always do. You can buy one of these LEIA 3D display dev kits for $999 now, they are quite real.

Getting to a more traditional non-traditional use for touch we come to Guardian’s Reveal Glass, a LCD window panel. You might have seen these panels or something similar in production, they are basically a window that turns frosted or black when you press a button by using the same tech as an old LCD calculator. They are nice but it can be a bit clunky to change your windows from a switch on the opposite wall.

Synaptics Guardian glass demo

Frosted or clear, you have the power now

As you can see this prototype of Reveal Glass has a Synaptics touch controller on board, the white circles are just for show. In this demo allowed the user to set the opacity zones by touching the window itself but as with the LEIA 3D display, hover-touch would probably be a better idea. This tech could also be implemented to set the transparency and other UI-like features. If implemented like this, touch has a great future in non-traditional devices, this market is potentially huge.S|A

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Charlie Demerjian

Roving engine of chaos and snide remarks at SemiAccurate
Charlie Demerjian is the founder of Stone Arch Networking Services and SemiAccurate.com. SemiAccurate.com is a technology news site; addressing hardware design, software selection, customization, securing and maintenance, with over one million views per month. He is a technologist and analyst specializing in semiconductors, system and network architecture. As head writer of SemiAccurate.com, he regularly advises writers, analysts, and industry executives on technical matters and long lead industry trends. Charlie is also a council member with Gerson Lehman Group. FullyAccurate