You can't hear it, but that's the sound of University of Michigan (UM) engineers proving you don't need Apple's 3D Touch technology for pressure sensitive phones. All you need is ForcePhone, a new piece of software that utilizes a device's microphone and speaker with audio that's imperceptible to the human ear.
ForcePhone does Apple's gimmick better, as it adds sensitivity to the entire phone, not just the screen. This way, you can perform a command by gripping hard on the device's sides, or pushing against its back.
ForcePhone is a product of Kang Shin, a professor in the university’s electrical engineering and computer science departments and doctoral student Yu-Chih Tung. Shin told UM's Michigan News yesterday (May 26) that ForcePhone frees pressure sensitivity from exclusivity, noting "You don't need a special screen or built-in sensors to do this. Now this functionality can be realized on any phone"
The software sends out an inaudible tone at a frequency higher than 18 kHz, which cannot be heard by humans, but is recognized by its microphone. A video previewing ForcePhone shows that it works on both iOS and Android devices.
Applications for this technology reach far beyond Apple's contextual menus. A user could grip their phone hard three times to contact 911 without seeing their display, which could be useful if they're under duress.
Tung says he got the idea from a trick Batman pulled off in the 2008 film The Dark Knight, where the caped crusader tracked the Joker by sending high-frequency audio from every phone in Gotham. He told Michigan News that he "thought it was an interesting idea to turn smartphones into a sonar-based system and felt this could lead to new applications to address challenges faced by smartphone users."
There is no current timeline for ForcePhone technology reaching the public, but Tung and his fellow researchers will demonstrate the technology at MobiSys, the Association for Computing Machinery's international mobile systems and applications conference, this June in Singapore.