Quirky smartphone case frees you from tyranny of the touchscreen

Quirky smartphone case frees you from tyranny of the touchscreen


smartphone case with mechanical buttons
Tired of the touchscreen? Try pressing an old-fashioned mechanical button.
Screenshot: Snap Research/YouTube

We can press and swipe our way to productivity with the touch screen on a smartphone. But the nerve endings in our fingers still long for the tactile engagement – that click – from pressing a button.

Snap, a company with the ideal name, is working with Columbia University on a smartphone case with mechanical buttons and dials to control our favorite phone functions.

Snap smartphone case is a touchy subject

The concept is likely to push the buttons of ardent technologists and futurists.

The late Steve Jobs, a proponent of the design language of touch screens, viewed stylists as a failure. It’s not a stretch to imagine Jobs directing his the iOS team to block the function of analog buttons and rotary dials from ever controlling the iPhone.

Apple recognized we needed an iPhone before we even knew what an iPhone was. Snap recognizes that the same people also can’t seem to put down a fidget spinner.

“We are, as a species, very touch and feely, and I think we want to be able to not just know that we touch something, but we also like the confirmation of something having happened, Shree Nayer, director of Snap Research’s imaging-focused research lab, told CNN Business.

The project was led by a graduate student from Columbia University, who came up with the idea while interning with Snap’s research lab.

The plastic case dubbed Vidgets is designed with slots for swapping out buttons and knobs, according to the CNN report. It is a fully mechanical case that takes advantage of a smartphone’s accelerometer to detect the force of finger as it pushes a button or scrolls a dial.

The video of a working prototype on an Android phone below shows a number of applications for the case. It may prove especially useful during winter when the user would normally have to remove a glove to use a touch screen.

The buttons and dials could adjust camera settings and control video games. The research team places a series of buttons on one side of the case to create a virtual saxophone.

Snap is not about to fast-track such a case into production. Nayer called it “an exercise in curiosity.”

If you want a Vidgets case, you can make one yourself. The project’s website links to 3-D models to make the case, buttons and knobs.