CES 2018 is in full swing, and Google is busy showing off Google Assistant in smart displays, on the JBL Link View, and in a myriad of other devices. With all that going on, you’d be forgiven for not noticing that Google’s parent company, Alphabet, just quietly bought a U.K.-based startup that’s focused on integrating speaker functionality in smart device screens.
Redux has been working on technology that allows for sound to be emitted from underneath a device’s display, via an array of “micro-speaker” actuators placed beneath the touchscreen. These actuators create “bending waves” — or sound and vibration to the likes of you and me — that would effectively turn the device’s screen into a speaker. This would make a separate speaker redundant, and the extra space within the device could be used to increase battery size, add other components, or more completely waterproof the device. It’s an interesting idea, and one that Alphabet is clearly very interested in.
This isn’t the first time we’ve seen tech like this; Sony built similar tech into last year’s Bravia A1E TVs, and building this sort of capability into increasingly space-starved smartphone design would be a massive boon for Google, who has been competing with Samsung and Apple for dominance of the premium smartphone market.
But that’s not all that Redux’s systems can be used for. Since sound is simply a series of vibrations, the micro-speaker array can also be used to create localized haptic feedback that could be used to mimic real-life touch. Imagine feeling a switch click under your finger, or be able to feel a rolling ball beneath your thumb, and you’ve got an idea of what such a system could be capable of. Smartphone touchscreens have plateaued over the last few years (with the exception of screen-based fingerprint scanning tech), and this sort of haptic feedback could signal a new beginning for smart devices of all types.
At the time of writing, Google has refused to release any details on the purchase, including how much Redux was purchased for, but it’s probably fair to say that Redux’s higher-ups won’t need to work for the rest of their lives. With much of the Google buzz at CES being centered around Google’s smart assistant and its integration into multiple devices, it might be that the reason we haven’t seen a Google-built smart speaker with a screen (like the Amazon Echo Show or JBL View Link) is because Google is planning to integrate this technology into a possible Google Home View — though that’s pure speculation at this time.
Redux’s website is now defunct, and can only be accessed by means of the Internet Archive service.