Redux's smartphone tech delivers haptics that feel like physical buttons

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Water-resistant smartphones aren’t all that uncommon these day — Samsung’s Galaxy S8 can last up to thirty minutes underwater. Truly waterproof devices, though — i.e., phones that can survive hours-long dunks in the pool — are mostly fantasy. But Redux, a London-based startup, may have the solution: Eliminating the speakers, earpieces, and physical buttons susceptible to water damage with ultrasonic speakers embedded beneath a phone’s display.

Redux’s technology relies on sound. By employing an array of “micro-speaker” actuators embedded beneath a smartphone touchscreen, it produces “bending waves” — sounds and vibration — that effectively convert the screen into a high-quality loudspeaker. The result is loud, clear audio without the need for exposed speakers. Even better, the sound isn’t directional– even if you flip a Redux-equipped smartphone upside down or turn it sideways, the volume won’t change.

Redux claims the quality is far superior to the “tinny, low-quality” speakers that smartphones usually pack. And while that may sound like a bold claim, at least one major manufacturer — Sony — is already using a similar technique to conceal speakers behind the display of its new A1 Bravia OLED series televisions.

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But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. In addition, Redux’s technology can simulate physical buttons, delivering sensations that feel like physical button presses. In applications that support it, you’ll feel a mechanical switch, a moving slider under your fingertips, or even two different tactile sensations during a multi-touch gesture with two fingers.

Redux thinks its buttonless, speakerless technology is the key to waterproof smartphone designs. Without the need for exposed buttons and ports, phones could be truly sealed.

But this advance could lead to better battery life and thinner devices, too. “Our technology enables smartphone manufacturers to reclaim valuable space within phones, which could be filled by a bigger battery,” Redux CEO Nedko Ivanov said in a statement. “Moreover, our surface audio technology is more power efficient than traditional micro-speakers, which means people can play music and watch videos on their phones for longer between charges.”

Redux’s solution is compatible with both LCD and OLED screens, and it’s already built into several in-car infotainment systems and PC products. The startup said it’s working with several smartphone makers about integrating the tech, but isn’t ready to name names just yet.

“The next challenge for us was to make it available for smartphones, where there’s a huge opportunity to enhance the user experience with better sound and touch,” Ivanov said.