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Category: Phones

Get that promotion with this phone app that saves you from the embarrassment of having food stuck in your teeth! You’ll never believe you lived without it.

Background:

  1. Some new phones (and laptops) have the ability to detect an authorized user’s face and unlock the phone without requiring a PIN.
  2. Often, if you have something stuck in your teeth, people won’t say anything. Then, hours later, you realize that you had, say, a huge leaf of lettuce in your hair the whole time, forcing you to re-contextualize all your social interactions since lunch.

Proposal:

Surprisingly, although the capability certainly exists, no face unlock system currently informs users if they have, for example:

  • Something stuck in their teeth
  • A weird thing in their hair
  • Bizarrely smudged Joker-esque lipstick
  • A bird that has made a nest in the user’s hair

Figures 1 and 2 demonstrate how the “face unlock” feature could serve the dual purpose of notifying users of such situations.

lettuce.png

Fig. 1: The face unlock feature can informs this hapless user that they have lettuce stuck in their teeth.

lipstick.png

Fig. 2: Extraordinarily smudged lipstick might also be detectable via the face-unlock system, although the variability of lip shape may make this a more difficult computer vision problem. It’s a good Ph.D. project for some unfortunate graduate student.

 

lettuce-in-teeth

Fig. 3: This phone has high standards of dental hygiene, and will refuse to operate until you pick the lettuce out of your teeth.

Conclusion:

Since the phone already has the hardware to perform this public service, it would be a trivial addition to the standard face-unlock system. Note to Apple: you should pay me to license this incredible technology.

PROS: Gives the phone’s developer a leg up over competitors without robust lettuce-detection algorithms. It’s basically a free feature!

CONS: People might rely on the phone too much for even the most basic tasks, and civilization might revert to a barbaric age of inhuman savagery if there is ever a prolonged electrical outage.

 

 

Phone manufacturers hate this one weird tip to save you HUNDREDS of dollars by not losing your phone! One frugal tip for saving money on smartphones (do not lose them).

The issue:

Cell phones occasionally fall out of a person’s pockets and get forgotten. This is especially easy to do when sitting on a sofa or in a movie theater seat.

If the phone could detect that it had been dropped into sofa cushions, it could notify you before it was too late to find it again!

sofa-phone-cushions

sofa-phone-here-exclamation

Fig. 1: Alas, this phone has fallen between sofa cushions and may soon be lost forever.

sofa-phone-here-it-is

Proposal:

The phone could use its microphone to detect the difference between “phone is in your pocket” and “microphone can only detected sounds that are muffled by sofa cushions” (Fig. 2).

sofa-phone-waveform

Fig. 2: Audio from two scenarios: “normal” (top, yellow) and “stuck in sofa cushions” (bottom, blue).

By listening to the phone’s microphone (and using the orientation sensors), the phone could distinguish between three situations:

  1. “In your pocket” (phone is slightly moving, but sounds are muffled)
  2. “On your desk” (phone is not moving, but background noise is crisp and clear, like a transparent apple)
  3. “Phone fell into the sofa” (phone is not moving, but sounds are muffled).

In case you are worried about the privacy implication of the constant use of the microphone, consider that all phones are monitoring you at all times anyway so that you can say “Hey Siri” / “Ok Google” in order to activate the voice assistant.

Thus, this additional monitoring would not be any more invasive than the current situation.

(Plus, the “fell into the sofa” detection could be done entirely on the phone, so it wouldn’t need to send any audio data to a remote server.)

sofa-phone-ring

Fig. 3: Once the phone detects that it has become trapped in the sofa, it can scream until you rescue it.

This feature could also be expanded to include things like:

  • The phone could detect that you have debarked your plane (or gotten off a train), but somehow the phone has been left behind, perhaps in one of those seat pockets.
  • The phone could detect that 1) it’s been several hours since it’s moved it all, 2) it’s close enough to see your own home WiFi network, and 3) the audio sensor informs it that it’s still in a pants pocket—this means you probably threw it into a laundry basket, so it should email you and/or start beeping so you don’t wash it.
  • The phone could detect that you were traveling by car and left your phone in the car. Then it could send you an email (“Hey, you left me in the car. –Your Phone”), which you would presumably receive on your laptop / desktop computer.

Conclusion:

Don’t buy a new phone unless it comes with this exciting new feature!

PROS: Saves you from many lost-phone mishaps.

CONS: Perhaps by further reducing the demands on humans to actually pay attention and keep track of things, future generations will become slothful and decadent.

Vanquish loneliness and existential dread with this one weird app that doesn’t exist (yet)

The issue:

Sometimes, it’s hard to keep in touch with your friends and family, especially if you live in different cities and time zones.

Proposal:

The solution is quite simple—an app that keeps track of when you last met up with, texted, called, or otherwise contacted your friends and family.

In fact, it could even be integrated directly into your messaging app and phone GPS, so the phone could automatically keep track of which relationships were being maintained. (Both your national government and companies like Google have more than enough information to do this already, but it’s unlikely to be a crowd-pleasing feature, so don’t expect it to show up on your phone any time soon. Fortunately, this still leaves the door open for an enterprising startup to create this program.)

The example program below (Figures 1 and 2) is called “FriendNeglectr” (if that gets trademarked, “Neglectly” and “FriendNeglect.io” are other popular startup-sounding names that could be employed).

friendneglectr-icon

Fig 1: The proposed FriendNeglectr icon.

friendneglectr-emphasis

Fig 2: Here, we see a list of several of your friends in FriendNeglectr, ordered by the time you last saw them. For example, you last met Dave (top) for coffee 4 months ago. But you haven’t seen Alfonso (bottom) in 1.5 years, so the bar is highlighted in red. 

Conclusion:

You should stay in contact with your friend Alfonso, even though the last time you saw him was in court (Fig. 2). Also, since this app doesn’t exist yet, you should develop it.

PROS: Helps you maintain important relationships that might otherwise be neglected due to time and distance.

CONS: Reminds you of the ubiquitous and inescapable surveillance of modern society, filling you with a chilling dread of a future “Orwell’s 1984”-esque world.

Become vexed that you are unable to find a red-headed emoji face!

Background: An emoji overview:

hair

Fig 1: Current Apple emoji skin tones. Available tones vary by emoji font designer (e.g., Google, Microsoft).

Emoji people were originally only available with a light skin tone. Recently, more skin tone options have been added (Fig 1).

However, they are just a recoloring of the original emoji, and thus may not have realistic hair options. For example, the only women’s emoji hair option (as seen above) is “long and straight” and the only men’s hair option is “short and generally indistinct.”

Below, we will propose a method for easily allowing custom colors by using a phone camera, but first let us examine the present emoji situation.

The current state of the art:

family

Fig 2: Emoji families (or possibly “emoji movie theater with low seats, and two children in a row in front of two adults”) currently only exist in this one shade.

santa

Fig 3: unlike an emoji family, Emoji Santa Claus may have varying skin tone.

catFig 4: emoji cats can have multiple facial expressions. The emoji cat is unique among non-human animals in having a wide range of facial expressions.

snakeFig 5: Unlike the cat, the emoji snake has no ability to express emotion. Font limitations may make infinite combinations of facial expressions / skin (or scale) colors impractical, so less popular options (“coral snake that is crying while listening to music on 70s headphones”) are not currently available.

fish

Fig 6: The emoji fish exists in six variants—pufferfish, yellow fish, blue fish, dolphin, lungfish (cartoon), and lungfish (realistic).

Proposal:

Instead of selecting from a list, a user could set an emoji skin / fur / scale tone using the built-in camera in their phone (Fig 7).

emoji_photo

Fig 7: With the cameraphone in their left hand, this tomato-colored user is taking a picture of their right hand for use in the auto-emoji-coloring algorithm. Now the emoji people on this phone will have a tomato option.

emoji_color_animals

Fig 8: Now that we’ve decoupled eye color, hairstyle, hair color, and skin color, it is possible to make any combination of features. These new features can be applied to all animal emoji as well.If you want your cat emoji to be colored the same as your actual cat, you could take a picture of your cat instead of your hand. Perhaps you could even make the “car emoji” the same make and model of your actual car!

Conclusion:

It was apparently possible to add the flags of every country in the world, plus Antarctica (ant), so clearly space is not extremely limited. Perhaps Blue Emoji Cat With Red Whiskers really will be added in a future Unicode update.

PROS: Opens up a new world of hilariously colored animal emoji. Increases employment for font designers and font-related programmers.

CONS: Opens up a new world of font-related bugs. Assumes you’re willing to have a 250 megabyte font of “all combinations of human and animal skin / scale / fur / feather tones, hairstyles, hair colors, and eye colors” in memory on your phone at all times.

Upon seeing this cell phone and realizing it is not for sale, you will gnash and grind your teeth in rage. Dentists hate it!

Background:

Nearly all modern cell phones have the same touch-screen form factor.

Except for a few buttons of low importance (e.g. volume adjustment, power, camera shutter), all interaction is done through the screen itself.

The issue:

This style of interaction makes use of only one finger, and leaves the remaining four fingers with nothing to do (except hold the phone).

It can also be difficult to reach across the entire phone with one thumb. Finally, one’s grip of the phone is significantly diminished when interacting with the phone, making it easier to drop it during interaction with an app or web page.

plainhand

Fig 1: Modern phones typically have a form factor similar to the one at left. Right: when holding the phone, the thumb (labeled “5”) does all the work, while fingers 1–4 flop about uselessly on the opposite side of the phone.

Proposal: additional hardware keys on the phone edges

In order to improve phone-handling characteristics, we can add easy-to-press hardware keys to the edge of the phone.

Let us assume that this phone will be intended for right-handed operation. See figure 2 for the proposed button layout.

buttons default with slide or scroll wheel

Fig 2: On the left edge of the phone, four keys (one for each finger) are added.

On the right edge of the phone, a slideable switch is added. This acts as a scrollwheel; it can be pressed in to click, or slid up or down to scroll a web page. This is an old idea seen most notably in the “thumb scrollwheel” in Blackberry phones ~2000–2010.

Slight downside: these new features are unusable when the phone is held in the left hand.

chorded keyboard

Fig 3: The new buttons on the left (numbered 1–4) would allow for typing in the fashion of a chorded keyboard (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chorded_keyboard). With 4 buttons, we have (2^4 – 1) = 15 possible letters.

rings

Fig 4: If full typing ability is desired, it would be possible to make the buttons into rings instead, allowing the buttons to be pulled out instead of just pushed. Now we are up to (3^4 – 1) = 80 possible combinations of letters when typing in a chorded keyboard fashion. This is more than enough for any alphabet.

(Note: the thumb ring in this diagram would need to pivot in order to allow a comfortable grip.) would have to be rotated almost 90 degrees to allow for a comfortable grip.)

Conclusion:

Although this new interaction style could take some time to get used to, it would greatly improve phone interaction efficiency.

PROS: Makes phone interaction faster. Makes it easier to hold the phone in a secure grip.

CONS: If no one drops their phones anymore, phone case manufacturers may go out of business.