| | 08-23-2009, 05:17 PM Thread Author #1
New Storm 2 Piezo/Screen Talk - Patents, Observations, Clarifications, etc.
Hey Storm 2 Chasers,
Ok.. I wanted to get a new thread going here to continue the discussion around the Storm 2's screen improvements and potential technologies implemented. On our last CrackBerry podcast, I brought up the theory that there may be some piezo technology involved in the device. The reason my thinking went this way was because of the hands-on observation where the screen doesn't move when the display is powered down, but can "press down" once it has power applied to it. Thinking back to my grade 10/11 science I remembered this as being in the realm of piezo electric materials. In talking about this on the podcast, my thought wasn't that the glass itself was necessarily using this tech (it still seems/feels like solid glass under the finger), but rather maybe the buttons behind the display we're making use of piezo materials somehow.
In Salomondrin's recent (and excellent) hardware/display explanation video, he picks up on the discussion and uses the very visual/effective sponge explanation to get across how the display works (watch the vid/visit the related forum post).
The tricky thing about pre-release devices is that even if you have one in your hands, it's hard to actually tell exactly how it's working/what it's capable of. You basically need to rip the device part and have RIM come out and tell you what it is/how it works/what it's capable of to fully get the picture. To be dead honest, I'm still not totally sure of all the magic that Storm 2 may (or may not possess). So with this thread I wanted to look at some of the clear observations made to date about the Storm 2's display (chatted with salo on the phone about this too so i think we pretty much concur on it) and also look at some of the known tech out there. Should make for some good discussion.
Known Observations of the Storm 2's Screen Tech:
a) When powered off, the glass is fixed in position. You can push down on the display but it doesn't move.
b) Once powered up, when you push on the display the piece of glass moves down (you can physically see that the glass is moving, though the depth it moves down is less than Storm 1)
c) The glass is solid. So when you're pushing down, the actual sensation under the finger is that like Storm 1. The screen doesn't get mushy, it's not indenting inward at the place you touch, it's like Storm 1... the glass is smooth/hard and you feel the glass move down and get a distinct "click"/"press" type movement
d) Unlike Storm 1, you can multi-press. With Storm 1, there is one small, centrally-mounted button under the Storm's glass (see this phone wreck tear down). This means that once you click one part of the screen (say you hold down the alt-key, you cannot click anywhere else until you let go of that key and push down again. With Storm 2, you can click in one spot (say the alt key on the keyboard while typing), get a distinct press feeling on that key, keep holding down, then press elsewhere on the keyboard and get another distinct pressing feeling. We're not talking about multi-touch here say, but more like multi-press.
In addition to the screen fixed when powered off/moveable when powered on observation, it's this last point/question of how multi-press is being accomplished that brings in the notion that something else magical is going on here, be it piezo tech or something else.
The Sponge Explanation - Immersion's Patented Piezo LCD Tech:
With salo's video explanation and sponge metaphor, you get a very good representation of how it feels to use the device (with multi-press, it feels like there's more push-back everywhere you press on the display than compared to Storm 1's single button). Whether or not you can couple that observation to piezo technology I'm still not sure. If the display itself were fully using piezo tech to accomplish the sponge metaphor, it's more likely that the display would be hard-mounted, but then where you'd press you'd feel a small portion of the screen move inward (an indentation at that spot where you're pressing) which isn't the case with the Storm 2's display, as noted above in the observations.
Hunting through the USPTO for piezo/lcd related stuff, I came across a patent (published January this year) that was filed by Immersion, who are big players in the haptics field. The patent is called Method and apparatus for multi-touch tactile touch panel actuator mechanisms and involves the use of piezo electric materials.
Here's a couple of claims and images from the patent, but you can click the link above for the full deal:
1. A tactile touch panel comprising a plurality of piezoelectric cells forming a piezoelectric layer having a first and a second surfaces, wherein said first surface of said piezoelectric layer is configured to receive inputs, wherein each one of said plurality of piezoelectric cells includes at least one piezoelectric material, wherein said piezoelectric material is configured to provide a haptic effect independent of other piezoelectric cells.
2. The tactile touch panel of claim 1, wherein said plurality of piezoelectric cells is capable of sensing said inputs.
3. The tactile touch panel of claim 1, further comprising an electrical insulated layer having a third and a fourth surfaces, wherein said fourth surface of said electrical insulated layer is situated adjacent to said first surface of said plurality of piezoelectric cells and said third surface of said electrical insulated layer is configured to interface with said inputs.
4. The tactile touch panel of claim 3, wherein said third surface of said electrical insulated layer is capable of transmitting said inputs to said first surface of said plurality of piezoelectric cells.
RIM could very easily be working with Immersion on its Storm 2 tech (I honestly don't know) and this patent/technology fits very well with salo's sponge metaphor, but it doesn't totally fit with the observations made when using the early Storm 2 hardware itself (still smooth/hard/rigid glass when pressing down).
Storm 2 Using More/Better Placed Buttons?
We haven't seen any photos of what's under the Storm 2's glass hit the web yet, but I have a feeling when they inevitably pop up you're still going to see that the screen is attached to/floating on "buttons". But instead of Storm 1 where you have a small, centrally-located little button doing all the work, you're going to see four bigger buttons, located more towards the outer corners of the device (not totally in the corners, but positioned to evenly spread out the click force/distribution throughout the display). This better explains the multi-press feeling that's currently observed - you can press one of the buttons in, which then leaves the other three buttons unpressed, which means you can then press-elsewhere on the display to press down on another button. The button supports are big enough/close enough that you get the feeling that the screen is pushing back quickly no matter where you press, but in reality it's one of the buttons pushing its way back up. So while you get the sensation of the sponge explanation, that's not totally accurate as the upward pressure won't be generated right on the spot where you pressed but from the nearest button. And if you try and press with two fingers very close together on the display, you won't get distinct presses as both fingers would be pushing in on the same button. Thinking this way, it's still "similar" to the Storm 1 in terms of screen tech, but the execution is much improved - it's tighter/cleaner, better feedback, quicker response time from a press and overall the device becomes more usable.
One of the things I'd love to be able to do on the new Storm would be hold down the alt key (continue to hold it) and then type out other letters on the keyboard. This would fully enable you to use the device like a physical qwerty - you'd be able to do shortcuts like alt-caps-h if you displayed the keyboard on the homescreen or you'd be able to design a software keyboard like that of a physical one, where the alternate characters are shown on the same screen as the letters and you'd just be able to hold down the alt key and bang out the alternates. So far, I haven't seen this reflected in any software builds, and I'm not totally sure as to whether the four button design will ultimately allow for this to be supported. I hope so, but not sure.
As for the implementation of piezo tech within this four button under the display design, I'm not totally sure what's there (if it is)/how it works yet. Again, you can have the device ripped apart in front of you and still not fully know what's being used in there. My piezo thought was that maybe the buttons made use of it somehow (kind of like an off/on lock for the storm's display... so it moves/doesn't move) but didn't think the piezo tech would be in the glass itself taking part in every click (as it would be if implemented like it's shown in the patent material above). Though when you do compare the glass of Storm 1 to Storm 2, there's definitely something different as Storm 2's glass itself is SOO much darker (just when sitting there powered off) compared to Storm 1. Would be happily surprised though to learn there's something really cool/new/magical going on within the layers of the lcd/glass on top of the buttons.
So that's kind of it. Despite the speculation and discussion and vids, from my point of view it's still a bit up in the air to exactly how the Storm's 2 display is accomplishing what it does and exactly what it's capable of doing as software development on it continues. What is know is that compared to Storm 1 it's a much tighter hardware platform and the user experience should be much better. I'm looking forward to learning more/seeing more on it over the days/weeks ahead. I really want to know exactly what's going on and how.
Damn.. that was a long post. Hope some of you read it all and get some insight from it!
** Update: Monday Morning, August 24th **
Well that didn't take long! Following up the on the mini-novel above, we received the photo below on the good 'ole CrackBerry tip line of what we can only assume is under the display of the BlackBerry Storm 2.
As you can see in the photo (which jives with my statements/explanations/predictions above), the actual glass/display in the Storm 2 sits on four buttons that have been evenly distributed towards outer edges of the device. These buttons explain both the physical in/out movement of the display when pressed, and also how the multi-press is accomplished - you can press in an area of the display where one button gets compressed, keep holding, and push down in another area of the display to compress another button. The photo below compares the new design to the original Storm:
As you can see, the original Storm uses a dinky little button placed in the middle of the device. One of the issues with the original design is that as you press in different parts of the display (outer edges) you need to use much more force to get a click. With the Storm 2's design, the buttons have been evenly spread out so that no matter where you click on the display, the amount of force needed is very even (an observation made by both me and salo and others who have gone hands-on with the early hardware).
What we know/still don't know:
- Know: the glass is physically still hard (not mushy to the touch), and it's sitting on buttons
- Don't Officially Know: If/How Piezo tech is involved. It a) might not be used at all, b) could be utilized in the display/glass layer somehow not yet shown/known (though it still seems pretty Storm 1 like in terms of screen capabilities in hands-on use with earlier software builds) or c) may be used under the display somehow in what you're looking at above in the pics (maybe takes part in the role of making the screen clickable/not clickable when powered on/off) or in some other capacity?
With the announcement date of the Storm 2 apparently coming up sooner than later (maybe even announced before the end of September if it's going to be released in Oct/Nov) we should know all the secrets soon!
Another Update - Tuesday afternoon, Aug. 25th
Jacob over at Engadget just posted a bunch more pictures of the BlackBerry Storm 2 fulllllly dissected. We're talking totally taken apart here. Jump over to read the post and browse through the gallery. CrackBerry's post is here. They're definitely more than just "buttons" that's for sure. Cool stuff.