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TEDxBerlin

Fabian Hemmert: The shape-shifting future of the mobile phone

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Views 880,588

In this short, amazing demo, Fabian Hemmert imagines one future of the mobile phone -- a shape-shifting and weight-shifting handset that "displays" information nonvisually. It's a delightfully intuitive way to communicate.

- Designer
Fabian Hemmert studies the theory and philosophy of embodiment, resistance and thinghood. Full bio

I am a Ph.D. student
00:16
and that means I have a question:
00:19
how can we make digital content graspable?
00:21
Because you see,
00:24
on the one hand, there is the digital world
00:26
and no question, many things are happening there right now.
00:28
And for us humans, it's not quite material, it's not really there --
00:32
it's virtual.
00:34
On the other hand, we humans,
00:36
we live in a physical world.
00:38
It's rich, it tastes good, it feels good, it smells good.
00:40
So the question is: how do we get the stuff over
00:43
from the digital into the physical?
00:45
That's my question.
00:47
If you look at the iPhone with its touch
00:49
and the Wii with its bodily activity,
00:51
you can see the tendency; it's getting physical.
00:53
The question is: what's next?
00:56
Now, I have three options that I would like to show you.
00:59
The first one is mass.
01:02
As humans, we are sensitive
01:04
to where an object in our hand is heavy.
01:06
So, could we use that in mobile phones?
01:08
Let me show you the weight-shifting mobile.
01:11
It is a mobile phone-shaped box
01:13
that has an iron weight inside, which we can move around,
01:15
and you can feel where it's heavy.
01:18
We shift the gravitational center of it.
01:20
For example, we can augment digital content
01:23
with physical mass.
01:26
So you move around the content on a display,
01:28
but you can also feel where it is just from the weight of the device.
01:30
Another thing it's good for is navigation --
01:34
it can guide you around in a city.
01:37
It can tell you by its weight,
01:39
"Okay, move right. Walk ahead. Make a left here."
01:41
And the good thing about that is you don't have to look at the device all the time;
01:44
you have your eyes free to see the city.
01:47
Now, mass is the first thing;
01:49
the second thing, that's shape.
01:52
We're also sensitive to the shape of objects we have in [our] hands.
01:54
So if I download an e-book and it has 20 pages --
01:57
well, they could be thin, right --
02:00
but if it has 500 pages, I want to feel that "Harry Potter" --
02:02
it's thick. (Laughter)
02:05
So let me show you the shape-changing mobile.
02:07
Again, it's a mobile phone-shaped box,
02:10
and this one can change its shape.
02:12
We can play with the shape itself.
02:16
For example, it can be thin in your pocket,
02:18
which we of course want it to be;
02:20
but then if you hold it in your hand, it can lean towards you, be thick.
02:22
It's like tapered to the downside.
02:25
If you change the grasp, it can adjust to that.
02:27
It's also useful if you want to put it down on your nightstand to watch a movie
02:31
or use as an alarm clock, it stands.
02:34
It's fairly simple.
02:37
Another thing is,
02:39
sometimes we watch things on a mobile phone,
02:41
they are bigger than the phone itself.
02:43
So in that case -- like here, there's an app that's bigger than the phone's screen --
02:45
the shape of the phone could tell you,
02:48
"Okay, off the screen right here, there is more content.
02:50
You can't see it, but it's there."
02:52
And you can feel that because it's thicker at that edge.
02:54
The shape is the second thing.
02:57
The third thing operates on a different level.
03:00
As humans, we are social, we are empathic,
03:03
and that's great.
03:06
Wouldn't that be a way to make mobile phones more intuitive?
03:08
Think of a hamster in the pocket.
03:11
Well, I can feel it, it's doing all right -- I don't have to check it.
03:13
Let me show you the living mobile phone.
03:16
So, once again, mobile phone-shaped box,
03:19
but this one, it has a breath and a heartbeat,
03:22
and it feels very organic.
03:25
(Laughter)
03:27
And you can tell, it's relaxed right now.
03:29
Oh now, missed call, a new call,
03:31
new girlfriend maybe --
03:33
very exciting. (Laughter)
03:35
How do we calm it down?
03:38
You give it a pat behind the ears,
03:40
and everything is all right again.
03:42
So, that's very intuitive, and that's what we want.
03:45
So, what we have seen are three ways
03:47
to make the digital graspable for us.
03:49
And I think making it physical
03:51
is a good way to do that.
03:53
What's behind that is a postulation,
03:55
namely that not
03:57
humans should get much more technical in the future;
03:59
rather than that,
04:02
technology, a bit more human.
04:04
(Applause)
04:07

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About the speaker:

Fabian Hemmert - Designer
Fabian Hemmert studies the theory and philosophy of embodiment, resistance and thinghood.

Why you should listen

Fabian Hemmert thinks hard about communicating information in non-visual ways -- through weight, shape, touch, movement. His recent explorations into shape-shifting cell phones are part of a long career of thinking beyond the touchscreen. Along with his shape-shifting mobile phones, his newest work explores haptic feedback in pens. He's a design researcher at Deutsche Telekom Laboratories and is working on his PhD in Berlin.

His master's thesis is an elegant exploration of the non-visual -- exploring the surprising effects of closing one's eyes during a movie or a first-person shooter game.

More profile about the speaker
Fabian Hemmert | Speaker | TED.com