Sentons launches SurfaceWave, a processor and tech to create software-defined surfaces that supercharge touch and gesture

As handset makers continue to work on ways of making smartphones more streamlined and sleek, while at the same time introducing new features that will get people buying more devices, a startup that is pioneering something called “software-defined” surfaces — essentially, using ultrasound and AI to turn any kind of material, and any kind of surface, into one that will respond to gestures, touch and other forces — is setting out its stall to help them and other hardware makers change up the game.

Sentons, the startup out of Silicon Valley that is building software-defined surface technology, is today announcing the launch of SurfaceWave, a processor and accompanying gesture engine that can be used in smartphones and other hardware to create virtual wheels and buttons to control and navigate apps and features on the devices themselves. The SurfaceWave processor and engine are available to “any mobile manufacturer.”

Before this, Sentons had actually already inked direct deals to test out market interest in its technology. There were actually already three smartphones released — two of which were only sold in Asia (models and customer names undisclosed by Sentons) and one of which is made by Asus in partnership with Tencent, the Republic of Gamers phone (the Air Triggers are powered by Sentons). Jess Lee, the company’s CEO, told me in an interview that there are another 10-12 devices “in process” right now due to be released in coming cycles. He would not comment on whether his former employer is one of them.

Sentons has actually been around since 2011 but very much under the radar until this year, when it announced that Lee — who had been at Apple, after his previous company, the cutting-edge imaging startup InVisage, was acquired by the iPhone maker — was coming on as CEO.

The company has quietly raised about $ 35 million from two investors, NEA and Lee confirmed to me that it’s currently raising another, probably larger, round. (Given the company’s partnership with Tencent and Asus, those are two companies I would think are candidates as strategic investors.)

The sound of silence

Sentons’ core idea is focused around sound — specifically ultra sound.

posterImage 4813Its system is based around a processor that emits ultrasonic “pings” (similar to sonar array, the company says, which is used for example on submarines to navigate and communicate) to detect physical movement and force on the surface of an object. The company says that this technique is much more sophisticated than capacitive touch that has been used on smartphones up to now, since combined with Sentons’ algorithms it can measure force and intent as well as touch.

Combined with the processor that emits the pings and houses the gesture engine, Sentons also uses “sensor modules” around the perimeter of a device to detect when those pings are interrupted. The system trains itself and can adjust both to temporal “buttons” and also other unintended things like when a screen cracks and your gestures move over to a different area of the phone.

Asus ROG 350x176Gaming — the main use case for Asus’s ROG phone — is an obvious category ripe for software-defined surfaces. The medium always strives for more immersive experiences, and as more games are either natively made for phones, or ported there because of the popularity of mobile gaming, handset makers and publishers are always trying to come up with ways to enhance what is, ultimately, very limited real estate (even with larger screens). Using any and all parts of a device to experience motion and other physical responses, and to control the game, is a natural fit for what Sentons has built.

But the bigger picture and longer term goal is to apply Sentons’ technology for other uses on devices — photography and building enhanced camera tools is one obvious example — and on other “hardware,” like connected cars, clothes and even the human body, since Sentons’ technology can also work on and through human tissue.

“Every surface is an opportunity,” Lee said, noting that conversations around health and medical technology are still very early, while other areas like wearables and automotive are seeing “engagement” already. “In the cabin of a vehicle, you have a wealth of tactile materials, whether it’s leather dashboards or metal buttons, and all of those are extremely interesting to us,” he added.

At the same time, the more immediate opportunity for Sentons is the mobile industry.

Smartphone sales have slowed down, and for some vendors declined, in recent years; and while some of that might have to do with premium device prices continuing to climb, and much higher smartphone penetration globally, some have laid the blame in part on a lack of innovation. Specifically, newer phones are just not providing enough “must have” new features to merit making a purchase of a new device if you already have one.

You could argue that making a technology like this widely available and open to all comers might make those who are trying to make their devices stand out with special features less inclined to jump on the bandwagon.

“Yes, you could say there is more value in scarcity, an approach we took in the last company,” Lee said, referring to InVisage and how very under the radar it was before being snapped up by Apple.

However, he thinks a different approach is needed here. “Whether we launched this platform to everyone or not, the gates have opened, the piñata has broken, and we see a lot more opportunities and want to go for them,” he said.

“You can call it a multi-pronged approach,” he continued, “but ensuring the adoption of software-defined interactions [by trying to work with as many companies as possible] gets the technology or use out there quickly.” He noted that when a new gesture is introduced on devices, it can take time for the world to absorb it, “and we are positive there will be followers, perhaps with different technology, that will compete with us, so a broad launch is what we are going for.”

Gadgets – TechCrunch

Xiaomi packs a massive battery and deca-core processor into a $135 phone

Redmi Note 4_01 Xiaomi’s numbers have been slipping some of late in its native China, but the company’s still announcing handsets at a healthy clip. A month after debuting the Redmi Pro, a high-end take on its budget line, the company is eyeing a rock bottom price point with its latest offering. With a starting price of 899 yuan ($ 135), the Redmi Note 4 still manages to offer some key upgrades… Read More

Gadgets – TechCrunch

Roku debuts a new Streaming Stick with a quad-core processor, support for private listening

Roku Streaming Stick w_remote Roku this morning introduced the third generation of its lower-cost streaming service, the Roku Streaming Stick, priced at $ 49.99, and a competitor to other sticks and dongles, like Google’s Chromecast or Amazon’s Fire TV Stick. The new device now includes a quad-core processor which will make using Roku’s software feel speedier than before, and it also introduces a way to… Read More

Gadgets – TechCrunch

Meet Agent, A Smartwatch With A Second Processor For Minimizing Power Consumption And Wireless Charging


Smartwatches are all the rage, and judging by the turnout and level of enthusiasm at the recent year one meetup for Pebble Kickstarter backers in San Francisco, there’s at least a passionate niche audience for the things. So it isn’t surprising to see them continue to pop up on Kickstarter. A new one called Agent has a few unique tricks, however, which its creators believe set it above the competition.

What the Agent has that others don’t is a combination of power management features and wireless charging. It has not one but two processors, for instance, one with higher performance capabilities and one extremely low-power variant to handle simple background tasks. There’s a new Sharp Memory Display that combines the advantages of both a traditional LCD and e-ink black and white, which is very power conscious, as well as wireless Qi induction charging with an included pad. Since it’s based on the widely-accepted Qi standard, however, it should work with charging pads from a variety of manufacturers.

The Agent is a refreshing change from other Kickstarter smartwatches in that it actually offers something new in terms of technical aspirations. The watch should get up to 7 days of battery life with its smart functions activated, or up to 30 days of standby in ‘watchface-only” mode. Even if that misses the mark by a bit, it should still beat the stated and actual battery life of existing devices like the Pebble. The gadget also features a 120HMz ARM Cortex-M4 processor, a 1.28-inch display, Bluetooth 4.0 (aka “Low Energy”), onboard motion and light sensors and an OS that allows developers to write apps for it using C# and Microsoft Visual Studio. It uses a Microsoft .NET runtime environment that Agent’s creators say will maximize memory and power efficiency, unlike with other smartwatches. The team says you’ll be able to start writing and emulating apps on the desktop as soon as the funding campaign is complete, which would be faster than the staged rollout of the Pebble SDK.

The creators of the Agent are Secret Labs, a team of engineers that has been building open-source products under the brand name Netduino since 2010, as well as smart home technologies, and House of Horology, a custom timepiece manufacturer that brings some real watch cred to the game. Early bird pledges get a pre-order for $ 129, where the final price is expected to come in at around $ 249 when the product ships late this year.

TechCrunch » Gadgets

Samsung Galaxy S 4 Beats The Best With 5-inch, 1080p Display, 1.9GHz Processor, Gesture Controls And A Q2 2013 Release


As if it could be any other way, the just-announced Samsung Galaxy S 4 is Samsung’s, and perhaps even Android’s, best phone yet. In fact, it very well may be the best smartphone on the market, period.

We’ve been through months of speculation, hype, rumors, and leaks, but the truth is out, and the Galaxy S 4 still has much more up its sleeve than the leaks suggested. More than any other Galaxy before it, the Galaxy S 4 is proof that the company can build a central brand the way Apple has with the iPhone. Both the Galaxy Note and Galaxy S series have been selling in the millions, and the Galaxy S 4 looks like it will hold up that trend.

Even with loads of new software, like an enhanced camera application, hover-style gesture features, and a slew of baked-in apps and services from Samsung, the Galaxy S 4 still brings the heat in the hardware/spec department. Here are the specifics:

The Galaxy S 4 clearly has a small ring of competition in the spec department. The only phones that are on this level are the Xperia Z (1080p 5-inch display, 13mp camera, quad-core Snapdragon S4 Pro CPU) and the HTC One (4.7-inch 1080p display, 1.7GHz Snapdragon 600 quad-core CPU, and an “Ultrapixel” camera) and LG’s Optimus G Pro (1080p 5.5-inch display, quad-core Snapdragon 600, 13-megapixel camera).

Of course, they each have their own pros and cons, but the Galaxy S 4 seems to be the most compact, lightest, and fastest among them. Samsung hasn’t been clear about the exact brand of the processor for the U.S. version, but it did say that it was a quad-core Snapdragon CPU clocked at 1.9GHz, which we believe may be the Snapdragon 600.

However, “processors vary by region,” says Samsung, and the Asian and European version will sport the long-awaited Samsung Exynos 5 Octa eight-core processor.

The Galaxy S 4 design manages to both fit in with the Galaxy S family and stand on its own as a unique breed. For one, Samsung packed a bigger display (5-inches diagonal) into a package that’s actually smaller than before. The GS4 is the same width, slightly shorter, and .7mm thinner than its predecessor.

As such, the bezels on the Galaxy S 4 are slightly thinner on all four sides, which means it’s all screen, all the time. And what a screen it is. The Galaxy S 4 display is 5 inches of unadulterated Super AMOLED 1080p brilliance. Surrounding it, the Galaxy S 4 takes a hybrid shape, something between the straight lines of the Galaxy Note and Galaxy S II with the curved tops, bottoms, and corners of the Galaxy S III. The elongated home button is unmistakably GSIII-style.

The Galaxy S 4 also sticks with familiar materials, and unfortunately that still means a whole lot of plastic. Both the front panel and back panel (which is removable) are made of brushed plastic, but with a textured pattern of tiny circles laid over it. It gives the phone an industrial, textured look, but in reality all you feel is smooth plastic.

Around the edge, you’ll notice a new embellishment to the S series: a metallic bar that runs along the edge of the device. Though it looks a lot like metal, it’s actually polycarbonate and meant to protect the sensitive corners of the device.

It would be nice to see some more premium materials in this generation of the Galaxy S, but the plastic and polycarbonate construction let Samsung fit many components into a very compact, light package, according to Director of Product Planning Drew Blackard.

The Galaxy S 4 uses a new 13-megapixel rear-facing camera, bumped up from the 8-megapixel shooter on the Galaxy S III. It’s still centrally placed on the upper back half of the device, complete with LED flash, autofocus, and 1080p video recording. On the front, the Galaxy S 4 sports a 2-megapixel camera.

The higher megapixel sensor is nice, and will surely make a slight difference, but where the Galaxy S 4 camera really evolves from past generations is in the software.

For one thing, the camera app now uses the same UI as the Galaxy Camera, with a brushed silver finish to the buttons and much simpler navigation. Clicking the mode button along the bottom will bring up a simple scroll wheel full of various modes. When one is highlighted, the menu gives the name as well as a description. More sophisticated users can also see these mode options in a grid view for quick changes.

Along with some of the same modes we’ve seen on both the Galaxy Camera and newer Galaxy smartphones like Beauty Shot, Samsung has added way more modes into the mix. One is called Eraser, and it lets you remove unwanted people from a shot. Samsung says it comes in handy for shots that have been photo-bombed, or tourist shots at busy places. The camera senses any motion that goes through the frame and lets you choose to remove it, as if that person had never walked through your shot of the Eiffel Tower.

The Galaxy S 4 also has a dual-shot mode, which is just a button press away from the main camera interface. This lets you use both the front-facing camera and the rear-facing camera at the same time, for both recording and still captures. There are various filters, such as Oval Blur, Postage Stamp, Cubism, and Split, which give you different options for the theme of your dual-shot creation. You can resize the pop-up picture, and move it around the screen using simple drag and drop tools. It’s pretty amazing.

Some other modes include Drama Shot, which lets you take a succession of photos of some action (like someone skiing down a mountain) and turn them into a composite of the entire sequence, and Sound and Shot, which lets you record up to 9 seconds of audio to pair along with a picture.

Samsung even jumped on the GIF train with the likes of Cinemagraph and Vine to create a gif-making mode, called Cinema Shot. It lets you take a short recording, and then determine which parts of the shot stay still and which parts remain animated. In fact, it’s almost exactly like Cinemagraph.

But Samsung took one step past capture and even built an app called Story Album which lets you create photo albums of special events or trips through templates, and use TripAdvisor to add extra location data to your story. You can even print your album through a partnership with Blurb’s print distribution network.

There’s a lot going on here, so try to keep up. We had recently heard that the GS4′s “wow” factor would be all in the software, and that’s exactly right. Most of TouchWiz is the same, though it seems to get lighter and lighter as the phones get faster. The one very noticeable edition was a set of extra toggle buttons available in the pull-down notifications menu.

Other than those particulars, let’s start with the gesture-based head-tracking stuff.

The most useful new feature of the Galaxy S 4 is Air View. It lets you hover over something on the screen to get an extended pop-up view of what’s inside. For example, if you hover over an email in your inbox, Air View will bring up the first few sentences of that email’s contents. If you hover over an album within the photo gallery, you’ll see nine thumbnails of the contents of that gallery. In fact, if you hover over an image while inside the folder, that particular thumbnail will expand to give you a better view of the particular picture. It’s all very reminiscent of what can be done with recent entries in the Galaxy Note line, except without requiring users to keep track of an S-Pen.

Air View is embedded in the email client, photo gallery, calendar, and a Galaxy S 4-edition of Flipboard, which lets you view and select headlines by hovering over a single tile.

Samsung also added an Air Gesture feature, which lets you control the phone without having to hold it — I could see this being used while driving. You can swipe left and right to switch between web pages, songs, photos in the gallery, etc. and swipe up and down to scroll. You can even accept calls by waving at the phone.

Rumors suggested that Samsung had developed some sort of magic-scroll eye-tracking technology, when in reality the Galaxy S 4 can actually only track your head, very much like the Galaxy S III’s Smart stay feature. The front-facing camera can detect that your head is facing the phone directly, which stops the display from dimming.

In the Galaxy S 4, that technology evolves to automatically pause videos when you turn away from the phone with Smart Pause. As far as scrolling is concerned, if you’re on a page that requires reading or scrolling, the Galaxy S 4 will let you tip the phone forward or backward to scroll (as long as the ff-camera senses that you’re paying attention).

Samsung said that using tilt-gestures as well as “head-tracking” technology to streamline browsing a page was “the most intuitive and natural to the end-consumer.”

As far as NFC is concerned, the GS4 includes S Beam and TecTile integration, but Samsung also lets you pair with up to eight other NFC-devices to run a feature called GroupPlay, which lets you play the same song across eight different devices… to create a party on the go.

Samsung also included an IR blaster on the Galaxy S 4 so that you can use it as a remote for just about any modern television. Called WatchON, it also includes rich information proved by an electronic programming guide.

Along with an updated camera and Story Album, the Galaxy S 4 brings a handful of brand new applications to the Galaxy S family. The first, and possibly most important, is S Translator. S Translator is available in nine languages at launch, including Chinese, English U.S., English British, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean and Portuguese.

It is a standalone app that automatically translates information that is typed or copy/pasted into it. S Translator is also embedded in ChatOn, Messaging, and email.

The Galaxy S 4 also has an optical reader which turns analog information into digital, by reading business cards and turning them into address book contacts. S Translator is also embedded into the optical reader, which scans QR codes as well.

ChatOn, Samsung’s own-branded VoIP application, has been updated to include three-way video calls, screen share, and annotations. You can even use the new dual-camera mode to enjoy ChatOn calls.

Samsung has been making a big push in the health department with the new Galaxy S 4, and has thus preloaded the S Health app on the device. The app originally made its debut last July and seemed to focus mainly on linking up with existing health gadgets like fancy scales and blood glucose monitors. This time around, using the Galaxy S 4′s built-in pedometer, S Health tracks your activity throughout the day and knows when you’re running, walking or climbing stairs. The S Health app also lets you input your consumption activities to track caloric intake and get suggestions.

Speaking of S Health, Samsung is selling a few health-related accessories to tackle the ever-growing quantified self products like the Jawbone Up, Nike Fuelband, and FitBit. That said, Samsung has introduced the wrist-worn S Band that tracks activity, temperature and humidity.

Samsung is even going so far as to sell a heart-rate monitor which you can strap on for your daily workouts, and a body scale. All of the accessories come with Bluetooth so they can pair back to your device and be recorded by the S Health app.

And since Samsung loves making special cases for its big-name phones, the Galaxy S 4 had to go big even with its case. It’s called the S View cover, and it has a little screen on the front that reads information from the phone. That way, even though the phone is locked, you can still see the time, SMS notifications, battery status, and choose to accept or ignore incoming calls.

Samsung didn’t specify which technology they used for the cover’s display, or whether or not it needs a charge or takes battery from the S 4, but it wouldn’t surprise me to hear they took a page out of the YotaPhone playbook and are using low-power e-ink here.

Samsung didn’t clarify exact pricing, but said it would go for the same price as a “Samsung premium smartphone”. The Galaxy S III launched in the US at $ 199 with a 2 year contact.

In terms of availability, they didn’t give a specific release date but did say it would be on store shelves in 2013Q2, at AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint, Cricket and U.S. Cellular.

Samsung is riding high on the success of the Galaxy S III and from what I’ve seen, the Galaxy S 4 is a worthy successor with innovative features packed into a familiar housing. It’s a bit of a shame that Samsung announced the phone without giving a price or release date, but at this point, with Samsung the global sales and innovation leader in smartphones, it can do pretty much whatever it wants.

TechCrunch » Gadgets