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Pressure sensors to be omitted in smartphones

17 Mar 2014  | Peter Clarke

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Teemu Ramo, senior manager of audio hardware for Nokia Technology, revealed that pressure sensors, along with other sensors, could be removed from some handsets in the future. The idea was brought up as indoor navigation, a common driver for some MEMS developments in smartphones, came under fire for not being able to deliver and for being irrelevant among phone users.

Speaking on a panel at the MEMS Executive Congress Europe, Ramo said: "It used to be that we chucked everything in. We are seeing a move to 'less is more.' For example, indoor navigation has not panned out as planned. So the pressure sensor may get dropped from the mobile phone. We have to ask what is the added value for any given sensor, so the air pressure sensor may go."

The pressure sensor is there to distinguish between floors of multi-level shopping mall, but the question is: for whose benefit? Users are savvy and know that one reason it is there is so that they can be pitched at, and they don't much like it. Also, an indoor navigation system that doesn't work well merely serves as a persistent negative advert for the phone maker's brand.

Meanwhile, there is business pressure to component count, cost and energy consumption and do primary functions well, Ramo indicated.

It is part of what could be a coming trend to focus on what smartphone users actually want rather than gimmicks intended to wow technophile early adopters, according to Ramo. He did qualify this by saying that user requirements do get filtered through the mobile phone service operator channel, which may yet dictate that Nokia and other phone companies continue to throw more and more MEMS into their handsets to please apps developers.

When asked at the end of the panel about indoor navigation he said that radio beacons had become the focus for research because the dead-reckoning systems were not very accurate and often showed users being outside a mall when they were inside.

Even if indoor navigation systems worked they would be of more use to mobile phone service and other product and service vendors than they are to the users of the mobile phone. "Human beings do good sensor fusion and tend to know where they are," said Yannick Levy, vice president of corportate business development at consumer electronics company Parrot SA.

When asked about this on the fringe of the meeting, Ramo said that he felt that the mobile phone sector might be entering a new era where makers focus on what users want and use. "Samsung with the Galaxy S5 has said less is more," Ramo said.

He also said that while the first tier of smartphone adopters have been technophiles that wanted to try everything, the next generation of smartphone adopters will value the basic functions being done well.

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