Four Dimensions, Boundless Opportunities

Dec 05, 2017

By Rick Bergman


Not long ago, I wrote here on what I regard as the four dimensions of the human-interface revolution: interaction, personalization, contextual awareness, and omnipresence. Those four dimensions, not coincidentally, also portray the scope of the Synaptics vision: advancing the human interface. We’re rapidly approaching realization of that full vision, with plenty of success milestones along the way.

Think of how, with a swipe or a tap of a finger, we now can easily summon information, entertainment and functionality from our smartphones, tablets, computers, and vehicles. Also consider how today we’re able to securely access those devices merely through a fingerprint. That, folks, is innovation, and innovation never sleeps!

Innovation of that sort transforms how we interact with technology, making inherently complex tasks feel natural, almost effortless to users. That innovation also is being applied to an ever-growing number of devices and applications, bringing us back to those four dimensions.

Interaction centers on personal devices. A quarter-century ago, Synaptics developed the industry’s first touchpad, which was fantastically successful in enhancing users’ interaction with their notebook PCs. Fast-forward 15 years, when smartphones with touchscreens in lieu of buttons came on the scene, users’ interaction with the devices took a big leap because we developed the advanced sensor technology for the industry’s first capacitive-touchscreen mobile phone. We then took interaction with touchscreens a step further by ensuring usability while, say, a user wears a glove or if the screen has moisture on it, and enabling displays with the ability to detect varying pressure.

Personalization is the dimension that focuses on the user – who they are and how to provide them with a richer, more secure experience. A great example of personalization is biometrics, a cornerstone of Synaptics’ portfolio. Biometrics determines what’s unique about each user, leverages that information to verify them, then provides them with secure device, network and/or online access.

Contextual awareness places emphasis on the environment in which our smartphones, computers and other intelligent devices are expected to function. Many of these devices are so sophisticated that they can discern users’ environments -- even their emotions -- then anticipate what they’ll do or need next. Sensor technology, for example, has advanced to where a device can determine if its user is in distress, then alert emergency services and/or family members.

Omnipresence occurs when the human interface is so ubiquitous, intuitive and natural that we lose conscious awareness of our interactions with devices. This dimension is more relevant now than ever, given the increasing sophistication of intelligent devices and the burgeoning Internet of Things market. That two-pronged thrust of technology has been steadily making its way into what’s termed the “smart home.” We now have at our disposable consumer IoT-enabled appliances and other household devices that, when needed, “talk” to one another and can connect seamlessly with our smartphones, tablets and PCs.

But there’s another kind of “talk” at work here – the literal definition – that’s fueling omnipresence: the plethora of voice-interaction devices and applications available for the home. These small, inconspicuous products respond to voice commands in order to deliver information and entertainment, and to direct consumer IoT functions, thus freeing users from the need to see or touch any device.

What makes voice-interaction so dynamic isn’t just the amazing innovation that goes into it but that the consumer IoT devices behind it are expected to number in the trillions. It should come as no surprise, then, that Synaptics is making considerable investments in voice and audio processing technology. This is a logical next step to build upon our renowned contribution to the human interface. With voice and audio technology among our solutions, we’re dramatically expanding how intelligent devices tap into what humans use naturally: their voices and their senses of touch, sight and hearing.

Founded to commercialize artificial neural network technology, Synaptics traces its roots -- and largely owes its success -- to unleashing the inherent power of the man-machine relationship. Synaptics’ name, in fact, is derived from the word synapse -- essentially, the structure that enables a neuron to transmit a signal to another neuron.

That initial work in biologically inspired technology inspired our decades-long mission to develop and refine world-class human-interface solutions. As we concentrated on those solutions, the neural networks work made its way to the back burner. Now, however, we’ve returned to neural networks, as the artificial intelligence and machine learning advances it yields are fundamental to the innovation we’re bringing to the smart home. And it’s already empowering customers with the technology and tools to quickly develop voice-interaction solutions, many incorporating artificial intelligence such as cloud-based speech-to-text and language processing. In concept or already on the market are products using our voice-processing technology from makers such as Alibaba, Amazon, Apple, Baidu, GE, Google, Microsoft, Naver, Samsung, and Tencent.

As I emphasized previously on this topic, Synaptics is wholly committed to not just advancing the human interface but revolutionizing it. In step with that commitment, we fully intend to lead the way into human-interface omnipresence.