Sentons has teamed up with Lenovo, Asus, and Tencent to create gaming smartphones with virtual buttons, which can be used as controllers that sense gestures, including presses, swipes, and taps.
Lenovo has come up with the Lenovo Legion Smartphone, while Tencent and Asus created the Rog Phone 3 using Sentons’ tech. San Jose, California-based Sentons powers its virtual buttons with a technology it calls software-defined surfaces (SDS) and it is adding an an SDS GamingBar that improve your gameplay experience with mobile games, said Sentons CEO Jess Lee, in an interview with GamesBeat.
The uses for the new technology make mobile gaming more like other game platforms. You could, for instance, play a game of pinball on a phone and tap the sides of the phone, rather than buttons, to operate the flippers, Lee said.
“We’ve been working hard on our technology and also we’re growing our customer base,” Lee said. “We have two new phones launching with our technology. This is an enhanced version of what you’ve seen before, and we’re calling it the GamingBar. It’s a more consolidated, refined, and higher-performance version of our prior gaming solutions.”
The GamingBar is a modern interface with the reliability of physical buttons, but instead of those buttons, it uses ultrasonically modulated discrete sensors. GamingBar allows phone manufacturers to transform the edge of any device, made from any material, into a force-sensitive touch interface. That helps because gamers have to interact in a very complicated way in games, and the touchscreen surface of the phone isn’t sufficient for those functions, Lee said.
The new game phones come from phone makers who have decided to get rid of physical buttons to make the devices simpler and more aesthetically pleasing. But that doesn’t mean they have to give up the functionality and simplicity of buttons, said Sam Sheng, chief technology officer of Sentons, in an interview with GamesBeat.
“There’s a lot going on the screens. So the driver for these folks and others in the pipeline is to declutter the screen and move your finger off screen because it’s ergonomically better,” Sheng said. “Holding down a button is little uncomfortable and not a great user experience. The haptics (sense of touch) is fully integrated, so you get that tactile experience of a button with Sentons.”
Lenovo Legion Smartphone
Lenovo’s game phone users the ultrasonic controls from Sentons. The Sentons SDS GamingBar powers the “Y triggers,” turning the phone into a device that is more like a console game controller. It has no physical buttons on its edge, but if you tap on the sides with your fingers, you get the effect of having virtual buttons.
Players can customize the phone with light to hard taps and multiple slides and swipes. These gestures can activate in-game maneuvers like changing POV, firing, reloading, screen record, and other tasks that would be tough to do with just a touchscreen control.
Sentons gives the company the ability to update the capabilities of the virtual buttons through over-the-air updates. You can use your fingers to control functions in a game, but you can also swipe with a finger to change the volume on a smart speaker.
“We took all of the learnings and all the next-generation technology and engineering that we’ve done and encapsulated it into a standard product that we call GamingBar,” Lee said.
Rog Phone 3 from Tencent and Asus
Sentons’ SDS GamingBar is also part of the customizable, buttonless Rog Phone 3 from Tencent and Asus. The new phone, also being unveiled today, uses the ultrasonic controllers to serve as “AirTriggers” in the smartphone for the Chinese mobile gaming market.
This unlocks new capabilities for fully customizable interactive experiences while removing the structural difficulties introduced by mechanical buttons, Lee said.
The ROG Phone 3 from Tencent and Asus uses AirTriggers through an interactive, bezel-less edge on the device. One of the most popular features on the ROG Phone II that launched last year, AirTriggers can be customized to recognize any tap, press, squeeze, or gesture with the accuracy needed for pro-level gaming, Lee said.
Research from JD.com showed that the SDSWave technology used in the ROG Phone II’s AirTriggers earned a 99% user approval rating. And with the new GamingBar, the AirTriggers are better.
The new GamingBar comes upgraded with five times the gaming performance and a unique slide feature over the ROG Phone II. Whether it’s used to reload ammunition with a long-squeeze, control direction with a light swipe, or fire with a tap, the GamingBar gives the gamer an edge, Lee said.
GamingBar also presents new opportunities for developers because it can be programmed to activate multiple in-game controls depending on the user’s gesture, so developers are no longer limited to one control per physical button.
Sentons, founded in 2011, has 50 employees. The company has raised $37.7 million to date from New Enterprise Associates and Northern Light Venture Capital.