ModeShift Helps Motorola Rokr E8 Stand Out

The handset maker said it combined mechanical engineering with ergonomic research to improve the user interface on multimedia phones.

Elena Malykhina, Technology Journalist

January 16, 2008

3 Min Read

(click image for larger view)ModeShift is the most notable feature in Motorola's new Rokr E8 music-centric phone; the technology transforms the phone into a music player, a camera, or a basic phone (dial keypad) with the press of a button.view the image gallery

Motorola introduced several new mobile phones at last week's Consumer Electronics Show, but only one phone, the Rokr E8, stood out from the crowd. It looks and feels different because it contains Motorola's ModeShift, a technology that is taking the company in a whole new direction with its phone design.

After reviewing industry research, Motorola noticed a trend where consumer expressed increasing frustration with the complexity of their phone interface. It started with the addition of cameras to phones and progressed to music players and video players, driving consumers to read lengthy user manuals just to figure out how their phone works.

Motorola gathered its engineering and designs teams and created a concept that would ease the complexity of multimedia phones. It combined mechanical engineering with ergonomic research, in essence the understanding of how a person would interact with a phone; for example, what they would feel, what the spacing of the keypad would be, and how they would move their thumb on a scroll wheel. Then about 40 different layers were added, including optical coding, lighting, sensors, adhesives, and many others. And that's how ModeShift was born.

"It simplifies the user interface and helps people understand what mode they're in, making it totally obvious and apparent," explained Roger Ady, director of engineering at Motorola's Consumer Experience Design group, who helped develop the technology.

ModeShift is the most notable feature in Motorola's new Rokr E8 music-centric phone, which will become available sometime in March. It's the first Motorola device to use the technology, transforming the phone into a music player, a camera, or a basic phone with the press of a button.

ModeShift is a way for users to control the functions they're using on the phone. It uses tactile response to simulate a key click. There are three "modes" that can be turned on: the phone mode that only displays the dial keypad and the basic phone functions; the music mode that makes all the other keys go away and only the music player keys are displayed; and the camera mode that once again dims all the other keys and only shows camera functions like zoom.

When the phone is off, it's a blank canvas with a smooth surface, with the exception of a prominent scroll wheel. When the phone is on, its keys are viewable in direct sunlight, said Ady, in an interview.

Motorola couldn't share details of future phones that will incorporate ModeShift, but did confirm there will be others. Ady said ModeShift could also work for other phone features, such as video players and book readers, expanding on the modes that currently come with the Rokr E8.

"There are certain portions of this technology that we've patented. I haven't seen anything like this on the market," Ady said. "We've hit an interesting space that nobody has approached yet."

About the Author(s)

Elena Malykhina

Technology Journalist

Elena Malykhina began her career at The Wall Street Journal, and her writing has appeared in various news media outlets, including Scientific American, Newsday, and the Associated Press. For several years, she was the online editor at Brandweek and later Adweek, where she followed the world of advertising. Having earned the nickname of "gadget girl," she is excited to be writing about technology again for InformationWeek, where she worked in the past as an associate editor covering the mobile and wireless space. She now writes about the federal government and NASA’s space missions on occasion.

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