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Software Trick Gives Any Smartphone Apple’s New 3D Touch Feature

Use the Force Phone.

New iPhones have less and less going for them now that smartphones are a pretty ubiquitous product with a relatively standard set of features, but one of their latest new bells and/or whistles was “3D Touch,” a feature that senses how much force is applied when touching the screen. It requires special hardware to pull off, so it couldn’t be enabled on all phones with a simple software update—or so we thought.

Researchers at the University of Michigan have replicated 3D Touch using ultrasonic waves—produced by a phone’s speaker and picked up by its microphone—to detect pressure in a similar manner to Apple’s tech. Force Phone, which gets bonus points just for sounding more like operating your phone like a Jedi, also detects pressure on any part of the phone as opposed to just the touch screen, which means it can detect squeezes, as well. The sound is played at a frequency outside the range of human hearing, but your phone’s microphone can pick it up just fine.

Not only is a purely software-based solution kind of a blow to the iPhone 6s’s (and other similarly advanced Android phones) exclusivity of the feature, but it also makes the extra cost of doing it Apple’s way seem like a waste. University of Michigan doctoral student Yu-Chih Tung, who worked on the technology along with Professor Kang Shin, said in the press release, “Having expensive and bulky sensors installed into smartphones can solve every problem we have solved, but the added cost and laborious installation prevent phone manufacturers from doing it. Our sound-based solution can fill this gap, providing the functionality without making any hardware modification. Everything is just software.”

How well it works in the wild with ambient noise and other phones making use of the feature is unknown, but TechCrunch reports that Shin and Tung will present their work at MobiSys, an annual conference on mobile device tech, in Singapore next month—oh, and that the sound is played at a low enough volume not to drive your dog insane, which is nice.

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Dan is many things, including a game developer, animator, martial artist, and at least semi-professional pancake chef. He lives in North Carolina with Lisa Brown (his wife) and Liz Lemon (his dog), both of whom are the best, and he will never stop reminding The Last Jedi's detractors that Luke Skywalker's pivotal moment in Return of the Jedi was literally throwing his lightsaber away and refusing to fight.