Too embarrassed to pull out your ancient, non-touchscreen mobile phone in front of your smartphone-toting friends? Sick of the sniggers and jeers as you search through your contacts using – gasp – buttons!? Desperately want to join the “in” touchscreen crowd but are still stuck in a contract that’s you can’t afford to break? Relax. New software, called TouchDevice, can give touchscreen capabilities to an ordinary mobile phone by using the phone’s microphone. In fact, it can even extend the touch surface beyond the screen to include the entire phone’s casing.

Aimed at providing a touchscreen interface to mid-tier mobile phones, TouchDevice from Input Dynamics Ltd. detects the sounds resulting from the user tapping the phone’s screen or case. The system uses the same principle of the Skinput user interface we looked at earlier this year that turned the human body into a touch interface by recognizing the different acoustic patterns produced by tapping various parts of the body. Since taps made at different locations on the phone produce a different audio signature, the software is able to detect where the tap occurred to within about one square centimeter (0.15 square inches).

“Our solution uses the audio signature (sound) generated by the user’s tap. This is detected via the voice microphone and then statistically analyzed to determine the position by comparing it with a set of known templates. The intention is that a user could use a stylus, nail or fingertip. If the touch is too soft then not enough sound energy will be generated to be detected. This is a positive because it reduces the frequency of unintended actions, when say the phone is in a pocket or handbag,” Input Dynamics’ Mike Bradley told Gizmag.

The company is even working on refining the algorithms to detect the scratching of a fingernail across the surface of the phone to allow for scrolling, zooming or panning. There’s also plans to give the system multi-touch capability in the future.

Because the technology uses the phone’s existing voice microphone and requires less than 10 mips processing power, it will work on the majority of mobile phones without any need for modifying the phone’s hardware. The software can be uploaded into existing phones or built into entry-level phones without the requirement for expensive hardware.

Surprisingly, Bradley says the first applications for the TouchDevice technology will actually be phones that already boast a touchscreen. It will be used to extend the touch area beyond the screen, giving the phone FUSE type capability. However, the target market for Input Dynamics is mid-tier phones that don’t have touch screen capability so it is currently talking to handset manufacturers.

Via New Scientist