Mobile devices such as smartphones are truly amazing in what they can do, but are often frustrating to use - many people don’t particularly enjoy poking at tiny buttons, or obscuring the onscreen display with their own fingers. Newly-developed technology, however, is addressing these annoyances. Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University's Human-Computer Interaction Institute have found a way of turning mobile devices into their own mice.

The system was designed by PhD student Chris Harrison and his faculty adviser, Prof. Scott Hudson. The pair discovered that by placing two mouse-style optical sensors on the back of a device, then placing it against a surface, the whole object could work like a mouse. If you wanted to select the top left icon on your smartphone display, for instance, you could just move the whole phone in an upward left direction.

The new input method, called Minput, responds to up-down, side-to-side, twisting and flicking motions. Twisting proved particularly popular with test users, and could be used to zoom in or out of photos or documents. Flicking, on the other hand, could be used to toggle between photos.

Harrison and Hudson also see great potential for fine work, such as highlighting a line of text within a document, that would be hard to do on a small touchscreen.

For their prototype, the Carnegie Mellon researchers used a wristwatch-sized television. Processing was performed by a separate laptop computer, although Harrison thinks it would be relatively easy to miniaturize the processors and move them onboard. Given that the sensors were only about a dollar each, Minput would not necessarily be a costly extra feature.