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What could make your next smartphone more waterproof?

Answer: Virtual buttons.

wet smartphone_shutterstock_674357041
CNET reports that 2020 may be the year in which we bid physical buttons adieu. UltraSense Systems, a startup company, has developed virtual buttons that it says will be coming to some smartphones in mid-2020.

UltraSense will demo its TouchPoint technology at the annual Consumer Electronics Show next month in Las Vegas. The system creates inaudible sound waves based on how you “press” the virtual button and then analyzes those waves. This allows it to determine whether a button is actually being pushed, or if the phone has just bumped up against something in your pocket or purse.

Being able to eliminate buttons would be a boon for waterproofing smartphones, as it would eliminate the need to carve holes in the phone’s chassis. The company says its technology can be paired with haptic sensors in order to generate the feeling that you are pressing a button, much like Apple did with the home button in its seventh-generation iPhone. And at just $2 each, these TouchPoint buttons are basically equal in price to traditional buttons, so in theory they should be an easy transition for phone makers.