By Jon Fortt
October 4, 2006

Synaptics, a company that makes those TouchPads and other touch-sensitive interfaces on laptops, released a concept design a few weeks ago that my colleague Michal Lev-Ram just passed along to me: the Onyx.

Now, I’m not exactly sure how this is supposed to work, but you can at least click the image for a closer look.

It appears to be a touch-screen phone without buttons. You know, like the TouchPad, which is a mouse without buttons.

Of course, a phone without buttons sounds like a nightmare to me – kind of like a keyboard without keys – but I’m willing to suspend judgment here. Synaptics says in its press release that the thing could conceivably answer calls when you hold it up to your cheek, without having to press a button.

I’m a little torn on this.

On the one hand, brainstorming is great. Ideas make the innovation world go round. On the other hand, the very idea seems to ignore some of the basic stuff we learned years ago when the first smartphones came out. A lot of women (and actors) had a problem with big, flat screens they had to put their faces against, because makeup would smear all over them.

Now, if that smeared screen is supposed to be the entire interface in this concept … well, I’m not so sure they should have let these images out of the garage. It looks kinda cool, but so far the practical application escapes me. But I said I was going to suspend judgment, right? Go ahead, somebody. Build one of these things and surprise me. (Thank you, Apple. I’m convinced.)

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