VentureBeat: Lenovo, Asus, and Tencent launch mobile game phones with Sentons GamingBar virtual buttons

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Sentons has teamed up with Lenovo, Asus, and Tencent to create gaming smartphones with virtual buttons, which use controllers that sense gestures such as presses, swipes, and taps.

Lenovo has come up with the Legion Smartphone, while Tencent and Asus created the Rog Phone 3 using Sentons’ tech. The San Jose, California-based Sentons powers its virtual buttons with a technology it calls software-defined surfaces (SDS) and it’s adding an SDS GamingBar that improves your gameplay experience with mobile games, said Sentons CEO Jess Lee in an interview with GamesBeat.

The uses for the new technology make mobile gaming more like other platforms. You could, for instance, play a game of pinball on a phone and tap the sides of the phone, rather than buttons, to operate the flippers, Lee said.

“We’ve been working hard on our technology, and also we’re growing our customer base,” Lee said. “We have two new phones launching with our technology. This is an enhanced version of what you’ve seen before, and we’re calling it the GamingBar. It’s a more consolidated, refined, and higher-performance version of our prior gaming solutions.”

The GamingBar uses ultrasonically modulated discrete sensors instead of buttons. It lets phone manufacturers transform the edge of any device, made from any material, into a force-sensitive touch interface. That helps because gamers sometimes interact in a very complicated way in games, and the touchscreen surface of the phone isn’t sufficient for those functions, Lee said.

The new game phones come from brands that have picked style over functionality. But that doesn’t mean they have to give up buttons, said Sentons CTO Sam Sheng.

“There’s a lot going on [with] the screens. So the driver for these folks and others in the pipeline is to declutter the screen and move your finger off screen because it’s ergonomically better,” Sheng said. “Holding down a button is a little uncomfortable and not a great user experience. The haptics [sense of touch] is fully integrated, so you get that tactile experience of a button with Sentons.”

Lenovo Legion Smartphone

Lenovo’s game phone uses the ultrasonic controls from Sentons. The Sentons SDS GamingBar powers the “Y triggers.” If you tap on the sides with your fingers, you get the effect of having virtual buttons.

Players can customize the phone with light-to-hard taps and multiple slides and swipes. These gestures can activate in-game maneuvers like changing POV, firing, reloading, screen record, and other tasks that would be tough to do with just a touchscreen control.

Sentons can also update the capabilities of the virtual buttons through over-the-air updates.

Rog Phone 3 from Tencent and Asus

Sentons’ SDS GamingBar is also part of the customizable, buttonless ROG Phone 3 from Tencent and Asus. Also being unveiled today, the ROG uses the ultrasonic controllers to serve as “AirTriggers.” This unlocks new capabilities for customizable interactive experiences while removing the structural difficulties introduced by mechanical buttons, Lee said.

The ROG Phone 3 uses AirTriggers through an interactive, bezel-less edge on the device. One of the most popular features on the ROG Phone II that launched last year, AirTriggers can be customized to recognize any tap, press, squeeze, or gesture with the accuracy needed for pro-level gaming, Lee said. Research from showed that the SDSWave technology used in the ROG Phone II’s AirTriggers earned a 99% user approval rating. And with the new GamingBar, the AirTriggers are better.

GamingBar also presents new opportunities for developers because it can be programmed to activate multiple in-game controls depending on the user’s gesture, so developers are no longer limited to one control per physical button.

Sentons, founded in 2011, has 50 employees. The company has raised $37.7 million to date from New Enterprise Associates and Northern Light Venture Capital.

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