Google late last year bought a U.K.-based startup whose technology turns surfaces such as phone displays into speakers, eliminating the need for small speakers in mobile devices, per Bloomberg. Redux's technology frees up space inside a handset for batteries or other parts, an archived version of its former website says.
Redux in April announced the development of "panel audio technology" to replace smartphone speakers with sound coming directly from a vibrating screen. It also created haptics effects that give users the sensation of feeling buttons under their touchscreens, per Mashable.
Google declined to comment on a purchase price or other the details of the acquisition. Backed by investors including Arie Capital, Redux raised $5 million in March 2017. The U.K. company had 178 patents, according to its LinkedIn page.
One of the most frustrating parts of smartphone design are speakers that direct sound outward from the edges of phones, leading users to cup their hands around each side to hear the audio better. As smartphones become tools for consuming media, any improvement in sound would make a big difference, even though headphones are inexpensive and easy to find in stores.
Google has recently made a more dedicated push into mobile hardware with both its Home devices and well-received line of Pixel smartphones, now in their second generation. Being able to integrate Redux's technology into these products could give the Alphabet-owned company another edge in a space where it needs to remain innovative in order to compete with more established players like Apple.
It could also open new opportunities for marketers. Redux developed technology to create haptic feedback that gives the sense of touch on a surface such as a screen, which it demonstrated last year, per Mashable's Stan Schroeder. Adding a tactile element like this into mobile advertising could make marketers' efforts more tangible and memorable to consumers.
Removing speakers and physical buttons would likely also make Google's phones more resistant to water, a key challenge in designing a mobile device. Apple's iPhone 7 was designed without a separate headphone jack and was its first model to be water-resistant, but that didn't make the phone's speakers invulnerable to dunk tests, as CNet demonstrated. Apple claimed the phone could withstand immersion in shallow water up to 30 minutes.