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Photos: Reinventing the scroll wheel

A visit to Synaptics' headquarters in Santa Clara, Calif., turned up some notable concept designs.

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Topic: Hardware
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1 of 8 Bill Detwiler/ZDNet

Dual-mode touchpad

A recent visit by CNET News.com to Synaptics' headquarters in Santa Clara, Calif., turned up several notable concept designs that might make their way into future PCs.

The company, perhaps best-known for its iPod click wheel, actually receives the bulk of its revenue from designing and building touchpads for notebook PCs. One example of a current product featuring Synaptics' technology is Toshiba's Qosmio entertainment notebook. This is a dual-mode touchpad, which means it can either operate in cursor mode or in multimedia mode by tapping the button in the upper right-hand corner with the arrows. The touchpad can be used to adjust the volume or launch different applications when in multimedia mode, as shown here.

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Scroll wheel

Synaptics is hoping to cash in on the future vision of the digital home, where we all watch TV on our PCs with wireless keyboards or remote controls. In the company's labs, Synaptics is demonstrating a regular keyboard that comes with an iPod-like scroll wheel in one corner. The wheel lets users adjust the volume or flip channels in the middle of typing an instant message.

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Demonstration keyboard

The demonstration keyboard actually has little buttons for emoticons on the bottom right hand side of the keyboard, making it even easier to express your disgust with the coach's decision to punt from the opponent's 35-yard line.

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Remote control

Synaptics is also working on a remote control that features the same scroll wheel for controlling the volume or channel. Many people are frustrated by the current designs used on DVD or set-top box remote controls, and are looking for something much easier, said Mariel van Tatenhove, senior product line director for Synaptics.

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5 of 8 Bill Detwiler/ZDNet

Sliding media control

PC companies are starting to build more and more notebooks with entertainment applications in mind, and the increasing use of flash memory in notebooks will allow users to listen to music or other audio with the notebook lid closed. This concept for a sliding media control on a notebook would give users a few basic controls they could access while the notebook was either open or closed.

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Slideout media control outside

With the notebook's lid closed, it's still possible to advance to the next track or adjust the volume. Synaptics is currently pitching this idea, along with several others demonstrated on Monday, to PC companies, van Tatenhove said.

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7 of 8 Bill Detwiler/ZDNet

Outside controls

The company is also looking to take the notion of outside notebook controls a step further, working with display manufacturers on a notebook interface that could access e-mails, calendar appointments or contact information on a secondary screen. Some notebooks already have secondary screens built onto their lids, but Synaptics hopes to add the touchpad technology shown to the right of the display for scrolling through the applications.

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Dell media trackpad

A simpler version of the multimedia touchpad might look like this, with an area for controlling the cursor ringed by controls for volume, brightness and audio playback. LEDs (light-emitting diodes) are also used on the right side of the touchpad to indicate the level of the volume.

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