Google bought a UK startup that uses sound turn your screen into a speaker

Google has quietly bought a UK startup named Redux that uses vibrations to turn phone and tablet displays into speakers, reports Bloomberg. It’s not clear when the purchase was made, or for how much the company was bought, but the acquisition happened in August last year according to Crunchbase.

Redux developed a number of technologies involving sound and touch in mobile devices, but never placed them in any major consumer products. The Verge had some hands-on time with the company’s tech last year, trying out a tablet which vibrated its screen to function as a speaker, as well as a number of displays that used haptic feedback to mimic the feel of buttons, sliders, and dials.

The results in both cases were impressive. The sound quality from the vibrating screen was decent, and the haptic feedback made it feel like you were touching, if not physical buttons, then at least something. They clicked and buzzed in a way no other phone screens currently do. Here’s a video and report from Mashable on Redux’s screen-to-speaker tech from last year’s MWC:

For Google, a company keen to prove itself in the world of hardware, the attraction of such tech is obvious. Turning screens into speakers would help free up space inside smartphones for other components like bigger batteries. And displays with tactile feedback could offer a unique selling point for the company’s devices — similar to Apple’s pressure-sensitive “3D touch” iPhone screens.

“We can turn the screen into a high quality loudspeaker, eliminating the need for an embedded speaker,” Redux’s Nedko Ivanov told New Electronics in an interview back in 2016. “When it comes to mobile phones, we are not only saving valuable real estate and creating a waterproof housing, we are eliminating the need for additional speaker holes and most importantly, improving the audio quality.”