Touchscreen Neglect: Tiffany's Mobile Ring Move

Plenty has been written about the umpteen ways retailers can leverage smartphones, from their geolocation capabilities to their text and phone capabilities and even embedding a chip in the devices and turning them into a loyalty or payment card. But one physical element of the phones that has yet to be creatively used is the touchscreen. No one has yet leveraged it, but Tiffany & Co. is getting darn close.

On Monday (June 14), Tiffany announced its new mobile app, which sports a feature called Ring Sizer. Bypassing the tracing efforts done by other non-in-person ring sales, the app asks customers to place a current ring (hopefully one that fits) "directly on the screen and align it with the correct circle in the guide," according to a Tiffany statement.

We assume Tiffany has taken extra care to guarantee that the ring size images don't scale to the size of different phones, which could make the whole effort irrelevant. But what if Tiffany didn't leave it up to the customer to choose the right circle and line things up properly? What if the ring could be pressed on the screen and the app would take a precise measurement from that?

Efforts would have to be made to ensure the metal in the ring conducted electricity in the right way for the touchscreen to "see" the ring. It would be nice to avoid the strange South Korean case of commuters using sausages to interact with their smartphones when it gets too cold to remove their gloves. Then again, if someone made a ring out of South Korean sausages, that could solve all.

There's also the issue of the mounted jewels in some rings, precious stones that might make laying the ring flat on the screen difficult.

Could future touchscreens perform other functions beyond registering clicks? The screens now look for electrical current and heat. Could a medical application use the heat sensitivity to take someone's temperature? Could it take a pulse? Can a consumer's electrical impulses be mapped and used as a supplemental authentication, in a similar—albeit much less sophisticated—way that differential power analysis (DPA) does?

This month has seen others continue the trend of pushing retail uses of mobile in creative ways. On Monday (June 14), Best Buy rolled out an app that explicitly undermines the "please turn your phone off" rule when watching a movie in a public theater, with the introduction of Best Buy Movie Mode.

The app provides additional entertainment features during a film's showing. For example, with the new film Despicable Me, it translates "what the film's mischievous little yellow characters, the Minions, are saying. The app acts as a translator during the 3D theatrical end credits for the special language of the Minions. The app will also translate the Minion language throughout the entire movie on Best Buy's exclusive Despicable Me DVD released later this year," Best Buy said in a statement.

But encouraging the use of a PDA while a film is running is not likely to sit well with others in the audience, which is why the first run is trying to dilute the criticism. The app will initially run only during the film's closing credits. But that seems a short-lived limitation if the technology proves popular. Best Buy said the app also "automatically dims the mobile screen, silences the ringer and discourages texting to ensure audiences have a positive movie-going experience." (To nitpick, ensuring audiences have a positive movie-going experience is probably going to be dictated by the writing, acting and directing. Not even the best iPhone app in the world could save The Adventures of Pluto Nash.)

Still, Best Buy deserves credit for creatively thinking of new ways to use mobile.