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This Tiny Trackpad Fits on a Fingernail

But why would you actually want one?

This track pad fits on your thumbnail, and can be customized with nail stickers. (Courtesy of MIT Media Lab)
smithsonian.com

Welcome to the high-tech future of nail art. Inspired by colorful manicure stickers, MIT graduate student Cindy Hsin-Liu Kao has developed a wireless trackpad that fits on your thumbnail. It's called NailO, and, yes, like nail art, it's meant to be fashionable—it's designed to work with a "detachable membrane on its surface, so that users could coordinate surface patterns with their outfits," MIT News says.

Kao and colleagues designed NailO—currently just a prototype—to augment and control other devices. The tiny trackpad is equipped with the same sensors that are found in smartphone screens, explains Fusion. It could become a button to answer the phone when your hands are full in the kitchen, according to MIT News, or a way to send a text while you're in a meeting. Dream up the possibilities: a car key, a remote control, a snooze button.

With the debut of Apple's smartwatch, tiny wearables have been getting a lot of attention, not always positive. The reviews suggest what the technophobic among us have always known: Integrating a piece of technology not just into your life, let alone onto your body, can be pretty annoying.

Here's how Steve Kovac described the experience of wearing a Samsung Gear Live watch at Business Insider last summer: "New email? Buzz. New text? Buzz. The thing won't shut up." At Bloomberg, Josh Topolsky writes that the notifications on the Apple Watch are "maddening at first." After the first annoying trial run, he spends days trying to figure out how to fit the watch into his life. He ultimately concludes that "you'll want one, but you don't need one."

NailO doesn't buzz or flash; it's something of a one-trick pony. And that could be a good thing. As Steve Hodges, leader of the Sensors and Devices group at Microsoft Research notes it could become just one part of the "little ecosystem" of input channels.

You already have a lot of those channels—from mice, to keyboards, to the microphone on your earbud wires (themselves a "wearable" of sorts). What's one more, especially if it fits easily into your Sunday night manicure routine? 

About Shannon Palus

Shannon Palus is a science writer, and a researcher for Popular Science. Her work has appeared in Discover, Slate, Ars Technica, and elsewhere. She is based in Philadelphia.

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