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Like the bright orange power button on Google’s Pixel 4? It could become a relic, replaced by virtual buttons. Stephen Shankland/CNET This story is part of CES 2020. Our editors bring you complete CES coverage and scour the showroom floor for the hottest new tech gadgets around. Get ready to say bye to buttons. Next year, some phones will replace the physical buttons for power and volume with ultrasonic sensors that power virtual buttons. The benefits include better waterproofing and durability, at least in the eyes of startup UltraSense Systems that’s hoping to capitalize on the idea.When it’s time to mash the power button or crank up the volume on today’s phones, you’re most likely depressing a button that physically moves. UltraSense, coming out of stealth mode Tuesday, has now detailed its first product, a tiny chip package just 1.4mm by 2.4mm across and 0.5mm deep that generates inaudible sound waves. CNET NowAll the latest tech news delivered to your inbox. It’s FREE!The sensor, which will be demonstrated at CES next month, is called TouchPoint and can figure out if you’re pressing a button by analyzing how those sound waves disperse or reflect. It also can tell when it shouldn’t respond, like from water splashing or keys bumping, said UltraSense Chief Business Officer Dan Goehl.The top five phone companies are evaluating or incorporating TouchPoint sensors, and the first phones using them should arrive in mid-2020, UltraSense said. The phone makers like the technology because it means they don’t have to cut holes for real buttons into phone chassis and line them with gaskets to keep liquids out, Goehl said. And the sensors cost about the same as physical buttons, about $2.It’s not yet clear whether UltraSense will show up in flagship phones or lower-profile models where manufacturers might be willing to take more of a risk. But the trend in the computing industry is clear: moving parts and mechanical components are disappearing.”Consumers prefer real buttons because we’re wired to like tactility,” said Techsponential analyst Avi Greengart. “But sometimes the benefits — waterproofing, cost, durability, design — trump that.”The UltraSense TouchPoint sensor is dwarfed by a penny. UltraSense No moving partsThere are lots of examples of disappearing physical controls. Apple’s first iPod had a rotating wheel, soon replaced by a touch-sensitive pad that could tell virtually when you were twirling your finger. More recently, Apple dropped the home buttons on iPhones and iPads, freeing up room for bigger screens and moving the industry toward swipe gestures instead.Hard drives with spinning platters are vanishing from personal computers, replaced by solid-state drives. MacBook trackpads no longer have hinges but instead simulate finger-push clicks with a tiny motor. Devices cool enough to run without whirring fans use less power, are quieter and don’t fail from faulty bearings. And the physical keyboards that defined BlackBerry’s smartphones have all but vanished.Key to UltraSense’s success is how much it’ll be able to reproduce what we’re used to, like the physical protrusion of a button we can find
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Hands-on with the Hyper GaN Stackable USB-C charger [Video]

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