User interaction design appears to be the focus of the next-generation PlayStation Portable (slideshow). Sony (NYSE: SNE) isn't taking any risks and filed a patent for a second touchpad on the back, which is one of the key features of the next PSP.

The patent application does not explicitly mentions a gaming console, but handheld devices in general, including cell phones. Sony indicates that a touchpad on the back may be much more comfortable to use than a touchscreen on the front:

The mobile phone can be cradled in a user's palm while being securely grasped on edges thereof by the thumb and forefingers of the user's hand. The touchpad, being located on the backside of the device, can be operated by a user's index finger, for example. Accordingly, the mobile phone can be more securely grasped by the user during operation, and the user's fingers and/or thumb do not obstruct the user's view of the display during operation.

The detailed description of the patent provides some clues how Sony imagines the technology to work and improve screen navigation:

In some embodiments, the touch-sensitive input device can be generally coextensive with the display screen on the opposite side of the device. In other words, each point on the display screen would have a corresponding point on the touch-sensitive input device directly on the opposite side of the device. Thus, a user could select an item displayed on the display screen simply by touching the touch-sensitive input device on the back of the electronic device in the same location, albeit on the on back of the screen. As will be appreciated, by providing an indicator on the display surface as previously described, or utilizing a semi-transparent display screen that allows a user to see his finger(s) through the display screen, more accurate touching of the touch-sensitive input device in the desired location can be facilitated.

This sounds very much like a technology that Sony will not limit to its PSP. The backside touchscreen could be a next-generation touch technology for smartphones. For a change, Apple may not be first with this one, and we are glad to see that Sony is making much more aggressive moves to differentiate itself from Apple. It is the kind of idea that may have also helped Windows Phone 7 to get more attention.

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