On Monday, Synaptics (NASDAQ:SYNA), a developer of interface solutions for communication, mobile computing, and entertainment devices, announced the introduction of Onyx -- a next-generation mobile phone concept. Uniquely, the phone has no buttons. It's all one touch-pad screen -- kind of like an Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPod on steroids.

According to this article in BusinessWeek, the transparent touchscreen is sensitive enough to discern signs, gestures, shapes, and even body parts. For instance, users can answer calls by simply holding the phone up to their cheek. The phone will also allow users to make an "X" with their fingers to close out a task, or send a message by swiping the text off the screen.

I have only seen pictures of the phone, so I don't know how intuitive any of these gestures are. But given the success of Motorola's (NYSE:MOT) RAZR phone, I do know that a unique design can give a company a winning edge.

To this end, Motorola designers recently announced they were trying to "humanize" their phones by allowing the devices to "read" users' emotions. As an example, the designers said the phone might light up in a specific color when a boyfriend/girlfriend calls.

Still other companies have waterproofed their phones so people can make calls in the shower, and Nokia (NYSE:NOK) -- the world's No. 1 cell-phone maker -- is experimenting with foldable, origami-like communication devices and cell-phone necklaces.

As a stodgy phone user who can still remember the days of rotary-dial phones, and who continues to view his cell phone as a nuisance as much as a convenience, I am probably not the best person to assess whether the market will respond to a buttonless, mood-changing, origami-like phone that can be worn around the neck in the shower.

I am, however, confident that mobile communication devices will continue to advance and change, and that this trend of viewing cell phones as fashion accessories as much as functional devices will grow. Mobile phones will also likely continue their transition into all-in-one devices that contain a phone, camera, MP3 player, and personal computing device.

As this happens, the mechanical buttons will continue to consume valuable "real estate" on those devices. And while the Onyx is only a prototype right now -- meaning that it isn't expected to show up on the market in its present configuration -- by providing an interface much like Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) Windows, where users can drag and drop information, Synaptics' new interface design offers OEMs a viable way to overcome this "real estate" problem.

If Synaptics -- whose stock took a big hit last year after Apple introduced a new touchpad using chips from Cypress Semiconductor (NYSE:CY) -- can do this, it might have found a way to recapture some of its past glory. In fact, given that the average cell-phone user now changes her phone every 17.6 months (down from 18 months just a year ago), and that the market for cell phones is now $134 billion and growing, the company may have found an even larger potential market.

The trick, of course, will be to get users to first accept and then demand this radical new interface. If Synaptics can pull this off, it should be able to use some of the extra "hand time" its devices are creating to swipe some nice profits.

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Fool contributor Jack Uldrich is just getting used to swiping his credit cards, so it'll probably take him some time to learn to swipe his phone. He does not own stock in any of the companies mentioned in this article, with the exception of Microsoft. The Fool has a disclosure policy.