Apple to Make Haptics Big Technology?


PMUK Blog Novint Falcon


The major question in the mobile phone market has to be what new technologies has apple lined up for their new generation of iPhones? Three patents give us strong clues to what goodies we can look forward to. The most exciting to me has to be haptic technology.

Haptics is force feedback technology, with the two major applications being medical and gaming (if you’ve not seen it yet google the Novint Falcon). Virtual worlds are getting more and more immersive but they are still essentially a visual environment, haptics brings in the sense of touch to the artificial.


I first experienced a haptic controller in my cybernetics degree and I was both excited and infuriated by it. I placed my five fingers of my right hand into the five finger slots and put on the 3D glasses. What was on the screen was a small box with three objects, a ball, a cube and a pyramid. What surprised me was that’s what I felt in my hand as well. As soon as I picked up an object with the controller I instantly began to feel the virtual world that I was observing. I could pick up a smooth ball and it felt like a smooth ball, the shape, texture and weight was that of a soft ball. I dropped that and picked up a rough cube and again it felt like a rough cube. I could slide my fingers across the surface and it felt bumpy. I had experienced a artificially designed environment in a whole new way.

The controller used some very small but very expensive motors to apply force and vibration back on my fingers. The controller was no longer simply to send data to the computer, it fed as much information outwards making the whole experience viscal. So why was I frustrated? Because this was an incredible technology yet unused in the real world. Much like the promise of 3D technology it has yet to break into mainstream markets in any significant way.


So what does Apple mean to haptics then. Well it is a technology that has now entered the phone world. The LG Cookie is already on the market with Tactile feedback giving the user a more enhanced experience using the touch screen. But again it hasn’t quite become a uniform technology (probably because touch screen is not yet uniform).


In my opinion I believe that, at least to some extent, haptic iPhones will offer a new dimension to superior performance of the product. Where touch screens have fallen down in the past is lacking the sensitivity required in alerting the user when a button is pressed. The integration of haptics into touch screens ensures that the user receives feedback from their phone. With such variety in applications on the iPhone, haptics to could improve the user experience phenomenally. For example, one application allows you to play instruments on the iPhone, haptics could make it feel like you really are pressing a key on a piano or plucking a string on a guitar. You will feel the recoil of the gun on first person shooters, or feel texture and shape to characters when your typing a text. Such is the potential of haptics.


What Apple therefore offers for me with this technology is a big step forward in a promising yet not quite exploited technology. I imagine it will really start to show us what tactile feedback has to offer. And hopefully it will make other manufacturers, perhaps even other industries really push the boundaries in their R&D development.

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