Researchers have developed haptic technologies, which intensify the sensation of touch on mobile devices. In addition to adding a more touchy-feely dimension to video games, there is considerable scope for haptics in the workplace and in learning environments.
Even though you can feel vibrations on most of the mobile devices currently in existence, the sensation is usually rather limited. At the Mobile World Congress, held in Barcelona on 25-28 February, L'Atelier met up with Immersion, a Californian company which has developed a technology that substantially improves touch control. From the Greek word ‘haptikos’, meaning pertaining to the sense of touch, haptic technology enables various vibration sensations to be integrated into mobile applications so that users can feel the force or resistance of the device –for instance feeling the ‘click’ of a virtual button when you press it. Chris Ullrich, Vice President of User Experience at Immersion, emphases that demand is growing for mobile device using technologies that “really let you feel and touch.”
Increasing tactile realism
The tactile screens available today don’t give the physical feedback human beings need to fully register the interactions that are taking place. Applications integrating this new technology can incorporate a greater number of ‘actuators’, such as motors, which create the vibrations and thereby enrich the user’s experience. Haptic effects can also enhance security, especially for instance when a user needs to confirm an entry on his screen. A vibration offers more ‘real’ feedback than simple audio or even visual confirmation, and is therefore more likely to reassure the user, telling him/her for example that a number or a text s/he has entered has been successfully recorded. Chris Ulrich believes that haptics will really take off in the field of video games. One Immersion application is able to simulate the feel of guitar strings with stunning realism: you really have the impression that you’re actually holding the instrument.
One can easily foresee uses of this technology in the business world. Two wifi-connected devices incorporating haptic applications could interact between themselves. For example, during a presentation, a speaker who has a smartphone with the application loaded could add comments to information already displayed on the screen. Such touches would be directly visible to other participants using a similar device and they could themselves add content in real time. Using haptic technology as an intermediary turns the presentation equipment into a truly interactive device. In addition, all the operations which can be carried out on a smartphone, such as swiping the screen or opening an application, can now all be personalised.