Haptics Role in Mobile Devices Endures


Mobile Displays, User Interface – Recent announcements by Immersion Corporation and Apple show that haptic feedback will continue to play a role in mobile and wearable devices.

Haptic enhancements of mobile handset user interfaces that provide users with tactile feedback when operating their devices have been a feature of Android OS based devices for some time now. Immersion has recently signed licensing agreements with both Samsung and LG.

On September 16, 2014 Immersion and LG announced that they had renewed a multi-year worldwide license agreement covering Immersion’s TouchSense software and Basic Haptics Intellectual Property. The LG announcement followed an announcement earlier in September (September 8, 2014) stating that Immersion had extended its license agreement with Samsung, covering the use of TouchSense and Integrator products in smartphones and other mobile devices, to the company’s printing business unit for use in touch screen printer controllers. The new licensing agreements with Samsung and LG suggest that Immersion’s haptics technology will continue to see applications in mobile handsets and other electronic products.

On yet another front, Immersion has announced on September 23, 2014 the firm’s TouchSense Engage Software which aims to enable “content producers to author a haptic-file of tactile effects that is packaged and distributed with the content for playback on mobile or tablet devices”. The TouchSense Engage solution is intended to utilize the actuator motor in today’s smartphones and tablets to use the haptic file to accurately play back tactile effects as authored including: “the feel of an engine roaring in a car; the feel of explosions, collisions, and deep sound effects in a trailer; the shimmering feeling of sunlight; the sense of touch as a narrative element for storytelling“. Well, given my experience to date with smartphone haptics effects, I will have to wait and see to assess how well the above mentioned effects can be realized using Immersion’s haptics technology.

However, LG and Samsung are not the only consumer electronics firms developing products utilizing haptics. Unlike the firm’s newly launched iPhone 6 smartphones, Apple’s recently announced Watch to be shipping in “early 2015,” also incorporates haptics features. The Watch promises to provide notifications that you can both see and feel. Apple describes the notification feature stating, “And since Apple Watch sits on your wrist, your alerts aren’t just immediate. They’re intimate. With a gentle tap, notifications subtly let you know when and where your next meeting starts, what current traffic conditions are like, even when to leave so you’ll arrive on time. At any point, you can simply swipe down to Notification Center to view what you may have missed”.

Apple describes the haptic actuator as, “the Taptic Engine, a linear actuator inside Apple Watch that produces haptic feedback. In less technical terms, it taps you on the wrist. Whenever you receive an alert or notification, or perform a function like turning the Digital Crown or pressing down on the display, you feel a tactile sensation that’s recognizably different for each kind of interaction. Combined with subtle audio cues from the specially engineered speaker driver, the Taptic Engine creates a discreet, sophisticated, and nuanced experience by engaging more of your senses. It also enables some entirely new, intimate ways for you to communicate with other Apple Watch wearers. You can get someone’s attention with a gentle tap. Or even send something as personal as your heartbeat”.

As in the case of Immersion’s TouchSense Engage feature, I will have to wait for the Watch to ship to evaluate the effectiveness and utility of Apple’s haptics advances. Until then I will simply continue to experience that slight tap when I type a text message or the vibration when a new email hits my smartphone inbox. – Phil Wright