Haptic feedback is the science of applying technology to create an interface with a user through the sense of touch.
Though the technology has been in the consumer market for many years, most popularly as force-feedback controls for gaming (E.G. Vibrating steering wheels), the area of haptics is getting some fresh attention.
The massive adoption of touch-screen interfaces across all types of computing platforms is forcing a rethink of the person/machine boundary.Â The outmoding of the traditional keyboard and mouse is leaving the average user flat in terms filling the need for some level of tactile response.
For example, a long-standing complaint about the iPhone keyboard is the lack of physical response when typing.Â RIM, carefully monitoring the conversation in the marketplace, immediately recognized this gap in interface technology and responded with their Blackberry Storm. The Storm addressed this issue by offering the user a button-like tactile response when typing on the touch-screen keyboard.
Acknowledging the need to create more realistic-feeling interfaces, many manufacturers and research groups are looking at various ways to simulate the tangible, physical response that people instinctively expect.Â A million years of visceral experience that tells a body that it shouldÂ feel rough when you touch something that looks rough is difficult to overcome.
Partially responsible for the disconnected experience is that Hand-to-Eye coordination is informed in part by the physical feedback you receive when making contact with an object.Â Haptic feedback through the use of technology, can help to restore the hand-eye coordination that suffers when interacting with virtual environments.Â Thus making it seem more “normal.”
Though now limited to clicking, buzzing, and other similar tactile cues, touch-screen technology is advancing steadily.Â One group is even experimenting with what is called an electrocutaneous display, which uses electric current to stimulate the nerve endings in your fingertips.Â Varying the properties of the charge can theoretically trick your nerves into feeling different textures and shapes.
Regardless of the method, people like to feel things they touch. Â The sense of touch, like smell, is an emotional trigger. Â The clever use of haptic feedback on the next generation of touch-screens may be the catalyst that makes one product “feel” better than a competitorâ€™s.Â Though, the consumer may be hard-pressed to say exactly why.