Haptics: Feedback You Can Feel
Haptic feedback is the physical sensation — typically vibration — you feel when a product gives feedback such as response to your touch. Some examples of everyday technology that utilize haptics are the iPhone home button (iPhone 7 or newer), Apple Watch, and many gaming joysticks. You may remember primitive renditions such as your Nintendo controller vibrating when your MarioKart was being run off the road, simulating the real-world haptic feedback of highway rumble strips. Since then, touchscreen devices have opened the door to wide adoption of haptic technology — in fact, there is currently an API being developed that will allow its application to websites. Although it may feel fancy when your iPhone’s home button taps your finger back, there are some real advantages that haptics may be able to provide on everyday devices in the future.
Improved User Interface.
Haptic feedback provides a third mode of feedback from an interface. For a couple decades now, we’ve relied on sound and visuals to receive feedback. Haptic feedback can alert you of things as they happen without having to watch the computer screen. For example, if you’re scrolling through an article and nearing the end, a vibration can alert you that you are nearing the end without you having to glance at the scrollbar. Another example is the Apple Watch tapping your wrist to give left/right directions without you having to look at a screen or be interrupted by audio.
Improved Handicap Accessibility.
Haptics interact with a human’s sense of touch, benefitting those who do not have use of their eyesight or hearing — or who lack use of both. Just as a blind person would use their sense of touch to read Braille, they would be able to use haptics to receive feedback from a computer, improving their experience where other accessibility features fall short.
Reduces Human Error.
Haptics eliminates the need to rely on visual stimuli to know that a touch was registered, meaning it will help reduce the likelihood that a button was pressed accidentally or that one was missed altogether. Although not foolproof, this technology can be used to reduce the margin of error — whether they be text typos in a blog article about cats, or NASA algorithms that send humans to space.
As touchscreen devices become more prevalent in the computer world, haptics will no doubt play a larger part in the user experience they provide — someday it may be standard operating procedure for our developers to apply haptics to your website! Imagine submitting a form and receiving a reassuring “tap” on your finger in response. Until then, it will be an interesting technology to watch evolve.