How tactile interfaces will change our gadgets

Original author: Mike Elgan
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Feedback tactile present in gadgets for a very long time. Most often, it is presented in smartphones and joysticks of game consoles in the form of “vibrating rings” and reciprocal vibration in response to user actions. Duplicating incoming calls, reminders and trembling when shooting and exploding, these are the most common options for using the tactile function. And the vast majority of users can not imagine other ways to use this communication channel.

However, there are several ways to use this method of interaction and obtain information from devices. More precisely, there are three of these areas. And their widespread use in mass electronics will give users a qualitatively new experience in the use of seemingly familiar gadgets. This will mark the beginning of a new stage in the development of consumer devices, aptly called the " non-sensory era ."

The first way to apply tactile feedback is to expand the range of tactile sensations from using gadgets. The second method is the transfer of specific template information. The third way is communication. Let's consider each of them in more detail.

Extension of the range of tactile sensations

The other day Amazon has released five new devices, two e-ink readers and three tablets. And the most interesting device is the premium Kindle Voyage reader.

How is it remarkable? On both sides of the screen, whose surface texture resembles paper, there are touch zones for turning pages. At the same time, the scrolling itself is initiated not by the usual touch or sliding gesture, but by a light compression of these sensory zones. When the page “flips”, the device accompanies it with a vibration similar to that which occurs when the paper pages slide together.

By the way, in the first YotaPhone we also experimented with tactile feedback when using the touch zone under the second screen. When turning pages with a sliding gesture, the smartphone vibrates pleasantly. In the second, YotaPhone will have a fully touch second screen, which gives much more features. Therefore, we developed completely new scenarios for using the second screen, which you will learn about after the presentation of the smartphone.

Another example of a new approach to the use of tactile communications is demonstrated by Apple iWatch, which will go on sale next year. They integrate the so-called “Taptic engine” (a combination of the words tap (touch) and haptic (tactile)), a peculiar system of physical response to user actions. For example, when you turn the head of the “plant”, you immediately feel a specific vibration, as if dancing on your wrist, adding unusual sensations when using this mechanical control. When you drag your finger across the screen, press a button next to the head, or perform some other action, the Taptic engine generates specific tactile responses, accompanying at the level of sensations .

Do not stay away from the new direction and sworn friend of Apple, Samsung. The Koreans recently introduced a series of Smart MultiXpress multifunction printers equipped with a “tablet” interface with a variety of tactile communications.

All these aforementioned devices take advantage of a new direction in engineering called haptography ( haptic + photography, can be translated as "tactilography"). It involves the recording and recording of physical sensations with subsequent reproduction. In fact, this direction is at the very beginning of its formation. With its further development, users will have access to a new dimension in interaction with gadgets. For example, we can feel the texture of the surface of objects that we see on the screen or hear from the speakers. Modern lifeless displays of smartphones and tablets will come to life, will literally respond to touch. All types of interfaces, from car dashboards to refrigerator doors and remote controls, will “touch in response” to our touch. And this tactile "responsiveness" will be almost bewitching.

Transfer specific template information

Apple iWatch also has a mechanism for transmitting specific template information. For example, if you are following the route laid out in a map application, the watch will warn you of the need to turn by vibrating with the right or left side, so you don’t even have to look at the screen.

The new Mersedes S550 hybrid car will transmit tactile information through the vibration of the floor under the driver’s feet. For example, in this way the machine will prompt you to reduce gas in order to save fuel or battery power. Another type of driver vibration will be notified of a switch from an electric motor to an internal combustion engine.

Wearable devices like smart glasses (which, unlike a Google product, will look like ordinary glasses) will vibrate weakly, warning the user about any specific information coming into view.


Perhaps communicating with people is one of the most interesting ways to apply tactile feedback. And here we must again mention the Apple iWatch. If you select someone’s contact from the favorites list and then touch the screen, that person will feel this touch through the specific vibration of their Apple iWatch instance. You can even send your heartbeat to another person, while the sender and the recipient will see a pulsating heart on the screens, and both will feel its rhythm on their wrists. By the way, it is possible that over time such a vocabulary appears in the Russian language as “I smell for hours”.

This idea is also used in many startups, for example, in the Tactilu bracelet , which transfers the “touch” from one user to another.

Of course, soon this property will be implemented in smartphones. It may even come to standardization of a certain “tactile protocol”. Surely there will appear custom vibration schemes, by analogy with ringtones for calls and SMS, so that you can understand who is calling you, simply by the specific vibration selected for this contact.

The most amazing thing in this perspective is not at all indulging lazy users who do not even want to look at the phone screen, but in a new psychological experience, somewhat reminiscent of telepathy, when, for the first moments, even unconsciously, you suddenly “feel” the attention of another person.

How tactile feedback improves user experience

We are now at the very beginning of the "non-sensory era." It is very likely that in a couple of years, the vast majority of gadgets will have a built-in function of highly plausible tactile feedback. We find ourselves in a situation where user expectations will encourage manufacturers to integrate high-quality tactile interfaces into all new gadgets.

A particularly bright new trend will be manifested in wearable gadgets. It is possible that there will be devices that generally have no interface other than tactile - neither touch-graphic, nor mechanical. Such interfaces will add a peculiar depth, completeness and, in the literal sense, a good feeling to computers, phones, tablets and wearable devices, including cars and various household appliances. In part, this will provide purely utilitarian advantages, but basically it will be the psychological, aesthetic moment that will attract us.

And if you add a change in the texture of the surface of the gadget to all kinds of vibrations ? You can not only get some kind of active reaction to your actions, it can already be fully described as “I feel with my skin”.
Perhaps the greatest variety of tactile feedback applications will be observed precisely in smartphones, simply because of their versatility and constant demand by users.

Imagine you are watching a movie, a scene in the desert, and your smartphone becomes as if made of pressed sand. Or your loved one will write to you that he touched the glass of the window, and you begin to feel the smoothness and hardness of its surface. Paper, wood, glass, concrete, sand, all this can be not just “touched”, our brain will receive much more information about the situation, and on an almost unconscious level we will understand and empathize with other people, the plots of books, films, games , television news, even songs.

Interesting prospects open up for users who are actively chatting on smartphones. For different users in the contact list, in social networks and instant messengers, it will be possible to configure not only different vibration patterns, but also surface texture changes. And typing someone a message, you do not have to be distracted to see who has already written to you. Different tactile patterns can be created even for different emoticons, thus conveying the sensations of a smile, laughter, sadness, anger and many other emotions.

It is very likely that removable panels for smartphones may appear, rigid or in the form of soft thin-fitting covers that can change the texture of their surface in a different way. Naturally, for YotaPhone they will be completely transparent, allowing you to work with touch screens. At the same time, vibration circuits may be different depending on which YotaPhone screen you are currently working with. A real expanse for gourmet kinesthetics.

Programs will appear that allow you to create your own vibration schemes and texture change algorithms. And if today we show each other photos taken on a smartphone, it is possible that in 15 years we will offer each other just to hold them.

We won’t be surprised if many users subconsciously perceive their smartphones as living pets, because they will not only react sensitively to our actions, but also show “their own emotions”.

We believe that in two decades, most gadgets and devices will be equipped with tactile user interfaces. At least we really hope so.

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