So many times a day, our phones buzz that it’s easy to forget about the technology behind it. But for a second, stop and think about what would happen if those buzzes weren’t there. How many texts wouldn’t be read? What alerts would you not get?
Would you still feel like you were in touch with your phone? In the first part of our new series on haptic technology, we’ll look at how haptics came to be and why they’re so important in the smart devices you use every day.
What Is Haptic Technology (aka Haptics)?
The telephone and haptic technology have always been closely related. In 1973, Thomas D. Shannon got the first patent for a “tactile telephone,” and in 1975, Bell Telephone Laboratories, Inc.’s A. Michael Noll got a patent for a tactile messaging system.
Since then, haptics have been used in many different goods and industries, such as video games, robotics, and consumer electronics. For the purposes of today’s piece, though, we’ll focus on smartphones.
Haptics is when an electronic gadget sends information to the end user by making it feel something. For example, if your phone buzzes once while it’s in your pocket, you know that you just got a message.
If your phone buzzes several times in a row, it’s likely that someone is calling you. Haptics have taught people to understand what each buzz means before they even look at their devices.
How Does Haptics Enhance the Smartphone User Experience?
In the same way that phones have changed over time to become pocket-sized computers, haptics have become an important part of the user experience. Take the case of alerts. Each buzz and shake means something different.
We know that short bursts are for alerts and long warbles are for phone calls, but there’s more to it than that. Good haptics can even use different combos of force, length, and rhythm to tell you different things, like when a new text message pings a little or longer and harder than a new email.
Then there’s the input that software keyboards give you when you touch them. When physical keyboards like those on Blackberries were replaced by touchscreens, Microsoft’s then-CEO Steve Ballmer famously said that a touchscreen smartphone “doesn’t appeal to business customers because it doesn’t have a keyboard.”
Now, touchscreen computers are the standard way to type. Touchscreen keyboards can even give feedback that feels like pressing a key, thanks in large part to haptic technology. This makes them feel like their physical predecessors without giving up input freedom.
When we talk about tactile keys, haptics can be used all over Android to simulate the feeling of pressing a real button. When you use your fingerprint to unlock your phone, you probably feel a small bump right before you see the home screen.
When you long-press on an app or swipe up on the menu bar, you can feel the same little haptic twitch. All of this feedback makes the user feel more linked to their device, which makes the experience more immersive.
Learn More About Premium Haptic Technology
Check out our quick look at haptic gear and software if you want to learn more about what makes a good haptic experience. You can also talk to our friends at Cirrus Logic, the company that makes haptics and made this piece possible, to find out more about high-end haptic technology.