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Taptic, haptics, and the body fantastic: The real Apple Watch revolution

Brian S Hall | Oct. 7, 2014
The next user interface requires your body. You will literally feel signals chock-full of timely, contextual data delivered from all manner of touchscreens, gadgets and wearables.

apple watch heartbeat

The next user interface requires your body. You will literally feel signals chock-full of timely, contextual data delivered from all manner of touchscreens, gadgets and wearables. It's called haptics, and while it's been around for years, most notably in game controllers, the Apple Watch is set to deliver this technology to the masses.

Haptic technology--haptics--uses force upon the skin to deliver real-time tactile feedback. These physical sensations are created by tiny motors called actuators. Done right, haptics can mimic the feeling of a pin prick by a wearable that tracks your blood sugar, simulate the plucking of virtual guitar strings on a tablet screen, or re-create the physical recoil of a phaser from your favorite game controller.

To date, the technology has been held back by a lack of real-time accuracy. This is why even though we are surrounded by billions of computer screens, widespread consumer use of haptics has been limited. Several companies are working to improve accuracy, so that you literally feel exactly what you expect when you tap an image on your screen or open a virtual door inside an Oculus game. Apple, however, has found a way to make haptics work now, leveraging what this tech can do in its present stage and clearing a path for making haptics a part of our everyday life.

The feel of Apple Watch
For its beautiful Watch, Apple constructed a modified iOS user interface. The company developed an innovative "digital crown" as an entirely new context-optimized input method. It is the haptics, however, that may prove most useful, possibly even revolutionary. This is not a bold prediction. Consider how Apple is already marketing its "most personal" device: "We found a way to give technology a more human touch. Literally." "More immediate, intimate ways to connect." "A new dimension to the way you communicate."

Apple Watch
SERENITY CALDWELL. Apple Watch is the touchscreen device that can touch you back.

Apple created what it calls a "taptic engine" to deliver physical sensations to your wrist. According to the company:

"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."

With surprisingly little fanfare, Apple has embraced a new user interface. When you pay with Apple Watch, you will both hear and "feel" a confirmation. A "gentle tap" on the device can be sent to another Watch wearer, who will feel the touch on their wrist. Is this a reminder? A nag? Longing? Answer: this is an entirely new form of human-to-human communications. It's no surprise that Apple Watch "taps" can be customized for different people and different interactions.

 

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