A number of patent applications from Apple were made public today, but we feel the most interesting, by far, is its application for implementing a form of haptic feedback on the touchscreen iPhone and iPod Touch.
In the application, Apple concedes that the touchscreen used on the iPhone has its shortcomings in regards to haptic feedback, and that there exist a number of real-world situations where a button enabled device would be preferable.
However, one of a touchscreen’s biggest advantages (i.e., the ability to utilize the same physical space for different functions) is also one of a touchscreen’s biggest disadvantages. When the user is unable to view the display (because the user is occupied with other tasks), the user can only feel the smooth, hard surface of the touchscreen, regardless of the shape, size and location of the virtual buttons and/or other display elements. This makes it difficult for users to find icons, hyperlinks, textboxes, or other user-selectable input elements that are being displayed, if any are even being displayed, without looking at the display. But, in some instances, it may be inconvenient, or even dangerous, for the user to look at the display. Unless touch input components are improved, users that, for example, drive a motor vehicle, may avoid devices that have a touch input component and favor those that have a plurality of physical input components (e.g., buttons, wheels, etc.). The present invention improves on nearly all kinds of touch input components that are used in conjunction with a display screen.
MacRumors aptly sums up Apple’s proposed solution nicely:
The proposed solution is the adoption of “haptic” display technologies which allow for some tactile feedback from touch screen displays. Apple proposes including a grid of piezoelectronic actuators that can be activated on command. By fluctuating the frequency of these actuators, the user will “feel” different surfaces as their finger moves across it. As an example, a display could include a virtual click wheel which vibrates at a different frequency as the center. Users could easily sense the difference and use the click wheel without having to look at it.
Interesting, for sure.