Mobile

Touchscreen inventor: Forget 3D, haptics is the future of mobile screens

Now that capacitive touchscreens have become the standard in mobile devices, many are looking for  the next big innovation.

3D is one possibility — smartphones featuring the technology like the Evo 3D are already available. But according to Synaptics technology strategist Andrew Hsu, father of the capacitive touchscreen, the future of touchscreens could more likely lie in haptics, a technology which would allow us to feel individual touchscreen elements.

“Where I see the next frontier of user interface control is that we now want to try and recreate the tactility we lost from traditional hardware interfaces,” Hsu said in an interview with VentureBeat. Refined haptics could bring us full circle in mobile interfaces, allowing us to feel software keyboards and buttons as if they were physical elements from cellphones in pre-iPhone days.

“Now that we’ve gotten dynamic touch and visual interfaces, it’s time to look towards dynamic touch feedback,” Hsu said.

Haptics isn’t exactly a new phenomenon — today many cellphones feature basic haptic feedback by buzzing when you hit a button on their touchscreens. The real key for refining the technology, according to Hsu, would be finding an implementation that would allow for finer localization of haptic feedback. He assumes it could take three to five years before his vision of deep haptic feedback comes to pass.

We’re already seeing small steps towards next-generation haptics from companies like Immersion, which has developed an Android platform to easily bring haptic capabilities to smartphones and tablets.

And what of 3D? Hsu wouldn’t make any final judgements on the technology yet, especially since it mostly seems like an excuse to create and view 3D media on phones at the moment, rather than fundamentally altering the way users interact with their devices. 3D screens could technically work together with future haptic technology. Hsu said he was really impressed with the Nintendo 3DS because it was made specifically with 3D in mind, unlike 3D smartphones and tablets.

Personally, the idea of a fully haptic screen excites me more than just a 3D screen. There’s plenty of potential in mobile gaming (imagine actually feeling buttons and joysticks again), and it would also make modern touchscreen phones more accessible for the disabled and elderly. I’d much rather the mobile industry move towards screens that can dynamically generate braille text for the blind to touch, rather than focusing on making us cross-eyed with tiny 3D screens.

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