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Immersion has been making haptic, or touch feedback, technology since 1993. But now it wants to accelerate the adoption of touch feedback on smartphones and tablet computers. That means we’re going to see a lot more apps that we not only see and hear, but also feel.

Immersion’s touch-feedback technology is already built into 200 million phones. But it is jump-starting the market with its new Motiv haptic development platform being announced today. The software tools make it easy for developers to automatically add haptic effects to their software, even if they don’t know exactly how to make it happen. If Immersion’s technology takes off, we could see a lot more creative apps with touch-feedback, particularly on Android phones.

Dennis Sheehan (pictured), vice president of marketing at Immersion, said in an interview at the company’s headquarters in San Jose, Calif., that Immersion designs the chips and hardware used to detect and reproduce touch sensations with the motors already present in phones for vibrate mode purposes. But app developers need more help from Immersion to create imaginative new uses of the technology.

Much like how operating system vendors create tools for application developers, Immersion is creating the Motiv developer tools for integrating haptics into apps. There are more than 100 pre-designed haptic effects, such as explosions, clicks, materials, textures, or bouncing. Immersion can add touch effects to a game that doesn’t already have them, such as Angry Birds, so that you can feel the twang of a slingshot when you shoot a bird at pigs in the game.

Since Motiv adds those effects automatically, “It’s a lot less work for the developers,” Sheehan said.

Immersion is also helping to integrate haptics into the user interface of the operating systems and helping phone makers integrate haptics technology into Android phones. For hardware makers, the so-called Motiv Integrator combines haptics with a build of the Android operating system. The haptics module adds touch feedback to every Android widget, so you can feel a bump when you move your finger over an icon on the Android phone’s touchscreen. When you type a text message on a virtual keyboard for a phone, you can get a tiny sense of touch feedback which tells you that you just hit the right key.

Immersion is the right company to do this since it has more than 1,000 patents issued or pending on haptics. It remains to be seen if users will appreciate the haptic technology the way that Immersion wants them too. In a survey of 211 phone users, about 90 percent said they preferred touch-feedback features when given a choice between nothing or touch sensations. The software development kit will be available in a couple of weeks.

Check out our video of Sheehan with a couple of smartphone and tablet touch-feedback apps below.


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