Last year, Apple introduced a new Force Touch technology to their 13-inch Macbook Pro. When Wired’s Kyle Vanhemert decided to experience it in a nearby Apple Store, he was “hunched over the machine like a lunatic, scrutinizing the trackpad from inches away, utterly convinced [he] was feeling a real click even though [he] knew there wasn’t one.”
Realizing the potential haptic feedback could hold for wearables, Apple’s also instilled the technology into the Apple Watch. Other companies aren’t far behind, too.
One of Amazon Kindle Voyage’s most lauded UX features included the haptic-backed PagePress. Google also launched a haptic feedback feature in its Marshmallow update.
So what is this new technology that’s popping up in small doses everywhere?
What is Haptic Technology?
Literally, the term ‘haptic’ refers to anything related to the sense of touch.
Haptic technology, therefore, is the recreation of that sense to enhance the experience of a user as they operate an application. It’s basically like adding a fourth dimension to a mostly 3D user experience world, allowing users to truly immerse into a parallel, yet (potentially) completely different universe.
Shaping the Experience
With haptic tech’s potential to transport users to another reality, the revolution in user experience is inevitable.
Even though it could still take years, maybe decades, to achieve the Avengers-like virtual otherworldliness, firms have begun research on breaking the technical fourth wall. The question is, how do you integrate the technology into a commercial device/app that sells?
Currently, the most achievable way seems to be through vibrations – and not the kind of wanton vibrations you get on your PS4 controls when you get hit by a gunshot – but perfectly synchronized, controlled and almost subtle sensations, the kind that make you question if they even existed in reality. Controlling the intensity, tonality and reverberation of sound is another option, too.
Showtime’s app, ‘Showtime Anytime’ employed both alternatives to promote season 4 of Homeland. The teaser they released for their show was haptic-friendly, with vibrations synchronizing with ever-changing music as bombs exploded. The music and vibrations changed in intensity, as well, to build up suspense and drama.
Bringing the Haptic Experience to Marketing
Probably the easiest way to see how commercial haptic technology can be is to integrate it into your marketing plan.
Immersion’s TouchSense technology has produced a myriad of mobile ads with haptic technology. They work with the marketing department to synchronize the ad’s visuals and sounds with tactility in order to make the advertisements more memorable.
Their advertisements, according to Immersion’s partner Opera Mediaworks, have more brand impressions, perceptive impact and increased recall time.
Resultantly, the success of such ads can be astounding – with conversion rates increasing 4X and click-throughs going up by 440%. Replay rates, according to Immersion, increased by 31% and 59% on mobile and tabs, respectively.
What does the Future Hold?
The abovementioned outcomes, understandably, surprised many in the industry, including CEO AMZInsight, who came across the results while looking for ways to improve UI and UX for his firm’s amazon market research tool.
“Even in such early stages, where big budget haptic research is being conducted by only a handful of specialist firms, the numbers are unprecedented. If we can find a way to replicate touch without actually having to touch anything, it’ll open us up to a completely different horizon.”
It seems like British-based Ultrahaptics has. Ultrahaptics focuses on the innovation of tech that you feel without having to touch anything – almost like being touched, instead of having to touch. They take inspiration from a very simple natural element that we automatically feel – the wind.
Using ultrasonics (or ultrasounds) – which are sounds too loud for human perception – that come out of small, manifold speakers, they are able to duplicate the sensation of something lightly brushing against your skin – like the wind.
They achieve this by releasing a high frequency of ultrasonics all at the same time, aimed at the exact same spot, essentially making the sound waves function like the wind. So when your hand hovers above the specially designed speakers, you feel as if something’s brushing against your hand.
While a huge achievement, this is still something very minor compared to the grand scale firms like Immersion and Ultrahaptics are aiming for. Nevertheless, it’ll be interesting to see how quickly (or otherwise) haptic is instilled into our everyday technology.
This is a guest post by Matt Mikaelson.