What it is: Apple is continuing to investigate haptic technology as another form of user interaction.
One of the strangest criticisms that appeared when the iPad first arrived was that the iPad didn’t support a mouse. That’s especially odd because that’s like complaining the latest Tesla doesn’t provide a way to hook it up to a horse.
A mouse works great when you have plenty of room to move it around, such as on a desktop. Even laptops omit the mouse in favor of a trackpad. So the best way to control an iPad (or iPhone) is through its touch screen interface, which eliminated the bulky and cumbersome row of physical keys that early smartphones needed.
Yet the touch screen also has its limitations. Touching a flat piece of glass is fine for choosing items, but not so good for tactical feedback, especially when typing on a virtual keyboard on the screen. That’s why Apple has been pushing haptic technology that can detect pressure on a touch screen, providing another way of interacting with a touch screen. In the latest iPhone models, this pressure-sensitive screen is known as 3D Touch.
Right now, 3D Touch lets you interact with items on the screen by pressing and holding a fingertip on the screen. In the future, Apple wants the touch screen to provide feedback as well such as letting you “feel” the touch of a key on a virtual keyboard.
Right now, Apple already uses haptic technology on their trackpads such as the Magic Trackpad. There are no moving parts but when you press down, it simulates a click to give you feedback. The same type of technology will work with touch screens as well.
Haptic technology is important beyond the touch screen. The Apple Watch will never have a touch screen as large as the iPhone or iPad, so it must rely on more haptic technology than other devices. That’s why the Apple Watch can tap your wrist to give you driving directions or alert you without forcing you to look at the tiny Apple Watch screen. Haptic technology is moving user interfaces beyond two-dimensional visual interfaces and incorporating touch into tomorrow’s user interfaces.
Touch screens are part of standard Windows PCs, but notice how touch isn’t crucial or even considered necessary to use a PC? That’s because the keyboard and mouse work just fine and the touch screen is an addition to the user interface that merely duplicates the mouse by replacing the mouse pointer with your finger.
On an Apple Watch, haptic technology is far more necessary because the touch screen will never be able to provide enough ways to give the user interaction. The Apple Watch also uses its crown dial as another way to interact with the screen, but haptic technology is where the Apple Watch shines because it provides huge benefits in alerting users without forcing them to look at the tiny screen. Haptic technology on the Apple Watch isn’t substituting one form of interaction with another like touch screens trying to replace mice on PCs. Instead, haptic technology is simply the best way to interact with an Apple Watch due to the tiny screen limitations.
On an iPhone or iPad, haptic technology will also provide another way to interact with the device. Haptic technology will never replace the touch screen interface, but it will supplement it. That’s the difference between touch screens on Windows PCs and touch screens on mobile devices like the iPhone and iPad. Haptic technology can provide a new form of interaction on touch screens that make no sense on a Windows PC. You don’t need physical feedback on a Windows PC since you already have a physical keyboard. You do need physical feedback on a touch screen because you often don’t have a physical keyboard.
Haptic technology will only get better and become more important over time, especially with wearable computers like the Apple Watch. It’s another form of interaction just like the mouse or touch screen. To read more about Apple’s plans for haptic technology, click here.