When Your Touchscreen Touches Back
Ryan is a member of The Motley Fool Blog Network -- entries represent the personal opinion of the blogger and are not formally edited.
The way you interact with your mobile devices is about to change – again.
First, we had buttons. And when that came out, no one was complaining – we were just happy to have calculators and, later, phones we could carry around.
Then came the resistive touchscreen – a huge leap forward. Think of Palm’s Treo, with the stylus helping pinpoint and depress the exact part of the screen you wanted to depress. Resistive screens worked through pressure – you had to physically press down to create a connection, and interact that way.
When Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) came out with the iPhone in June, 2007, all that changed. The resistive touchscreen with its easily-lost stylus suddenly seemed quaint – the new hotness was the capacitive touchscreen. All you needed now was a finger.
Since then, almost everything we carry around – from smartphones, to tablets, even fancy remotes – has gone capacitive. Samsung… HTC… Nokia (NYSE: NOK)… Motorola Mobility, now owned by Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) – they all use capacitive touchscreens.
But don’t think for a moment that’s where this story ends. The way we interface with our devices is continuing to grow and change… and the next major change will be haptic technology.
Hey – is that you, Siri?
Haptic technology is, basically, a screen that will touch you back. You’ve probably already used it – the first generation of the technology was put into Research in Motion’s (NASDAQ: BBRY) original Blackberry Storm. And the feedback you get from video game controllers in the Xbox or Playstation is based on haptic technology developed by Immersion (NASDAQ: IMMR).
But the next generation of haptic technology is coming – and if you need reason to think it’s coming soon, look no further than Apple. Apple recently filed a number of patents related to haptics. It’s done so before, but the technology is finally mature enough - and cheap enough – to think it could make it into the new iPhone, or one coming soon after.
Three Choices, Infinite Possibilities
The way haptic technology works now can be broken down into three main categories:
- Piezo-electric – basically, a screen that expands or contracts with current – so, when you touch it, the shape of the screen physically changes, giving you textured feedback.
- Multi-layered – with the top layer elastic, and lower layers moving clear liquid – again changing the shape of the screen. Tactus Technology – a private company, for now – is one of the leaders in developing multi-layered haptic interfaces.
- Static electricity – which uses a flat screen, but pulses currents through your finger in such a way it tricks your mind into thinking you’re touching something entirely different. A classic example would be the feel of paper under your thumb as you flip an ebook page. Senseg – a private Finnish company – is the leader in this field, and was named one of the 50 best inventions by Time Magazine recently.
Which one of these technologies will win? That’s impossible to say at this early date. It’s likely each will find a niche – with Senseg making it into high-end devices, and the others proving more useful in replicating simple keyboards, for example.
What matters is, this is a technology that’s ready for the full light of day. It’s spent enough time in laboratories and specialized applications – haptics are about to enter the mainstream in a big way. It could happen as soon as the next iPhone is released. Or it might take one more year before it finds a wide audience. But make no mistake – haptics are on the way. And when they get here, you’ll want to be early to this party.
letsryan has no positions in the stocks mentioned above. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple and Google. Motley Fool newsletter services recommend Apple, Google, and Nokia. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.If you have questions about this post or the Fool’s blog network, click here for information.