If you paid much attention to the rumor mill prior to the launch of the new iPad, you may remember a last-second rumor that surfaced the morning before Apple's announcement. The rumor went that Apple might be incorporating haptic feedback technology into the touchscreen of the new iPad.
The rumor drew a lot of attention in the hours before Apple announced the new iPad in large part because of the source. Ville Mäkinen, senior vice president of Senseg, a company that specializes in haptic technology for touchscreen interfaces, said that his company was "currently working with a certain tablet maker based in Cupertino." When pressed for comment, Senseg representatives said they wouldn't be commenting until Apple's announcement was over.
As you no doubt know, the new iPad announcement came and went without a word being spoken about a haptic feedback touchscreen. The rumor was largely forgotten and life went on. Until today. A patent application uncovered by AppleInsider reveals that Apple really is investigating the possibility of incorporating haptic feedback into future touchscreen devices, and has been since at least 2010.
In case you're not familiar with it, haptics refers broadly to the use of tactile feedback to facilitate interaction with technology. A video game controller's vibrations are an example of haptics. Your sense of touch is incorporated as a way to enrich the experience. With haptic touchscreens, there are a few possible methods to simulate tactile feedback. Senseg's method is to incorporate electrodes (which they call "Tixels") into a touchscreen. The electrodes send a very low-power charge into the user's fingers to simulate texture.
The haptic system Apple wants to patent, on the other hand, works a bit differently. In place of low-power electrodes, this system employs a dual-layer solution that would actually raise and lower a flexible OLED display to create actual on-screen textures to match what was being displayed on the screen. Beneath the display would be a three-tiered array of "shape change elements" that would raise and lower to simulate the texture of whatever was on the device's screen.
As always, a patent application should be treated a bit cautiously. The fact that Apple has applied for the patent doesn't mean the technology will ever actually see the light of day. It may prove too expensive, it may prove impractical, it may even prove unworkable. That said, the technology is pretty cool, and the thought of a touchscreen that actually allows you to feel what you're seeing is exciting.
You can read the full patent application here. Check it out and let us know what you think in the comments.