Apple Files Patent For Buzzing, Tingling, "Feedback" Touchscreen

haptic Apple patent

Apple's efforts to patent amazing technology that may power its future iPhones continue apace: It's just applied for a patent relating to multi-haptic feedback. Your iPhone 6 touchscreen may actually tingle under your fingers.

The patent's title gives away much of what it's about: "Multi Touch with Multi Haptics." While touchscreen tech, popularized by the iPhone, has changed how people interact with their cell phones, it's far from an ideal system and there's plenty of room for refinement. In particular, one of the criticisms raised most often is that compared to an old "push button" interface there's much less tactile feedback when you're tapping at the flat expanse of an iPhone's screen. For sight-impaired users it's a real problem, but for everyone else it's often something that's no longer even an issue when you've got used to the UI.

That doesn't mean it's not a "nice to have" feature though, and haptic feedback has appeared on a handful of smartphones since the iPhone's debut, often in an attempt to emulate the sensation of a "click." But Apple, somewhat characteristically, thinks this form of extremely limited feedback can be improved upon and this new patent details a way for a touchscreen to actually stimulate your fingertips in several places at once.

The system relies on several acoustic actuators snuck in behind the LCD layer in a touchscreen, each one operated separately. By choosing which trio of actuators to set off synchronously (so that the waves reach your fingers at the same time) Apple's design could even arrange it so that specific points on the screen are wiggling under your fingertips while others aren't sensing anything--as the patent image shows.

What would it be used for? Apple's example's are simple--such as pinch to zoom on the screen which would result in more intense vibrations when your fingers are close together: A subtle touch cue as to what you're up to. Another example has a virtual scroll wheel "click" under both fingertips when you're two-finger scrolling on screen. But the technology seems so useful that it's likely the cleverest implementation's won't be invented until its actually installed on a real device.

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3 Comments

  • james murdoc

    Erm.... so touch Multitouch Haptics... you mean like the one Android and HTC have already?

    Good luck to them, particularly in light of their current court case ;-)

  • Richard Goodwin

    I love Android as much as the next guy, but what they're talking about here is miles beyond "vibrate on touch" that is currently in use on HTC (and dinky Samsung/Verizon) phones. This suggests the ability to literally affect only the section of the screen where your finger is making contact, which would be fairly amazing. Whether it adds to the whole experience remains to be seen, but the technology certainly seems to be unique (and thus patentable).