Immersion's MOTIV development platform integrates haptics into Android, we go hands-on

You may know that Immersion's haptic technology is in everything from surgical simulators to game controllers, but we're willing to bet you didn't know it's already baked into over 200 million existing devices -- including every Samsung Galaxy S smartphone and handsets by Nokia and LG. Now, using Android handsets' existing vibrator motors, a cheap software upgrade can inject force feedback into existing elements across the entire Android UI (2.2 and up), and with future devices -- built with multi-dollar piezoelectric actuators that vibrate the screen itself -- the haptic experience goes hi-fi. Now that it's revealed that little easter egg to the world, Immersion wants you to build some apps, and to that end it's releasing the MOTIV developer platform this March. Read all about it after the break.

So what's MOTIV? One, it's an SDK, which lets devs configure haptic feedback every which way. Two, it's a packaged solution for OEMs to bake into devices from the factory on, adding 150 stock taps, clicks, and rumbles which you feel every time you press a stock Android button or scroll through a list. Of course, apps would need to actually use the corresponding Android UI elements to take advantage of the feedback, but Immersion's got a backup plan: the package also comes with a nifty Reverb module that actually analyzes the sound output of your device and adds corresponding haptic feedback -- which definitely adds a little something extra to movies and games.

The piezo-enabled phone we saw was a dev unit built in-house (read: not for production) with Nexus One underpinnings. When we compared the experience using the dev unit to the Galaxy S and Galaxy Tab, the difference between them was readily apparent. Playing a guitar app on the dev unit was satisfying -- we could feel each individual string as we strummed the screen -- but the Galaxy's feedback, with just a standard vibrator motor, felt muddled in comparison. Ditto for the pinball game we played next -- both Samsung devices let us feel the bumps and shakes you'd expect from such a game, but the dev handset was better able to localize and differentiate the different types of feedback built into the game thanks to the piezoelectric element.

We also got to feel how the effects are incorporated into the general Android UI, and came away impressed -- for us, the addition of haptic feedback really did make touchscreen use a more precise experience. The click-click-click vibration under our fingers (like a tactile iPod clickwheel) as we scrolled through a list or the feeling of individual on-screen buttons as our fingers dragged across them were welcome additions, especially for free, although we have to admit the slightly more expensive piezoelectric handset was where we felt the offering truly compelling. Unfortunately, Immersion admitted that though piezo components are readily available from numerous suppliers, there aren't any such handsets currently in the works, so we'll have to hope developers embrace the inferior vibrator motors and build compelling enough apps for the idea of mobile haptics to take off. Chicken, meet egg.

Sean Hollister contributed to this post.

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Immersion Announces MOTIV™ Development Platform for Android
Immersion's MOTIV™ Development Platform for Android delivers next-generation haptic effects to device manufacturers and application developers through automated tools

SAN JOSE, Calif., February 10, 2011 (BUSINESS WIRE) -- Immersion Corporation (Nasdaq:IMMR), a leading developer and licensor of touch feedback technology, today announced the MOTIV™ Development Platform, designed to automate haptic integration into the Android OS and allow both OEMs and application developers to create differentiated and engaging user experiences with high quality tactile feedback. The first development platform of its kind, MOTIV provides the mobile ecosystem with access to the world of tactile interfaces, ushering in a new era of customizable touch effects to drive next-generation user interfaces.

"Immersion is focused on delivering high-definition haptic experiences to consumers by creating solutions that address the system-level challenges in designing haptics into a mobile interface," said Dennis Sheehan, Immersion's vice president of marketing. "While enabling technologies have evolved to provide high fidelity haptic sensations, utilization ultimately hinges upon ease of implementation. Today, haptics provides critical tactile feedback for typing and touch confirmation in touch screen phones and tablets, but it is a complex exercise to design haptics into a UI and applications. With the release of the MOTIV Development Platform, we are simplifying that process for the Android OS and providing the tools to create next-gen experiences such as personalized touch-based themes, games with tactile effects and multi-modal applications that engage the user's sense of touch."

The MOTIV Development Platform is comprised of two key elements, the MOTIV Integrator for OEMs and the MOTIV SDK for application developers:
MOTIV Integrator
The MOTIV Integrator offers a unique set of modules that provide build-time integration options for OEMs that automatically add haptics into the Android UI and applications and provides an easy way to customize the overall tactile feel of the device. MOTIV works in conjunction with Immersion's TouchSense® technology, which has created crisp and realistic haptic effects in hundreds of millions of mobile phones to date. Features of MOTIV Integrator include:
UI Module: Integrates haptics into the Android OS user interface within a matter of minutes, eliminating engineering cycles while creating a superior user experience. UI Module inserts haptics into Android's user interface through its view and notification frameworks, creating a consistent user experience throughout the mobile device, both in the user interface as well as downloaded applications which use the view and notification framework. Additionally, the UI Module provides a tailored experience by allowing users to adjust and personalize haptic effects.
Theme Manager Module: Allows OEMs to select from a list of haptic themes that can be applied to the Android OS and mobile user interface. Themes range in levels of intensity and personality, and can be customized by the OEM or carrier, creating a distinct and differentiated mobile experience for consumers.
Reverb Module: For applications not optimized for haptics by developers using the MOTIV SDK, OEMs can install the Reverb Module, which automatically inserts haptic feedback into applications by translating audio data into effects. Examples of applications that benefit from the Reverb Module include video and music playback enhanced by the sense of the music thumping reminiscent of a subwoofer effect, or a downloaded first person shooter game where the users feel the explosions and game play in their hands.

Expected to be available to application developers in March 2011, the MOTIV SDK provides an assortment of haptic design resources. These tools include the API, sample code, effect libraries with over 100 pre-designed effects, reference documentation, and a conversion layer that allows developers to easily and quickly incorporate specialized haptic effects into their Android applications. In addition, the MOTIV SDK includes a haptic effect design studio for advanced users.

"Nearly 90% of respondents from our recent consumer testing indicated that they would want high-definition haptics in their next mobile device, illustrating a clear preference for mobile devices with haptics and a phenomenal response to haptic-enabled applications," explains Robert Lacroix, vice president of engineering at Immersion. "We are committed to developing tools that enable the broader mobile ecosystem access to Immersion's expertise and taps into the burgeoning application development community. We're excited to see innovations that result as developers and OEMs now have the freedom to easily integrate haptics into their UIs, applications and games."