Hands-on with Immersion HD Integrator hi-fi haptics

It was just over a year ago when we met with the folks from Immersion, and they showed us a prototype handset packing its HD haptics technology. Since that time, the piezoelectric actuator that makes the tactile magic possible has gone into mass production, and the first commercial device packing such hi-fi haptics, the Pantech Element, hit store shelves. Immersion's got greater aspirations for its tactile tech, however, and its new HD Integrator platform aims to put high fidelity haptics in every handset. We got to sample the HD haptics goods once again and chat with Immersion about the new platform and its technology, so head on past the break to see what the company has in store.

For those who aren't familiar, here's a quick refresher on Immersion's HD haptic technology. As opposed to regular haptics, HD haptics are higher fidelity, respond faster to user input, and are able to provide dynamic feedback that can change in intensity and location (as opposed to a static, reactive 'buzz' indicating a button press). The HD Integrator is a tool for OEMs to incorporate HD haptics into a device's UI and leverage that technology in a variety of ways. Aside from the fairly obvious uses like simulating gunfire in games, gadgets packing piezo actuators and Immersion's software can also benefit from an enhanced overall user experience.

We got to sample some apps optimized with HD haptics, and once again, we were impressed with the precision of the feedback and its usefulness in conveying information. In a simulated social networking app, we could swipe through pictures and the force feedback changed from light clicks to longer rumbles according to how many comments were on each one. Similarly, while rolling through emails in another app, regular emails whizzed by with small snicks, while starred items triggered bigger, bolder feedback. Each of these showcased the potential for haptic feedback to provide users information in a contextually useful and unobtrusive fashion. Plus, Immersion assured us that such feedback can be customized in its intensity and feel in addition to when it is triggered. Other demonstrations of the technology were more frivolous, but nonetheless impressive in their effect -- one app simulated a rubber or metal ball rolling around in a box, and we could actually feel the difference between the two types of balls based upon the feedback alone. After our short time using the sample apps, it seems like the potential for such tactile indicators to be used in new and creative ways is almost limitless. However, Immersion's only showing off what its platform can do, it'll be up to the OEMs to find new uses for the technology to maximize its potential.

So, all this enhanced tactility is much appreciated, but when will we find Immersion's tech in gadgets other than the aforementioned Pantech tablet? Well, the company couldn't say exactly, but there are multiple OEMs making devices using the HD Integrator, and we can expect to see them later this year. When we asked what OS these mystery mobiles would run, we were told that, while HD haptics can work on any platform, the technology is currently an Android-only affair. Aside from the UX benefits, Immersion's pitching the HD Integrator as a means for manufacturers to differentiate among a sea of similar slabs -- there's only so many ways to package a screen, but a company can create a custom haptics theme to give its devices a unique feel. We must say, we're hoping that HD haptic tech starts showing up in more devices, as it's a compelling addition to the user experience. And, we're quite interested in seeing (feeling?) what OEMs can do with the technology going forward.

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Immersion Launches HD Integrator to Deliver New Haptic Experiences to Mobile Users

HD haptics to communicate new information and drive multi-modal experiences; demonstrations on display during GSMA Mobile World Congress

SAN JOSE, Calif., February 23, 2012 (BUSINESS WIRE) -- Immersion Corporation (Nasdaq:IMMR), a leading developer and licensor of touch feedback technology, today announced HD Integrator, a new OEM build-time tool for Android mobile devices. HD Integrator allows OEMs to use high fidelity haptics to provide meaningful information and communicate more clearly with users via the sense of touch. Demonstrations of HD Integrator will be on display at the GSMA Mobile World Congress, Feb. 27-March 1 at the App Planet Hall, stand number 7C56.

Immersion's original Integrator product, launched in February 2011, gave OEMs the ability to automatically apply haptic effects throughout the Android UI to provide a more consistent and customized experience. HD Integrator extends the original Integrator platform to tap the specialized capabilities of high fidelity actuators.

"With HD Integrator, OEMs can easily incorporate dynamic HD haptics throughout the Android UI, resulting in a more responsive and higher quality haptic experience," said Dennis Sheehan, vice president of marketing for Immersion. "In addition, HD Integrator harnesses the capabilities of high fidelity actuators to serve as a communication channel to the user, an engaging entertainment platform, and a point of distinction."

Enabling New Experiences through HD Haptics

"Haptics are traditionally used for reactive interactions, where users press a virtual button and receive touch confirmation. HD Integrator gives OEMs the opportunity to associate haptic effects with new types of information, such as the amount of force and speed a user uses in a phone gesture, application information such as tags, metadata and audio tracks, or data from embedded GPS and accelerometers," explained Chris Ullrich, vice president of user experience at Immersion. "The intelligence and responsiveness of HD haptics creates an environment where haptics can augment the mobile experience by communicating this information to the user."

Immersion embarked on a series of research & design studies to create the new experiences enabled through HD Integrator. Studying how users build mental models based on expectations from the physical world about how things should look, sound and feel, Immersion identified how haptics helps users anticipate device behavior, providing reassurance and a more intuitive interface. Immersion identified three new and revolutionary core experiences enabled with HD Integrator.

• Ambient Awareness: With HD Integrator, haptics can dynamically inform and influence behavior. For example, using metadata to tag a post within a social network with a specific feel, the user receives tactile information indicating relative importance which suggests viewing the post.
• Heightened Realism: The speed, responsiveness, and broad range of effect capabilities substantially improve UX by seamlessly connecting the audio, visual and touch feedback. HD Integrator offers a wide range of nuanced effects, and the ability to incorporate simultaneous effects, simulating real world experiences in video content, apps, gaming and music.
• Distinct Experience: As OEMs increasingly look to the user interface and software to create a distinct identity for its brand, haptics will play a more important part in the branded user experience. Nuanced effects allow OEMs to create a haptic personality for their device. An OEM could define their brand through a metallic, heavy touch experience versus a soft and springy feel.

Solution Details

HD Integrator works exclusively with Immersion's TouchSense 5000 software on Android devices to exploit the unique capabilities of high fidelity actuators that are being adopted in mobile devices today. These actuators deliver virtually instant response times and a broad frequency range of sensations, allowing for subtle and nuanced effects and distinct, seamless experiences. Key HD Integrator features include:

Dynamic Effects: Today's mobile UIs take full advantage of the sensing and processing capabilities of the handsets to create dynamic and animated UIs. Immersion's HD Integrator enables support for various elements throughout Android:

• Expanded Effect Libraries: With HD Integrator, a branded UI can feel metallic, soft or springy; the user can feel the difference between subtle or strong cue.
• Gesture Support: Gestures can be performed both on screen and/or with the phone itself -- HD Integrator supports both. Using the touchscreen interface as well as the accelerometer, gesturing can be enhanced with touch feedback.
• Animation Support: UIs dynamically change based on content and user input. HD Integrator delivers continuous effects that transform animations into multi-modal experiences.

HD Reverb: HD Reverb translates audio into high fidelity haptic effects, enhancing a wide range of mobile content with specialized haptics available only with HD technology. HD Integrator provides the ability to automatically apply haptics to audio-enabled content and tools to tailor the Reverb experience based on the content or application.

Layered Haptics: HD Integrator can layer haptics to deliver simultaneous effects that are distinguishable. Particularly applicable in video and gaming applications, a user can feel an explosion and gunfire happening in their hands at the same time, enhancing the action on the screen.

Android 4.0 Integration: Android 4.0 offers new features, such as an animated UI and bundled applications. HD Integrator rapidly integrates dynamic effects throughout the Android 4.0 UI, creating a more engaging haptic experience that is deeply integrated into the OS. This integration includes:

• Theme Support: To enable user, OEM and carrier customizations of the overall feeling of the OS and apps that use the Android widget SDK
• Bundled Apps: Integration of HD effects into the home screen, People, Camera and Gallery

Early evaluation software is available to select device manufacturers today, while a full version of HD Integrator is expected to be broadly available for OEM evaluation in mid-2012. For more information, visit