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Microsoft wants its smartphone screens to touch you back

Steve Dent, @stevetdent
August 7, 2014
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While your fingers are in firmly in control of hand-held devices, they're guided strictly by your eyes -- and Microsoft thinks that's a waste of your sense of touch. Researcher Hong Tan found that using so-called haptics to add tactile sensations to screens can have some concrete benefits. For instance, by adding a keyboard-like "click" feeling to a Surface keyboard cover, one study showed that subjects could type faster and more accurately on it. Other potential uses include enhanced interfaces that let you feel resistance when you move a folder on the screen, or the ability to feel "textures" like rough cloth on a screen.

Several methods can be used to create such feedback. One way is to put a material that bends when charged under a screen to simulate a click, while another uses electrostatic vibration to put a cushion of air under your finger, making a surface feel smooth or sticky. I've experienced such haptic feedback myself, and while some sensations are accurate, others are just weird. There's also the question of extra cost, weight and power consumption to consider. Still, Tan thinks it could find a place in specialized applications like devices for the blind -- and Fujitsu even plans to launch a tablet using the tech as early as next year.

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