BARCELONA: For the past few years technology companies have been working hard to improve tablet and smartphone displays. To date, most efforts have focused on improving screen resolution and pixel per inch (PPI) density, but this Mobile World Congress (MWC) Japanese giant Fujitsu moved beyond this, demonstrating a new touchscreen technology designed to emulate how textures feel.
How it works
The haptic feedback screen technology was demoed on a test tablet at Fujitsu's MWC stand. The screen works using sensors under the display, which are designed to detect when a finger is touching the screen and emits low-powered, regulated, ultrasonic vibrations. The vibrations are designed to mimic the feedback sent to our fingertips' mechanoreceptors – sensory receptors in the skin's surface that respond to mechanical pressure or distortion – when they touch specific texture types.
Our demo unit let us try the haptic display in a variety of scenarios. These included a digital dial lock on a vault, a set of strings on a musical instrument, a crocodile's back and a sand box.
Testing the dial lock we noticed one issue with the haptic display – it only works if you interact with it using one finger. Trying to physically grab the digital lock with two fingers – like you would in real life – the display only reacted to our index finger. This could be a bit of an issue as most tablet users are currently used to 10-point touch connectivity.
Once we put this issue aside we found the display's feedback was quite impressive. Turning the on-screen dial lock we felt realistic resistance that did simulate that of a real one. The display also responded to the force of our movements with the lock turning more easily when we applied more force.
We were also impressed with the string demo, and the screen reacted and responded differently to each input we attempted. For example, forcefully plucking one of the digital strings the screen's feedback was sharper and more forceful than when we smoothly stroked our finger over it.
The same could be said for the crocodile demo, where we found the haptic technology was able to realistically emulate smooth and bumpy surfaces. While our healthy fear of crocodiles means we can't attest to the texture's accuracy, we did notice a difference in feedback with smooth textures having a slightly more slippery feel than the protruding or rough parts of the crocodile's back on the screen.
The sand box demo proved that the display is able to deal with multi-layer textures. This demo required us to brush sand off a mosaic image, and we found the haptic display offered convincing feedback on both layers, changing the feel of the underlying mosaic's image after we'd rubbed the sand off.
But we noticed one final flaw with the tech. Picking up the tablet to test the sand box demo we found the display stopped offering feedback to our commands. After quickly grabbing the tablet back, the spokeswoman explained that the haptic display tech currently only works if the tablet is laid flat, so the technology as it currently stands would be of little use for tablet users on the move.
When to expect it
There's currently no official date for when we can expect to see Fujitsu's haptic display technology implemented in a commercial product, but the spokeswoman told us this will most likely be sometime in 2015.
We were generally quite impressed with the haptic display. After going through all the available demos we found Fujitsu's demo display can emulate a variety of textures. But it does have a couple of issues we'd like to see ironed out before it hits the mainstream. These include the fact that it only works if you interact with it using one finger, and if the tablet is laid flat. Here's hoping these issues are fixed before the first tablet with a haptic display goes on sale.
By V3's Alastair Stevenson
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