As any tablet user can tell you, one of the drawbacks with touchscreens is that there's no way for a user to tell, simply by using their fingertips, what's going on. There's no feedback, and Tangible Hpatics is working to fix that. Imagine a game of Angry Birds in which you could actually feel the tension of a slingshot before propelling a squawking hen into a group of green pigs. That’s exactly the kind of ‘feeling’ that this startup plans to add to touchscreen devices one day.
"Touchscreens have visual displays behind them and they track where your finger is, which is how they work. But you don’t feel anything. You just feel the glass," said co-founder Michael Peshkin. "And there’s so much capability to have some haptic feedback from the glass."
While Fujitsu's tech is based on emitting ultrasonic vibrations from under the screen, Tangible Haptics is working from an entirely different direction. Their tech, which naturally they didn't want to reveal to many details about, is based on changing the electromagnetic charge of certain areas of the screen. It works by making the screen grip your finger more as you slide it across the screen.
They had a Surface tablet in their booth which had been modified with the new haptic tech. Only a small amount of the screen provided feedback (but of course this was a demo). I got a chance to play with the tablet, and I can confirm that the tech works, and that effect can be changed via software settings. It's possible to turn it off completely, and it can also be localized on one small section of the screen (where onscreen controls are located, for example).
The tech won't work with taps so it's not going to be useful in all situations, but it is still a better option than no feedback at all. This could be useful for letting players know when their fingers have strayed from the onscreen controls for a game, or for helping users find controls and menus when they can't see the screen clearly.
The tech is cool, but it's not in use anywhere just yet. Tangible Haptics is currently working to recruit manufacturing partners.