Adding Texture To Touch Screens

By March 9, 2012

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Feel it to believe it? Finnish developer Senseg says they’re sitting on the technology to make a tablet’s touch screen feel like sandpaper, silk or cloth.

The technology is based on friction, modulating a mild electrical current to create a range of sensations using the attractive force between skin and individual “tixels.” And perhaps more importantly than novel surface textures, the company claims the technology is precise enough to trace individual on-screen contours — a big step up from earlier generations of haptic technology like vibrating phones and video game “rumble packs.”

“We can enhance the visual content on a display with touch feedback that creates the sensation of moving a vinyl record on a DJ music app, feeling sand when accessing images of the Gobi Desert, or feeling the corner of a page when reading an e-book on a tablet,” said Senseg founder Ville Mäkinen, in a press release. “We have created highly efficient solutions that provide the precise tactile sensations right at the location of the user’s finger without shaking the whole device and yet consume very little power on mobile devices.”

A sophisticated sense of “feel” would be an interesting shakeup in the mobile market, opening up new dimensions of app development in fields from gaming to musicianship. Of course, that hinges on the quality of the technology, which at this point is asserted by the company and select reviewers — and on consumers’ ability to get past the fact that the device is basically electrocuting them.

Senseg was founded in 2006, and announced their first product, which they are marketing to original equipment manufacturers. Their feelscreen technology was featured in TIME Magazine’s 2011 “50 Best Inventions” list.

The company took a measured credibility hit Wednesday, when rumors the iPad 3 would ship with the technology — broadly reinforced by Senseg senior vice president Ville Mäkinen’s comment that “We are currently working with a certain tablet maker based in Cupertino” — turned out to be false. That doesn’t rule out the possibility that Senseg is already working with Apple to incorporate the technology in a future release, but it doesn’t bolster the tenability of future rumors, either.

Smut may also be a factor. It’s conceivable that Apple, or other tablet manufacturers, are worried about the unwelcome press coverage that could result if the technology is seized on by pornographers.