Open Source Haptic User Interface For The iPhone

Haptic UI for touch screens is something I’ve been waiting to see go live since viewing Nokia Morph Concept back in 2007.  Now, it may be coming soon to an iPhone near you thanks to the the Computing Science Department of the University of Glasgow, Scotland.  Oh, and it’s open source too.

What is Haptic Feedback?

Similar to a synapse in your brain, haptic feedback  provides users with a sense of touch where users can physically ‘feel’ their interface interact via a vibrotactile actuator.  Simple put: it gives you a slight jolt of energy at the point of touch, providing instant sensory feedback, while reducing the visual demand.

Haptic feedback is an evolutionary step into how we interact with objects as an extension of our mind and allows for more socially appropriate and subtle interaction.

Haptic User Interface for the iPhone

Haptic User Interface for the iPhone

The Click

Haptic feedback has been added to the finger down and up events triggered when a keyboard button is clicked. These events have been adapted to create a fingertip-over event which is fired when the finger moves over any button in the interface. When the fingertip-over event is triggered, a 1-beat smooth 70ms high intensity Tacton (2) is presented using the iPhone’s built-in rotational motor. The cue uses an approx. 175Hz sine wave with increasing intensity during the ramp up time and decreasing intensity during the ramp down time to create a smooth rounded feeling button.

iPhone Haptic Actuator

iPhone Vibrotactile Actuator

The iPhone’s built-in vibrotactile actuator is shown in the top left hand corner of the above picture. This is turned on when the keyboard buttons are pressed. According to the University of Glasgow, they have found that the actuator can vibrate at 12 different speeds offering a wide range of tactile sensations.

When the button is released by the finger, a second 1-beat Tacton is presented to confirm that the button has been pressed successfully.



This feedback is 50ms with a lower amplitude setting of 6 thus producing a shorter lower intensity haptic click. By adding haptic feedback to both the finger down and finger up events during button clicks, the natural snap ratio of a physical button is reproduced virtually.

Open Source?  

University of Glasgow

Visit the open source iPhone-Haptic project at the University of Glasgow.

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