Haptics has become an essential feature of touchscreen devices. From smartphones and tablets to Human Machine Interfaces (HMIs) and more, countless touchscreen devices feature some form of haptics. Unless you’re familiar with touchscreen technology, though, you might be wondering what is haptics and whether or not it’s important.

Overview of Haptics

Haptics refers to the use of hardware and/or software that creates a physical, tactile response. Whether you realize it or not, you’ve probably used a touchscreen device with haptics technology. One of the most common examples is a smartphone. Nearly all of the market’s leading smartphones — Android and Apple alike — feature haptics technology. When you press a button, the smartphone responds by vibrating. Of course, you can typically disable this feature, but most smartphones have haptics enabled by default. It’s an otherwise simple feature that offers several benefits.

Benefits of Haptics

Haptics offers several benefits for touchscreen devices, one of which is increased input accuracy. A study conducted by researchers from the University of Glasgow, England found that adding haptics technology to touchscreen devices increased input accuracy by 20%, meaning users were 20% less likely to make a mistake when using the device. How is haptics able to improve input accuracy exactly? Well, the primary function of haptics is to respond with a physical sensation to the user’s touch or input. By vibrating or generating other forms of tactile response, haptics lets the user know that his or her input was properly registered.

Some studies also suggest that haptics increases input speed. This makes sense considering that haptics-enabled devices respond to the user’s input. Without this response, users won’t know whether or not their input was registered. Therefore, they may instinctively “wait” longer periods of time before typing or tapping the device’s interface.

Innovations in Haptics

Vibration is just one type of haptics technology used in touchscreen devices. As reported by The Verge, Tanvas unveiled a new form of haptics at the 2017 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) that creates textures. While still in the early stages of development, this bold new form of haptics technology uses electromagnetic pulses to create the sensation of textures — water ripples, rocks, etc. — over the device’s touchscreen interface.

The Bottom Line

To recap, haptics is a system that responds to user input with a physical, tactile response. Although the most common example of haptics is modern-day smartphones, the technology has since made its way into other devices, both touchscreen and non-touchscreen.