When shopping for a new touchscreen device, you may come across a feature known as “haptics.” Also referred to as kinaesthetic communication, it’s found in most smartphones, tablets and human machine interfaces (HMIs). So, what is touchscreen haptics exactly?

Touchscreen Haptics Explained

Haptics is a system used in touchscreen devices that creates a physical force in response to a user’s touch command. Even if you’re unfamiliar with it, you’ve probably used a haptics-enabled touchscreen device. The most common type of haptics involves vibrations. When you tap a touchscreen device with your finger — or a stylus if supported — the device will vibrate. It’s usually not a very forceful vibration, but it’s still enough to feel and sense.

Why Haptics Is Important in Touchscreen Devices

Whether it’s a capacitive, resistive or even a surface acoustic wave (SAW) device, most touchscreen devices feature haptics — and for good reason. A study conducted by researchers from the University of Glasgow found that users are 20% less likely to make input errors when using a haptics-enabled touchscreen device than a non-haptics device. Researchers also found that haptics-enabled touchscreen devices offer 20% faster input speed and a 40% reduction in cognitive load compared to non-haptics devices.

Touchscreen Haptics vs 3D Touch: What’s the Difference?

Some people assume that haptics is the same as 3D Touch, but this isn’t necessarily true. Haptics is a form of physical feedback that’s used in a variety of touchscreen devices, whereas 3D Touch is a proprietary technology developed and used by Apple in its touchscreen devices to sense touch commands of varying pressure levels.

Therefore, only haptics creates a force that you can feel. 3D Touch is simply a technology in Apple devices like iPhones and iPads that allows users to perform touch commands using different levels of pressure.

How Touchscreen Haptics Works

Touchscreen devices typically implement and use haptics in the form of vibrations. Within the devices is an eccentric rotating mass (ERM) actuator that vibrates in response to a user’s touch commands. The ERM actuator contains a shaft that rotates to shake the touchscreen device, which is felt by the user as a vibration.

With that said, some of the newer touchscreen devices on the market use a different method to produce haptics. Rather than an ERM actuator, they use a magnetic voice coil that creates vibration in the device’s speakers. The device receives power from the battery or an electrical cord, which it converts into speaker vibrations.