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What Is Haptic Feedback & Why You Need It

Haptic feedback gives app devs new abilities to enrich our experiences. However, there is a fine line between value and annoyance. Learn which is!

Emma White

By Emma White

Business Development Manager Emma White helps BairesDev grow at a global level by expanding the client base and overseeing of growth projects.

10 min read

Haptic Feedback

With more than 4 million apps in both Google Play and the Apple App Store, it’s hard for us users to feel impressed anymore. Even when roughly 7,400 apps are released every day when combining the 2 stores, only a handful of them are capable of getting our attention. It’s as if developers can’t find a way to amaze us anymore, so we’re stuck with the same old apps.

However, manufacturers of mobile devices work on new features with each new product they launch, providing mobile engineers with new capabilities to take the apps to the next level. Companies that learn how to take advantage of them might shake our interest, so keeping an eye on what’s new is key to creating excitement.

In that context, the appearance of haptic technology, in general, and haptic feedback, in particular, promises app developers with new abilities to enrich our mobile experiences. In fact, if you already have an app for your company or are thinking of developing one, then you should definitely consider using haptic feedback in it. Here’s why.

What is Haptic Feedback

The word “haptic” may not ring a bell for you but you’re surely familiar with haptic communication in some sort of way. All haptic technologies try to achieve the same goal – to create a tactile experience for the user through the use of force, vibrations, or motions.

If you own an Apple Watch, then you have certainly experienced it firsthand. Whenever the device taps you to tell you there’s a new notification or alert, it uses haptic technology. Though the watch’s use of haptics is somewhat basic, it’s enough for you to understand what’s all about.

And even if you don’t have an Apple Watch, you can certainly imagine what this is all about. By using a device’s sensors, an app can add a sensory experience that brings something new to the table. That’s what haptic feedback is all about – implementing a new layer that plays with your sense of touch whenever you interact with it.

Android devices already have haptic capabilities built-in. Ever since the iPhone 6S, iOS developers can use this tech too. What’s more: the newest versions of both OS have introduced a number of changes to their haptic capabilities, especially in iOS 13. There are more possibilities now, which bring something unique that can make your app stand out from the rest, as long as you know how to use them.

How Does Haptic Feedback Work?

The overarching theme of haptic technology, no matter what type, is that the outputs that elicit user feedback are highly controlled. However, the ways each type functions and communicates depend on the specific model, as we will describe in greater detail below.

The Different Types Of Haptic Feedback Technology

Force Control

Uses: Mechanical devices

Features: Generates force on the user, involves large-scale equipment like levers

Ultrasonic Mid-Air Haptics

Uses: Virtual reality (VR)

Features: Generates turbulence through ultrasound waves, users do not need to wear any equipment or accessories

Vibrotactile Haptics

Uses: Video games, VR

Features: Leverages “sound” vibrations

Microfluidics

Uses: Medical testing, point of care, science experiments

Features: Creates pressure or temperature change on the user’s skin by pushing small amounts of air/liquid out,

Surface Haptics

Uses: Enables the user to perform functions on a touchscreen via sense of touch

Features: Friction is regulated/modulated between the surface or touchscreen and the user’s finger, prompts tactile feedback

Force Control

Force control haptic technology involves using mechanical devices, such as levers or controllers, to exert force on the user’s body, limbs, or hands. These force feedback devices are often used in manufacturing. Force feedback is important in ensuring that the equipment is generating the right amount of force for the task at hand.

Ultrasonic Mid-Air Haptics

In this field of haptic feedback, ultrasound waves create turbulence so strong that users are able to feel it, despite the fact that they are intangible forces. There is no direct skin contact, and the ultrasound waves are controlled by algorithms. This is used in virtual reality applications.

Vibrotactile Haptics

Vibrotactile haptics is a well-known type of technology in which feedback occurs through vibration sound patterns. Essentially, the user “feels” sounds and can interact with their devices this way. It is applied to a number of areas, such as video games a VR.

Microfluidics

Microfluidics is a type of haptic technology that involves creating a sense of pressure or temperature change on an individual’s skin by pushing out air or liquids into tiny compartments on haptic devices. This field is used to perform clinical analysis and testing and is applied to additional types of science and medical experiments as well, particularly work in the biological sphere.

Surface Haptics

This is the type of haptic feedback we commonly think of. It involves modulating and regulating haptic effects on surfaces, prompting interactions and tactile sensations. For example, on mobile phones, the user’s finger will make the interface power on. Usually, surface haptic involves touchscreens on electronic devices.

Why Is Haptic Feedback Important?

Haptic feedback offers a number of advantages to the user. Its main purpose is to improve the user experience by adding the element of presence, providing tactile feedback and ramping up accuracy at the same time.

Using Haptic Feedback in your App

Since haptic feedback is a vibrational response that can be implemented to every tap, scroll, and slide you make on an app, it’s important to understand when it can add value – and when it can get annoying.

For instance, providing a small vibration whenever your app successfully carried out an important action can enrich the UX. That’s because it would provide positive feedback closely tied to a specific action. But if you use that small vibration for every button you have in your app, it quickly loses its charm and soon starts getting in the way.

In that way, conceptualizing the use of haptic feedback is key to its success. Mobile games do a fantastic job of using them, as there are vibrations and nudges whenever you clash with an enemy or beat a level. Even if you haven’t played games in a while, you may be familiar with haptic feedback in gaming, as it was the technology that Nintendo used in its Rumble Pak all the way back in 1997.

So, while the use of haptic feedback isn’t precisely new, the new ways of implementing it on apps are making a difference. Today, we can identify 2 distinct types of haptic feedback that you can use in your app: transient and continuous.

Haptic Feedback Types

Haptic devices offer feedback that can be separated into two major types: transient haptic feedback and continuous haptic feedback. Let’s take a closer look at these two types of haptic feedback.

Transient Haptic Feedback Technology

Transient feedback is the one you probably know the most. Those little taps from the Apple Watch? That’s transient haptic feedback in action. This type is a very brief event that comes and goes. Fortunately, there’s a little more to it than that. Thanks to new advancements, you can now define how intense the haptic feedback can get.

Thus, you can use a sharp haptic when there’s an error or an important notification that needs the user’s attention. On the other hand, you can use a more subtle haptic for something more ordinary, such as selecting an option from a menu or closing up a window. The sharpness of the haptic opens the door for variations that can bring a richer experience to your app.

Continuous Haptic Feedback technology

Continuous feedback feels more like a pattern, a succession of haptic taps or events. Unlike transient haptics, continuous haptics has a certain duration that you can keep going on for as long as needed. For example, a racing game might use this to provide a vibrating sensation when the player’s car is drifting in a curve at high speeds.

You can use a continuous haptic in your app to add rhythm to its use? Sounds strange? Think about it! Imagine that a process needs to load so you embed a continuous haptic with the loading bar to provide a dynamic vibration that goes along with how fast the bar is charging. It could certainly build some momentum and make the wait more exciting.

Going to the Next Level With Haptic Technology

If you want the best experience you can get out of haptics, then combining both types is essential. You can bring your app to life by using transient and continuous haptics, as long as you use them tastefully and without any abuse.

But wait! There’s something extra in haptic feedback: audio-haptic event types. While it’s true that haptic communication is all about touch, adding a sound level to it can provide a more rounded experience for your users. And since you can configure the audio’s pitch, volume, and decay, you can create the perfect companion for your transient and continuous haptic experiences.

Haptics as a Way to Improve UX

Haptic feedback isn’t just a small feature to spark your users’ curiosity. It is, in fact, a way to improve your app’s user experience. A better UX helps in getting more conversions and sales and fosters engagement, among other benefits. And even something seemingly small as haptic feedback can positively influence how users feel about your app.

That should be enough reason to have you running to your developers to get them to work in your app’s haptic capabilities. Because using this feature will show your users something new and exciting that will engage them beyond the traditional app interaction.

Can’t imagine where you can use haptic feedback to improve your app’s UX?

Try one of the following things:

  • Create affirmative responses (when confirming an action or refreshing content).
  • Include it in specific slides or in off/on switches.
  • Support gestures (such as pinching to zoom in or out)
  • Develop a response for long presses (when it activates a contextual menu or provides access to new options)

There’s plenty more you can do with haptics in your app. The key here is to remember not to overdo it. Not all actions need haptic support nor have to trigger some sort of event. As with everything in UX, you need to balance the instances where you use the haptics with the ones where you don’t to ensure maximum effect.

A Little Detail That Goes a Long Way

There’s a reason why we included haptic technology as one of the trends of 2020: we certainly believe that it will bring new and exciting opportunities for developers. It’s true that the most promising ones are a little more sophisticated than these. However, using haptics in your app isn’t something you should sneeze at.

Haptics is among those kinds of little touches that make the user experience more satisfactory. Even if your users don’t notice right away or can’t put a finger on it, this new interaction layer will surely surprise and amuse them. It can even make you stand out from the millions of apps out there and feel fresh in the oversaturated app market. That’s not a minor thing.

Haptics FAQ

What is touch feedback technology?

Tactile feedback is called haptic feedback or tactile haptic feedback and involves the sense of touch to transmit information and communicate with the user, such as a mobile phone vibration.

What are haptic keyboards?

A haptic keyboard offers a feature that offers haptic feedback or tactile sensations on a traditional keyboard. For example, iOS 16 introduced a haptic feedback option to its keyboard, such that it makes a slight vibration when the user is typing.

What is haptic feedback mode on a mobile phone?

Haptic feedback mode on a mobile phone means that there is tactile feedback when the user performs certain actions on the device, such as a vibration.

Emma White

By Emma White

Emma White is a Business Development Manager at BairesDev with a background in tech company expansion through client base growth. White helps to expand BairesDev's business at a global scale while managing new market research, overseeing growth projects, and generating leads.

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