3D Touch is all well and good, but future Apple devices may incorporate advanced haptic technology which lets software simulate textures ranging from the grain of wood surface to the cold feeling of metal.
That’s according to a new patent published today by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, describing a “Touch Surface for Simulating Materials” through the touch-sensitive display or trackpad of an iPhone, iPad, or Mac.
The technology would work by using an actuator to move vertically or horizontally to create tiny vibrations able to give the tackle sensation of texture. Stronger vibrations are used for simulating rougher sensations, while lighter vibrations would allow designers to replicate the feel of smoother textures.
Additional realism would be provided by way of temperature controls for varying between the warmth of, say, wood and the coldness of a metallic surface.
While this may sound like science fiction if you’re not familiar with haptic research, it has been an area of study for quite some time. For example, a couple of years ago Disney published research regarding a so-called “tactile rendering algorithm” which could simulate 3D geometric features such as bumps, ridges, edges and protrusions on a giant tablet display.
As Disney explained at the time:
“The underlying hypothesis is that when a finger slides on an object then minute surface variations are sensed by friction-sensitive mechanoreceptors in the skin. Thus, modulating the friction forces between the fingertip and the touch surface would create illusion of surface variations.”
Given that Apple patents dozens of ideas every week, and not all of these come to market, it’s unknown whether the company will ever turn this into a product. The original patent was filed back in late 2013, although it’s taken until today for it to be officially granted and published.
It would certainly be amazing if Apple could pull something like this off, though.
BY Luke Dormehl