Imagine a multitouch interface on your smartphone that can interact with you by offering a texturized feel from vibrations at very specific and accurate points on the touch display. This is referred to as haptic feedback. Activities like typing and gaming could suddenly offer an entirely new way to interact with your device. While similar technologies already exist in other devices, none are as groundbreaking as the approach to haptic feedback that Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) appears ready to introduce with the iPhone 6.
The possible new feature
A new report from Chinese site Laoyaoba (via GforGames) said one the iPhone 6's "secret weapons" will be a new haptic feedback technology. The technology will be made possible by a never-before-used tactile linear motor that is "more intelligent and capable of producing different types of subtle vibrations in correlation with the application's scenario. It can even emit different vibrations depending on the area of the touch screen that is being pressed," according to GforGames.
The new technology will come at a slightly higher price tag to Apple, costing about two to three times the $0.60 that the iPhone 5s' haptic motor cost.
Today's haptic feedback technology uses a number of separate actuators in different locations under the user interface. The problem is that the vibration feedback cannot be localized to more specific areas. How exactly will Apple's haptic feedback technology set a new standard? Looking back to patents awarded to Apple in early 2013, we may get a clue.
AppleInsider's Mikey Campbell attempts to simplify the complex patent language to sum up the key benefits that come with the technology described in Apple's U.S. patent No. 8,378,797.
Unlike other technologies, however, Apple's patent covers a plurality of actuators situated across a broad field, enabling precise haptic feedback for multitouch panels. A problem arises when attempting to use tactile feedback with a multitouch display, which is the management of propagating vibrations to unwanted sectors of the screen.
To focus the system's vibrations at a single point of contact, the patent uses destructive interference created at various points away from the originating, and wanted, vibration to obscure or otherwise cancel the propagating 'vibratory crosstalk.'
The practical application? Perhaps soft vibrations for taps on buttons or keys -- accurately localized at the point of touch -- and more violent localized vibrations to be used in games.
"Together with customized apps, tactile feedback can proved a more immersive experience for the user," said AppleInsider.
An attempt to differentiate the iPhone 6
Obviously Apple wants the iPhone 6 line to stand out from its predecessors. While faster processors and camera improvements are always expected when Apple launches its latest-generation iPhone, the company has historically tried to introduce innovative new technologies to help build the value proposition for upgrading to the latest model.
With the iPhone 4s, for instance, Apple introduced voice-assistant Siri. The 5 came with a new form-factor. And the main differentiating feature for the iPhone 5s was Touch ID, used to accurately detect fingerprints.
If rumors are true, the greatest differentiating feature for Apple's next line of smartphones will be larger displays. The company is reportedly planning to launch both a 4.7-inch version of the device and a phablet-like 5.5-inch iPhone.
Groundbreaking localized haptic feedback may be another way Apple tries to set its latest smartphone apart from both older iPhone models and from competitors.
Apple shareholders should hope the company finds as many ways as possible to offer a compelling as possible iPhone 6 user experience. In an increasingly competitive smartphone market, key differentiating features will play a large role in consumers' decision on whether to upgrade.