iPhone to move from ‘touch’ to ‘feel’?

In a new patent filed in the US, Apple has recognised one of the biggest flaws with touchscreen devices: the lack of any tactile feedback. The fact that a user cannot “feel” the keys or icons on a touch-sensitive screen leads to a lot of one-handed users – especially ones who travel or drive a lot – opting for non-touch handsets.

So Apple is finally exploring an idea that a lot of people hoped it would have done sooner: haptic feedback. The idea is to let the user operate the screen purely by feel, without once looking at it.

To do this, the Cupertino-based electronics giant is planning to include a grid of piezoelectric actuators that can be activated on command.

Here’s an example to illustrate what they mean by this: Suppose you want to use the iPod functionality of the iPhone. You go over to the application, and you find yourself with a virtual representation of the familiar click-wheel.

But the moment you touch the wheel, the centre button and the wheel around it feel distinctly different. You touch the ‘back’ button at the top of the screen and you get another feeling of touching a button – all on a touchscreen!

The eventual applications for a technology like this are limitless. Apple is just looking at the tip of the iceberg when they say they want this for commuters. The device would be perfect for gamers, office users and such other crowds who depend on physical keyboards because they never had anything close to such tactile feedback on a machine.

And just when you thought that the iPhone 3GS was Apple hitting a ceiling in innovation regarding the world’s favourite phone.

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