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3/7/2012
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Eric Zeman
Eric Zeman
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iPad 3: What Does Apple Want Us To Touch?

In the invitation for today's iPad event, Apple said that it has something we really need to touch. Could that be a new, haptic-feedback display?

Yes, folks, it's time to pull out all the last-minute reports, guesses, rumors, and nuggets ahead of today's iPad launch event. While InformationWeek has most of the rumors already accounted for, one popped up this morning that's more interesting than the rest.

The Next Web's Matthew Panzarino posits that the iPad revealed by Apple today may include a screen that provides feedback in the way of micro-vibrations. This technology, often referred to as haptics, uses a small motor inside electronic devices to shake it ever so slightly when pressed.

The idea behind haptics is to let users of touch-screen devices know that they've successfully pressed the screen and activated whatever button or on-screen element they wanted to press. The most obvious example is the phone dial pad on Android smartphones. Nearly all Android smartphones offer haptic feedback when users type phone numbers into the on-screen number pad.

Neat--sometimes useful--but not necessarily revolutionary.

Panzarino believes that the touch tech added to the new iPad will be slightly different from that already offered in smartphones. It may come from a Finnish company called Senseg.

"Senseg's technology requires no modification of the screen's surface, nor does it use moving parts," reports Panzarino. "This means that the technology could be integrated into an upcoming device, like the iPad 3, without changing the way that the touchscreen works. If Apple was to introduce some sort of touch-feedback technology in the iPad 3, this feels like the form it would take, rather than a loud, imprecise, vibrating motor."

OK, let's for a moment imagine this is true. So what?

Last week while attending Mobile World Congress, a company demonstrated similar technology for me on smartphones. The demos were a bit limited, but they showed potential. For example, the micro vibrations could be used by applications to provide additional information to users when they aren't looking at the screen.

In one demo, I scrolled through a contact list, and when the list zoomed past a contact marked as a favorite, the phone buzzed to let me know I just passed one of my closer friends. Another demo simulated how a game could use micro vibrations to shake the phone when my plane got hit by explosions.

You can imagine other scenarios wherein providing force feedback could lead to an interesting new dimension when it comes to interacting with touchscreen devices.

Just how successful a feature like this will be will depend a lot on the resourcefulness of application developers. For example, random vibrations of the whole device wouldn't be all that useful, but localized feedback right where a user is pressing the screen could be more helpful in some applications, such as the keyboard.

Will Apple add this technology to the new iPad? We'll all find out in a few short hours. Be sure to swing back to InformationWeek later today for the breaking news and analysis of Apple's event.

The Enterprise Connect conference program covers the full range of platforms, services, and applications that comprise modern communications and collaboration systems. It happens March 26-29 in Orlando, Fla. Find out more.

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