Your phone vibrates to notify you, but of what? Is it a Snapchat? An Instagram like? An e-mail? A Twitter mention? A text message? Besides phone calls and the occasional amber alert, the vibrations on our phones aren’t as unique as they could be.
This is the grit basics of what we call “haptic feedback”. Haptic feedback or haptics is the use of the sense of touch in a user interface design to provide information to an end user. Video game controllers are an easy example of a device that incorporates frequent haptic feedback. In a game, users can feel when they slice through a piece of fruit, kick a ball, shoot a gun, start a car, or experience an explosion. Haptics immerse us into the experience by communicating with us via our tactile senses. Capitalizing on these senses, we can provide information to the user’s brain almost instantly, eliminating distractions and increasing context.
John Brownlee, a writer at Fast Co. Design, wrote an excellent article entitled “Why We Need A Haptic Design Language for Wearables”. In the article, he talks about these intimate devices that are snuggled on our wrists or in our pockets, yet we still have to look down to receive information. “Wearables represent an unparalleled opportunity to inform the public about the importance of great haptic design. Wearables are strapped against the skin, not separated from your body by a purse or a pocket like a smartphone. They’re more intimate. Once customers learn to “hear” the silent language of haptics pulsing against their wrist, the hope is that they will demand a richer texture of haptic experience in other devices as well. Where as most people experience haptics in their smartphones and game controllers today as simple, repetitive notes, wearables could teach us to expect more from our devices: rich haptic melodies that track our physical and digital lives.”
Imagine truck drivers delivering goods receiving haptic feedback about traffic, road conditions and emergencies without even having to look down at their phones. Additionally, phone contacts could have their own haptic ringtone enabling drivers to differentiate who is calling without the distractions.
This could impact healthcare as well since doctors are constantly on the move. Haptic notifications would immediately notify them if they are needed for a critical patient, surgery, etc. In addition, there could be health emergency haptics that notify you when you may be having a heart attack or stroke. It could also have a special vibration to remind you to take your medicine.
Beyond that, haptic feedback could also be applied to the workplace. Try sending off a business e-mail with grammatical errors and your phone stops you with a slow vibration. Maybe you try to schedule a meeting with a co-worker and instead of having to figure out that they are out of the office, haptics alert you when you try to contact them or add them to a meeting.
In a retail environment, employees could be notified when there is a customer at the register, someone needs a changing room or even if a child is lost in the store. A store manager might want to know when a product needs to be restocked, deliveries have arrived, or if an employee has called in sick.
Pairing haptic feedback with geofences, beacons and other technology is just one way we can improve contextual experiences. Devices that are already so intimately involved in our lives should be able to communicate with us more uniquely. The implications of this are very interesting especially in industries where safety is extremely important. Eliminating distractions that require visual confirmation is a simple way of enhancing the user experience.