How it works: phone haptics

How touchscreen phones are dealing with the keyboard problem

The Samsung Anycall Haptic

Haptic technology, such as that seen in the recently released Anycall Haptic mobile phone from Samsung has long been something thoroughly planted in the realm of patents and geek-speak.

The subject of touchscreens a decade ago was a subject heavily on the 'DO NOT talk to girls in bars about' list. Actually, it still is.

But that same girl would probably go crazy for the iPhone, as it seems 99.9 per cent of the population is doing, and for good reason. The screen is lovely and responsive, but if the few critics out there have a valid point, is it is too far departed from the actual pressing of keys.

Even to write this piece only needs a look at the keyboard around once in around 50 keystrokes, and even that could be reduced with training. And that's because the keys are distinct under the fingers, the separations tell the brain which letter you are on, and when to type.

And given texting is done almost exclusively without looking, especially with the under 18s it seems, touchscreens need a bit of work.

Buzz and be happy

We saw early versions of 'touch the phone and it buzzes' haptics from Samsung on the F700 a while back, and the LG Viewty brought the idea to the mass market, and has probably been the most successful so far.

But the problem is mimicking the reality of the keystroke, and that's why devices such as the Samsung Anytime Haptic are taking things to the next level.

This device features not a few variations of feedback, but 22 different levels of interaction with the touchscreen, as well as the audible click you would associate with the pressing of the keys.

This device is pretty much the most advanced touchscreen feedback in all handsets, but bizarrely hasn't got much else to speak about on the features front: mainly a 2MP camera and digital TV receiver (which has become a pre-requisite over in some parts of Asia).

In fact, it's unlikely to ever be seen outside of Asia.

The Anycall Haptic is becoming a popular device on the forums and message boards net-wide, especially among those non-iPhone converts. It seems there's a genuine clamour for a decent touchscreen, yet no provider has taken the plunge to offer one worldwide with the haptic feedback the user clearly want.


Nokia could have an answer for this with its Haptikos technology. Basically, this patent uses numerous voltage-sensitive elements within a film that raise and lower in response to electrical current.

Seems dull, but the point is the screen depresses and offers a physical click in response to finger pressure.

The presence of a finger would cause a voltage change across the screen, causing minute rods to rise up and present a 'button' to depress.

This would serve very little purpose other than to increase the tactile experience of using a touchscreen, and shows the big players care a lot about this problem.

Apple has though about a similar system using Braille-like bumps, so even the biggest operator of a single touchscreen mobile believes haptics are the future.

Change is bad

The reason touchscreens have taken so long to appear in the mainstream when they appeared to offer the consumer so much is a technological issue that has largely been solved.

But now, if they are to become a dominant method of entering information, ideas like the Haptikos system are crucial, as the average user simply won't change the way they type wholesale.

So while the iPhones and the Anycall Haptics might seem all happy and swooshy now, wait ten years and have another go…you might find yourself bitterly disappointed with what you remember.