Over the last decade, mobile phones have evolved from delivering aggressively buzzy vibrating alerts to more sophisticated "haptic feedback" – digitally created touch-responsive forces. While evolutionary steps before Apple debuted the iPhone 6S with a Taptic Engine, the 2015 device marked a turning point for smartphone haptics, bringing deeper and more realistic touch experiences to pocket devices. Now there is a report that Apple will upgrade the Taptic Engine for the iPhone 11 family, so I have gathered some clues as to what types of new features it might contain.
It is worth noting that neither today's 9to5Mac report nor Apple's key Taptic Engine provider, Japan's Nidec Seimitsu, offers specific details of what the next-generation vibration actuator can do. Moreover, Apple has been more conservative in using haptics than Android rivals, even skirts away from using mini-vibrations to verify virtual keyboard presses. So treat the list below as a collection of opportunities instead of something that is definitive, and you won't be disappointed when the new iPhones are unveiled in September.
In Apple's hands, complex next-generation haptics can provide a wider and more nuanced range of inputs: the feel of a finger navigating unevenness, a pencil that draws toward paper or dunk that appears to come from different locations inside the iPhone . That said, for many years Apple has been wanting to add complex haptics like these to larger shielded iPads, but it just hasn't happened, apparently due to the technical challenges of distributing sensations over larger surfaces – But possibly due to patenting concerns.
An otherwise slow (read: no 5G) iPhone year like this can be a good time to review the device's entire interface with haptic feedback. There may be too much hope that Apple can implement keyboard-style keyboard-style keyboards for the virtual keyboard at this time, but perhaps the company was expecting a very specific type of key feedback that only a next-generation actuator could deliver. Or maybe it is once again hoping that third-party developers will come up with several new applications of the idea.
2. More frequent vibrations across different types of apps. If a vibration motor uses relatively little power and is reliable enough, it can be used for any purpose without fear of killing the device's battery or damaging it. Nidec describes some of their engines capable of "interconnecting" with music and games to vibrate with beats, creating the feeling of "listening to a music performance in a concert hall," or immersing themselves in the action.
Historically, Apple has subdued the vibration features of its devices, and used the small engines largely to respond to inputs rather than persistent drives – except for silent ringtones. But with the right component and proper support from Apple's software team, everything is possible.
3. More powerful vibrations. This is possible but difficult to imagine in an Apple device: The next Taptic engine may be able to really rattle your hands when needed, get closer to the thrill of a game controller than the noise of a smartphone. For a variety of physical reasons, including the increasingly thinner iPhone chassis design and the potential for abuse, this seems somewhat unlikely.
4. Less powerful or disturbing vibrations. As boring as this sounds, it's not as unlikely as it may seem. Before the Taptic engine, the Apple shifted the vibration actuators in previous iPhones to reduce the likelihood of accidentally vibrating (mostly glass, easily breakable) devices from flat surfaces. Given Apple's continued focus on luxury experiences, you may want to preserve the current engine's vibration sensations without feeling as tough. You may also want to cut the power used by the actuator to improve battery life.
My guess is that this is largely unlikely. The Taptic Engine is already capable of delivering relatively low power cranes that are almost impossible to feel unless the phone is in hand and users tend to complain when they cannot feel the device's promised haptic response. Apple also doesn't need a whole new part to deliver weak haptics. But it is possible that a next-generation Taptic Engine might be more energy-efficient or support a wider range of power levels.
5. Mid-air vibration, at a distance. As wild as this sounds, a company called Ultrahaptics has created an ultrasonic haptic system that can be felt in the air, without physically touching the actuator – a system that specifically has potential applications in the AR and VR rooms. The idea is to let people physically feel and manipulate virtual objects they see through AR or VR headsets, and provide up to eight separate touch points up to 27.5 inches away from the device.
You may know Ultrahaptic's name from its May acquisition of Leap Motion, a company that Apple reportedly considered buying and ultimately renounced. Since the 9to5Mac's report today claims that the new Taptic Engine is "known under the code name haptics jumped ," it may be a clue.
I don't want to keep my breath away, but because of Ultrahaptics' system size and the lack of obvious value in implementing such a feature – yet – on an iPhone. The company's publicly known actuators are closer to laptop size than pocket, and there are no indications that the company has developed something that can fit inside a smartphone. Even if it did, the value would be questionable: Without an AR / VR style image floating in front of your phone, what would you need for airspace?
For years, it has been suggested that Apple and others work on air controls for different devices, and it may be cool to "feel" the pressure on a floating play / pause button or a sliding volume control that is actually not there. . But without the AR or VR glasses, you must see UI elements and other objects through the iPhone's own display, which you will hold in your hand without the need for air in the air. This doesn't really add to that.
Realistically, if the iPhone 11 actually gets a new Taptic Engine, the most likely innovations would be bits and pieces of the first four concepts above – a little extra dunk here, a more precise or subtle latch there, and a reliable enough part to continue to function despite many additional triggers from OS and apps. For a year when I lean toward buying a new iPhone, my personal hope is that Apple has decided to write off 3D Touch for a good reason, and has ambitious haptic plans in store for September.