The touchscreen goes ultratactileJuly 27, 2009: 7:34 AM ET
Touchscreens seem to be everywhere, from the Apple (AAPL) iPhone to airport check-in kiosks.
What's next for this ubiquitous interface? One tech company recently offered me an exclusive demonstration of what might be dubbed feel screen technology.
Immersion Corp. (IMMR) is a developer of touch feedback technology; its systems are used in simulators that help medical professionals practice procedures such as intubation. If the physician pushes too hard on simulated tissue, say, the simulator provides feedback that helps him or her understand what that sensation might feel like on a real patient.
That same concept is coming to personal computers. At Fortune's Brainstorm Tech conference, Immersion's chief executive officer, Clent Richardson, and chief technology officer Christophe Ramstein, let me play with the company's latest innovation: a two-player game prototype that offers touch feedback as a pinball moves between two computer screens.
The game did indeed feel like an old-school pinball machine. The tablet vibrated under my fingers, and there was a tangible change in pressure when the paddle made contact with the ball. Immersion refers to this as haptic technology.
"Everything is going to touchscreens," CEO Richardson says. "This is the first time a flat panel is able to provide haptic feedback."
He says the implications for haptics in personal technology are both fun and profound: Imagine being able to send the touch equivalent of emoticons to your friends over social networking sites. But haptics also can make typing or data entry on touchscreens more accurate.
Richardson predicts a world where the mouse eventually goes away. In the meantime, he says, consumer electronics companies that are seeking to differentiate themselves will start rolling out devices with haptic technology. Samsung, for example, already has a haptic phone and Immersion it expects the South Korean electronics maker to roll out a second haptic device.