Making interfaces more transparent … literally, in this clever shot by Steve Roe.

Touch and multi-touch interfaces are getting lots of attention, but they pose one major problem: there’s no tactile feedback. Those supposedly “primitive” buttons and knobs and such start to look a lot better when you realize your fingers are used to touching solid objects. All you get from a touchscreen is the sensation of running your finger against an undifferentiated piece of plastic. That was one of my complaints with the multi-touch music interface, Lemur: it just felt physically wrong.

As more and more interfaces employing touch interfaces, engineers are working on solutions to the problem. ExtremeTech talks about a new deal between mobile phone maker Nokia and feedback gurus Immersion (whom you may know from the gaming market):

Nokia Touchscreen Phones to Add Tactile Feedback

Don’t expect too much here — I think the results will feel more like a vibration when you’re touching a control. Then again, a little goes a long way. The Nintendo Wii very cleverly uses basic vibration to give you a subtle cue as you hit something that can be controller, for instance. The vibration is one-dimensional, but it can be enough to give your brain a connection to what you’re doing. Even Apple’s somewhat flawed Mighty Mouse provides feedback by placing a small speaker under its roller ball, which, whether it’s useful or not, tickles your fingertip so you get the sense of scrolling.

These tools have a long way to go, but they could make touch interfaces more useful for music. Even some basic haptic feedback could make using simple touch interfaces like the Korg KAOSS Pad more fun. It’ll be interesting to watch this stuff evolve — and see if mass-market cell phone technology might trickle up to niche-market music products.

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  • ps

    hello. i happen to work for said giant mobile company. however, no specific comment on that. but, once got to see a full spectrum of switches and such from one of our parts suppliers. they were working on a touch screen feedback method that was super simple – basically a mini hammer that taps the back of the screen when you touch it. this simple method actually made touching the screen feel 100% the same as touching a physical button. NO difference at all. i was amazed.

    so yes, a little can go a long way. sadly, though, i've not seen this implemented myself – perhaps thumping an LCD isn't so good for long time use. or, maybe it's a bit expensive. whatever the case, it was clear to me, you can have your touchscreen and your button-like haptic feedback, too.

  • Wow, interesting. And I see there's a Windows Mobile phone that already uses some kind of very basic tactile feedback, though I think it was more along the lines of rumble-only. Still, lots of potential here. It seems like we need a basic standard on the OS so software developers implement it, as otherwise it's going to be less useful. (That or else a way to automatically convert the on-screen widgets for feedback.)

  • "Even Apple’s somewhat flawed Mighty Mouse provides feedback by placing a small speaker under its roller ball, which, whether it’s useful or not, tickles your fingertip so you get the sense of scrolling."

    I'm not so sure this is true. I think it may be a psycho-acoustic trick.. like the iPod clicking. Try putting on some decent headphones and then rolling the ball when the mouse is on and off. I tried it, and can't 'feel' a difference.. I can't feel anything, can you?

    This is an important direction to take though.. and 'ps', that's a pretty cool story. Can you describe the feeling of the button at all?

    Were there many options on the one button face.. or was it one virtual button per physical button?