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):
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.