Haptic technology, haptic feedback, or simply haptics, is technology that incorporates tactile experience or feedback as part of its user interface, creating a sense of touch through vibrations, motion, or other forces.

Haptic technologies were first developed and introduced in the 1970s and most individuals may have experienced some form of haptic feedback in video games that make motion response part of the gaming experience. Haptic technologies have even become part of home gaming consoles’ controllers, joy sticks, and steering wheels.  

More recently, haptic technologies have found their way into computers, mobile devices, and wearables. Apple’s Taptic Engine, introduced into the track pad of their laptops, uses an electromagnetic motor to trick fingers into feeling things (button clicks, etc.) that aren’t actually there and could be used in additional products like the Apple watch (to turn buzzes into more familiar wrist taps) or integrate with other software or media to help users “feel” bumps, indentations, holes, and other relief-like textures or even to receive more sensory cues that would improve the use of products.[1] Wearables and phones have begun integrating haptic feedback through buzzes and vibrations that alert or provide feedback to improve users experience. 

The next wave of haptic technology could help integrate sensory experiences into the media and content viewed on phones, tablets and other devices.  The haptic technology company Immersion is developing software that would allow app makers to play with features that mimic the feeling of an explosion or the whirring of a helicopter – features that were already used in a promotion for the television series “Homeland.” [2] These developments that integrate tactile sensory experiences with visual experiences might be particularly important for the future of virtual reality, adding an additional layer into the authentic experiences VR hopes to provide. 

Google’s Project Jacquard seeks to integrate conductive yarns into everyday garments and fabric, building a network of touch sensors and haptic feedback into clothing and household upholstery (curtains, furniture, etc.). [3] Such advances would allow users to access apps and services, through gestures, movements or even by virtue of wearing a garment, from multiple points throughout the home or office, not just through direct contact with a computer or smartphone.  

Beyond entertainment and user experiences, haptic technology might be particularly important in advancing connections, communication, and even access.  Haptic technology is being developed to allow individuals with disabilities to receive tactile feedback from phones and tablets – a smart phone interface that allows users to “feel” buttons as they scroll over the flat surface; digital photo features that allow users to detect faces or orientation by producing a textural quality in the interface; or even producing a braille-like sensation over letters in text messages or web pages. [4] Additional tools might connect with devices wirelessly to provide a haptic interface that translates text from a visual or audio device onto a tactile device, like a smartwatch that converts texts from a smartphone into braille letters that can be read on the watch face. [5

The integration of haptics into media may add a new descriptive feature into information objects, requiring libraries to rethink their systems for describing, classifying, or even retrieving resources. 

Haptic technology may play an important role in learning. New research may reveal a benefit to children’s tactile interaction with screens and the feedback they receive as important factors in the acquisition of information. [6] For more advanced learners, haptic technology could revolutionize online or distance education, allowing students to participate in hands-on tactile activities or exercises  or even simulate physical environments. [7]  

As libraries work to make text-based or image resources available to a wider audience, including those with visual or audio disabilities, haptic technologies could become a significant part of accessibility.

Haptic technologies could become an important part of wearable technologies, which patrons would presumably wear with them into the library. Patrons may increasingly expect that their library experiences – search,, navigation of the library space and stacks, or even reading time – would integrate wearables and the haptic feedback that they provide. [8]   


[1] “Apple’s Haptic Tech Makes Way for Tomorrow’s Touchable UIs.” Kyle Van Hemert. Wired. March 19, 2015. Available from http://www.wired.com/2015/03/apples-haptic-tech-makes-way-tomorrows-touchable-uis/

[2] “Gadgets Are Getting Better at Fooling Your Sense of Touch.” Rachel Metz. MIT Technology Review. February 20, 2015. Available from http://www.technologyreview.com/news/535121/gadgets-are-getting-better-at-fooling-your-sense-of-touch/ 

[3] “Google is Hacking Our Clothes to Work Like Touchscreens.” David Peirce. Wired. May 29, 2015. Available from http://www.wired.com/2015/05/google-wants-turn-everything-wearable/ 

[4] "New Haptic Technology Helps People With Disabilities." Hosea Sanders. ABC 7 Chicago News. July 5, 2015. Available from http://abc7chicago.com/technology/new-haptic-technology-helps-people-with-disabilities/829715/

[5] "Braille Smartwatch Dot Allows The Blind To Read Texts And E-Books." Lauren Keating. Tech Times. July 30, 2015. Available from http://www.techtimes.com/articles/73128/20150730/braille-smartwatch-dot-allows-blind-read-texts-e-books.htm

[6] “The Touch-Screen Generation.” Hanna Rosin. The Atlantic. April 2013. Available from http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2013/04/the-touch-screen-generation/309250/

[7] "How Stanford is Incorporating Touch for Online Learning." Ronald Bethke. eCampusNews. February 13, 2015. Available from http://www.ecampusnews.com/technologies/hapkit-touch-online-323/

[8] "Why We Need A Haptic Design Language For Wearables." John Brownlee. Fast Company. March 18, 2015. Available from http://www.fastcodesign.com/3043795/why-we-need-a-haptic-design-language-for-wearables