For more on tonight's iPad launch head here: iPad 3 / iPad HD Launch
The big speculation behind the iPad 3 / iPad HD has now shifted from being about its name or the screen and to talk of it using a new haptic feedback technology. Made by a company called Senseg it lets you feel what you can see on screen. We got hands on with the technology nearly a year ago and have talked at length to the brains behind the business to get a feel for how the technology works.
Senseg's technology is a variation on electrostatic haptic feedback. This uses something called the Coloumb’s force, which is the principle of attraction between electrical charges. By passing a tiny electrical current into the insulated electrode (called Tixel by Senseg) - the surface of the screen - a small attractive force between screen and finger is created. By modulating this attractive force a variety of sensations can be generated, from textured surfaces and edges to vibrations and more.
Because this electrostatic effect uses no moving parts it is silent, doesn't wear out and is very low power. Moreover, the level of complexity available far surpasses most rival solutions, providing precise control of the location and type of effect users experience. We tried the technology on a number of development devices and were able to sense the ripple of a rippled image, the rough texture of a sandpaper image and the slight bump as fingers crossed lines on screen.
Since then the technology has clearly moved on, with much of the recent development being on the software side of things including creating libraries of surfaces for the software to emulate.
There is a downside, though. While some of us could feel the effect quite distinctly, others - presumably because of having thicker/tougher/manlier skin - were much less able to make out the nuances. Using the sensitive skin on the back of the hand proved much more effective, though this clearly isn't a practical way to interact with a touch device.
The Tixel electrode is very thin, flexible and can be made as large
or small as required, meaning the technology can be applied to phones,
tablets, TVs and much more, and we know the company is working with a number of other manufacturers. So while the iPad may be the first commercially
available product to use the technology, we expect to see it in many
more devices soon.