We have seen a lot of new technology adopted in smartphones and mobile devices over the last five years or so. But I now think the industry is ready to adopt a technology that has not met industry needs to date: haptics. What is bolstering this optimism are the maturity of piezoelectric actuators and specialized drivers that can now meet the low-power requirement along with a customizable haptic interface.
Leading the charge are TDK Electronics, a subsidiary of Japan-based TDK Corp. and Canada-based Boréas Technologies, Inc. At SID Display Week 2019, the two announced a new cooperation agreement to “accelerate the adoption of piezo haptic solutions in a broad range of applications.” And mobile devices are at the top of the list.
If you look at the mobile device market, it is clear that display performance is already stellar. We have high-density displays with reference-grade image quality. Almost all mobile displays also include a touch interface. In fact, if it doesn’t have touch capabilities, you start to wonder why. Foldable phones are all the rage, offering a new form factor, and, there is a clear trend to eliminate any buttons or holes on the smartphone. Buttonless phones and foldable phones now have a clear opportunity to consider a haptic interface. But is there a need? Is the technology ready?
There already are haptic devices in smartphones today – they provide the vibration that let’s you know you have a message, notification or email waiting for you. That’s fine, but there is a lot more that haptics can offer. For example, users don’t like to use display-based keyboards because they don’t provide any haptic feedback – you can’t touch type and get the tactile feedback similar to a real keyboard.
The new piezoelectric actuators from TDK and the drivers from Boréas can solve this problem. A software layer allows the creation of waveforms that can reproduce the sensation of running your fingers over a keyboard, changing that sensation when you select a key. Think of all the icons that can now have their own “tactile profile” to provide a next generation user interface. Boréas’ SmartClik product exemplifies this functionality. At SID Display Week 2019, Boréas is demonstrating a prototype of a “virtual button” by replacing a physical button on the side of the smartphone with a piezo/driver combination.