Watch Effect: Scaling up Apple's Taptic Engine for iPhone and iPad

Posted:
in Apple Watch edited August 2015
One of the more exciting features introduced with Apple Watch is Apple's Taptic Engine, a technology that has effectively creates a compelling user experience by accurately reproducing taps, bumps and other tactile effects.


Apple Watch Taptic engine. | Source: iFixit


Editor's note: Apple frequently introduces new technologies and features in a singular new product, then gradually brings them to other devices in its ecosystem, making for a more coherent user experience. Our Watch Effect series examines how the Apple Watch's own innovations might make their way to the iPhone, iPad, or Mac.

Apple's Taptic Engine is basically a branded version of haptic user interface technology designed to bridge the digital-physical divide. Using vibratory motors, in Apple's case the bespoke linear actuator seen above, devices like Apple Watch are capable of reproducing analogs of familiar physical touch and motion sensations or totally new and distinct tactile experiences. Aural cues from onboard speakers complete the system.

With Apple Watch, Apple applies its Taptics Engine to relay system notifications, reinforce audio alerts and offer an overarching sensory experience not usually associated with a digital device. Impressively, Apple has integrated the technology so tightly as to make it feel almost organic, a feat rarely accomplished in a lineage of haptic feedback systems that goes back decades.

By providing contextual vibratory feedback, Apple is able to replicate taps, heartbeats, shakes and more. The effect is most apparent when combined with Watch's Digital Crown.


Apple's Taptic Engine works in cooperation with audio feedback from Apple Watch's speaker for a powerful tactile feedback experience.


For example, over-scrolling beyond the boundaries of a list triggers rubber-banding physics, a UI feature first introduced in Apple's original iPhone. On Watch, rotational crown input becomes exponentially less responsive after scrolling past the top or bottom edge of a text box, a process that continues until the UI hits a "breaking point" and snaps the onscreen list back to normal viewing parameters like a rubber band. Taptic Engine feedback reinforces what is seen onscreen by producing a sensation best described as a taut rubber band being plucked gently on your wrist.

Translating that same haptic feedback technology to a full-fledged iOS device would not only bring parity across Apple's range of portable products, but could serve to enhance the user experience in ways never before possible.

Imagine an iPhone or iPad capable of reproducing rubber-banding vibrations similar to Apple Watch, but on a larger scale. Relying on their fingertips instead of a wrist, users would be able to better differentiate minute changes in vibration that could open the door to a more compelling haptic language specific to iOS. Or perhaps Apple can embed two or more Taptic Engines, located opposite each other on a handheld device, all working together to produce a deeper and more convincing set of responses.


iPhone 6 linear actuator. | Source: iFixit


Games makers are always looking to deliver a more immersive experience, from the Nintendo 64 Rumble Pak in the late 90s and Microsoft's Force Feedback. Apple's Taptic Engine could serve an identical function in iPhone and iPad, but offer discrete, accurate in-game feedback generations removed from prior technology.

Rumors already claim the Taptic Engine is coming to next-generation "iPhone 6s" handsets, though it remains unclear how exactly Apple plans to integrate the requisite hardware. The company could simply scale up Apple Watch's Taptic Engine -- some users complain the wearable's vibratory feedback is too weak -- but with larger screens and handheld form factors, a more thoughtful approach to installation location, size and iOS-centric responses would be optimal.

In any case, the gains won by adding Taptic Engine tech to an already formidable arsenal of iOS UI and UX features could be hge if accomplished correctly, but such a leap could require much more than a beefed up version of what's offered with Watch.

Comments

  • Reply 1 of 17
    I'm sorry, but this has nothing to do with the Apple Watch.

    You should know that already because you wrote about some of Apple's patents related to this whole system.

    In March 2012 it was said, Apple will introduce taptic feedback with the iPad 3, but it was too early for the technology to mass produce.

    And now? The "Taptic Engine" of course is inside the Apple Watch, but which product was first on market? Right, the 13 inch MacBook Pro with a "Force Touch" trackpad.

    So Apple had other scenarios in mind and maybe the watch was not the first of it.
  • Reply 2 of 17
    thewhitefalconthewhitefalcon Posts: 4,453member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by AppleInsider View Post
    Games makers are always looking to deliver a more immersive experience, from the Nintendo 64 Rumble Pak in the late 90s and Microsoft's Force Feedback. .

    Kudos for getting the spelling right! So many call it a Rumble Pack. They forget Ninty had the habit of calling everything "Pak" back then; Expansion Pak, Controller Pak (which, funnily enough, was a memory card, not a controller), Transfer Pak, etc.

    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Alexander Trust View Post

    I'm sorry, but this has nothing to do with the Apple Watch.

    You should know that already because you wrote about some of Apple's patents related to this whole system.

    In March 2012 it was said, Apple will introduce taptic feedback with the iPad 3, but it was too early for the technology to mass produce.

    And now? The "Taptic Engine" of course is inside the Apple Watch, but which product was first on market? Right, the 13 inch MacBook Pro with a "Force Touch" trackpad.

    So Apple had other scenarios in mind and maybe the watch was not the first of it.

     

    I'm sorry, but nope. Force Touch and the Taptic Engine are different methods of feedback.

  • Reply 3 of 17
    ahmlcoahmlco Posts: 432member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by TheWhiteFalcon View Post

     

    I'm sorry, but nope. Force Touch and the Taptic Engine are different methods of feedback.


     

    To be pedantic, but accurate, Force Touch is basically a long, "hard" press that a pressure sensor built into the device can recognize. That's also an input method, not feedback. 

     

    The Taptic Engine generates pulses and vibrations as notifications and as feedback to various actions, including Force Touch

     

    The new pressure-sensitive trackpad on the MB uses Force Touch as well as a version of the Taptic Engine to provide fake "clicks" that simulate the moving mechanical switch on a traditional trackpad. The watch also uses both to access contextual information and for feedback. 

     

    Both technologies are in both devices.

  • Reply 4 of 17
    MacProMacPro Posts: 18,460member
    Amazing to see springs making a come back! :D
  • Reply 5 of 17
    melgrossmelgross Posts: 31,982member
    Micky is forgetting that this is already present on a larger Apple device; the touchpad of the new Macbook and Pro. So this is already on a much larger device.
  • Reply 6 of 17
    Quote:


     I'm sorry, but nope. Force Touch and the Taptic Engine are different methods of feedback.


     

    Sure, one with a display on it and another one with a metal plate. But the ideas and patents behind it are the same/similar. You can split hairs, that's your thing then. ;) "The origin" of these new input mechanics is the same.

     

    And if you're not willing to prove your point other than "nope", then I won't listen to it. Look ma, someone said "nope" and it's in the internet, therefore it must be true.

  • Reply 7 of 17
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by melgross View Post



    Micky is forgetting that this is already present on a larger Apple device; the touchpad of the new Macbook and Pro. So this is already on a much larger device.

    Even with it present on a larger device like the new Macbook and the Macbook Pro's, the taptic feedback is limited to where the trackpad is. If this was implemented on the iPhone, in true Apple style, you'd expect the feedback to be specific to where you touched the screen. Apple is all about detail and this is the sort of thing that would make an unbelievable experience hard for competitors to copy. And this could be done with two taptic engines on each end to provide more specific feedback. I guess the screen of the iPhone 6 is similar size to the trackpad, but once you implement it on the iPhone 6 Plus, and both iPads (as well as the rumored iPad Pro), just 1 engine somewhere in the device could feel pretty weak and not too special. The watch is small and the trackpad is used only to mock a 'click', so 1 engine makes sense. Obviously I could be wrong, but I like to believe when Apple does something, they do it right. And multiple engines on a large multitouch surface could make for an unbelievable experience.

  • Reply 8 of 17
    gerardgerard Posts: 49member
    I don't have an issue with the haptic feedback; it really does feel to me as if someone physically tapped my wrist. In fact I turned down the intensity as I felt the default was too strong.
  • Reply 9 of 17
    inklinginkling Posts: 731member
    Good news. I'm suspecting that the techniques and technology developed for the Apple Watch may prove more useful on iPhones.
  • Reply 10 of 17
    sockrolidsockrolid Posts: 2,788member

    Originally Posted by AppleInsider View Post

    Rumors already claim the Taptic Engine is coming to next-generation "iPhone 6s" handsets, though it remains unclear how exactly Apple plans to integrate the requisite hardware.

     

    Unclear?  How about simply upgrading the existing silent alert vibrator?

    (You know, the one in all iOS devices except Apple TV.)

    Surely the "Taptic Engine" in the watch can be scaled up for bigger devices.

  • Reply 11 of 17
    muaddibmuaddib Posts: 47member

    I'm looking forward to an app that will tap out my text messages to me while wearing the Apple Watch in Morse Code.  :D

  • Reply 12 of 17
    gregoriusmgregoriusm Posts: 366member
    I see this as a great addition to Accessibility.
  • Reply 13 of 17
    The game idea you had was very cool. I hope they do that
  • Reply 14 of 17
    nolamacguynolamacguy Posts: 4,758member
    gerard wrote: »
    I don't have an issue with the haptic feedback; it really does feel to me as if someone physically tapped my wrist. In fact I turned down the intensity as I felt the default was too strong.

    I wish it was stronger. I often miss the taps so I had to enable the pre-tap vibration option.
  • Reply 15 of 17
    quambquamb Posts: 143member
    Any updates on the 6c? Is it even happening?
  • Reply 16 of 17
    muaddib wrote: »
    I'm looking forward to an app that will tap out my text messages to me while wearing the Apple Watch in Morse Code.  :D

    I'd be satisfied with "Shave and a hair cut."
  • Reply 17 of 17
    and by "all iOS devices except Apple TV" you mean literally only in the iPhone right?
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