Haptics technology developer Immersion has unveiled two new products today, integrated themes and tactile presence, which are designed to help smartphone manufacturers improve the use of touch feedback in their new devices.

Immersion is most well-known for developing a unique set of modules, known as Integrator, that can instantly adds intricate vibrations to any Android skin and apps. Smartphone manufacturers such as Samsung, Nokia and LG have partnered with Immersion already, with the former using it to develop the “inspired by nature” theme and corresponding vibrations (think of the feedback from the water ripple effect on the lock screen) to create a more immersive experience.

Integrated themes is Immersion’s attempt to take this concept one step further. In the skin designed for the Samsung Galaxy S III, the new module could be used to extend the theme through an increased use of touch feedback. The wallpaper might feature a line of bamboo shoots which not only sway when you swipe, but also really feel like they’re swaying because of the complex vibrations.

haptics2 730x389 Haptics specialist Immersion launches integrated themes and tactile presence for smartphone OEMs

A further example is a racing car theme, which might use a car door as the lock screen. When you swipe to enter the homescreen, the haptics try to imitate the feeling of a car door unlocking, thereby extending the illusion of the skin but also the smartphone manufacturer’s branding.

“With Integrated Themes, touch effects enhance the whole device design language, not just button confirmation, creating a more immersive overall experience,” Dennis Sheehan, senior vice president of sales and marketing at Immersion said.

Touch feedback rarely changes the actual functionality of a smartphone, other than notifying the user of an incoming call or message when it’s tucked away on silent.

Immersion, however, believes that integrated themes are important because they subconsciously add to the feeling of quality in a device. For a smartphone manufacturer trying to create its new flagship device later this year, that could make a huge difference.

“Incorporating tactile effects into the design stage of a mobile experience is critical,” Sheehan added. “We understand from user research that well designed tactile effects positively influence the perception of device quality, up leveling the device experience and the OEM brand.”

The new integrated theme module is a build-time tool that uses the company’s existing TouchSense 3000 and TouchSense 5000 software. It comes with a number of pre-designed themes, but manufacturers are encouraged to customize them with their own assets to create a unique and branded experience. It will be available to OEMs from the second quarter of this year.

haptics3 730x389 Haptics specialist Immersion launches integrated themes and tactile presence for smartphone OEMs

Immersion is also launching a more experimental API, called tactile presence, which will allow developers to use low-power haptics in messenger apps. The idea is that on a smartphone or tablet, whenever the user touches the screen it’s replicated on the recipient’s display. So in an underwater setting, a parent can rapidly tap the screen to ‘blow’ a line of bubbles that have haptics applied to them. A child can then pop those bubbles and feel that same sensation from the vibrations given off by the device.

It’s a very simple premise, but is designed to bring people closer together through a shared, tactile space. So in an SMS, users can add emoticons that can be physically felt, or in a game players can sense their partner’s actions on the other screen (think Battleships or a puzzle game as an example of where this could be used.)

“The sense of touch is fundamental, emotive and creates a strong sense of connection,” Chris Ullrich, vice president of user experience at Immersion said. “With tactile presence, OEMs can harness this powerful sense to create more satisfying mobile telepresence experiences.” The tactile presence API will be available to manufacturers from the second half of this year.

Most of us turn off the touch feedback on our smartphones, either because they slowly begin to irritate or we worry about how much power they’re consuming. Immersion claims that in its own tests, apps running haptics on a device with TouchSense installed used only 2 percent of total CPU processing. In comparison, devices running other forms of haptics used up to 7 percent.

Haptics is an integral part of smartphones, even if we rarely acknowledge it. Game developers such as Rockstar, for example, use Immersion’s haptic SDK to recreate the feedback of a controller in all of its Grand Theft Auto ports. It’s therefore an understated, but developing part of our relationship with mobile devices that shouldn’t be ignored.

Image Credit: Immersion