With all of the enhancements in picture (3D, Ultra High-Definition, High Dynamic Range) and sound (Dolby Atmos, Barco 11.1), there is one sense that hasn’t received much attention as an entertainment upgrade: touch.
But “haptics,” which engage the tactile sense, have been a frontier of computer research for some time. Now haptics are finding their way to entertainment. And they’re being used to add immersiveness to perhaps the least-immersive of all platforms: mobile phones.
The dream of adding the sense of touch to moving pictures isn’t new; horror schlockmeister William Castle famously installed buzzers on some seats for showings of “The Tingler,” hoping to get some patrons screaming on cue. But handheld screens are a uniquely appropriate place for haptics, because they are the one platform where the viewer (usually) touches the display device as the content plays. Some mobile games are already using tactile feedback, and now there are moves to bring haptics to mobile video as well.
Mobile software company Immersion harnesses and tunes the mobile phones “vibrate” motor to create haptic tracks for video. Those tracks are created using ProTools and a proprietary plugin. Existing video player software can add Immersion’s code to enable haptic playback.
Jason Patton, Immersion’s VP and general manager, says the company is looking to take advantage of the unique qualities of mobile video. “When you look at the big-screen, it can provide a Surround Sound, it can provide a larger-than-life experience,” says Patton. “What we can do is provide a very connected experience.”
Coupled with the right content, Immersion’s haptics are a noticeable upgrade. A guitar app vibrates in tune with the strings. A rollercoaster video feels more involving.
Immersion’s own polling shows that when they view trailers with haptic enhancements, audiences are more likely to want to see the film and feel more positive toward the film. They also are more likely to view the ad again.
Today, Immersion is using a motor built for nothing more creative than the vibrate funciton. Patton sees a day when phones have multiple motors, included with haptic feedback in mind. “You could see different parts of the phone giving you different experiences, similar to how 5.1 pushes sound in different areas of the room,” he says.