Good vibrations

A virtual tactile keyboard developed at Glasgow University could hold the key to making the iPhone easier to use.

The inclusion of a touchscreen keypad in place of a physical keyboard on the iPhone has enabled the manufacturer to incorporate a larger screen which means a better display of videos, web pages and games. However, without being able to feel when a button is selected users often experience a high level of errors, particularly when inputting text.

Now researchers are using vibrations to imitate the feel of a button when a user touches the keypad. The user will be able to feel the edges of each key, enabling them to identify where each key is without visually checking their iPhone.

Eve Hoggan, a researcher from the University’s department of computing science, said: ‘Compared to a standard keyboard, touchscreen keypads are less accurate in terms of text input. Without being able to identify through touch when a key has been selected there is a significant increase in the errors that are made.

‘Feedback through the finger is more natural and the brain can process it faster than visual feedback. By providing tactile feedback we will bring the iPhone keypad close to the performance of a real physical keyboard.’

As users run their fingers over the keypad, vibrations are triggered to indicate the presence of a button. When a key is selected and released different vibration patterns give the user the feel of a key snapping back into place.

Co-researcher, Malcolm Hall, added: ‘The idea we have developed is very simple to apply because the vibration technology is already included in the iPhone. This technology is not only restricted to the iPhone but could be applied to a range of other phones and electronic devices.’

More details can be found at the research team’s website:  http://iphone-haptics.googlecode.com