Recent innovations in the world of haptic feedback have drawn much attention in the world of gaming thanks to the announcement of the Nintendo Switch. However, huge innovations have been happening in haptics for quite some time, so I’ll also be covering the Steam Controller and other implementations of haptic feedback in wider technology.
Let’s discuss how these technologies are changing gaming and what effects they’re going to have on the wider tech world.
What Are HD Rumble and Haptic Feedback?
“HD rumble” is really just Nintendo’s term for the form of haptic feedback they’re using in their latest JoyCon controllers for the Nintendo Switch. Industry-wide, this term is called “haptic feedback,” and haptics have been a part of technology for time immemorial. Haptic feedback is basically using force and vibration to simulate a sense of touch or add extra interactivity with a device or application.
Haptic feedback done at its best provides what is called tactile feedback to a user: it provides the sensation of using perhaps actual buttons when you’re actually using a touchscreen. (This is why many people prefer to buy gamepads for playing mobile games: playing with a touchscreen lacks tactile feedback and feels less precise, while having real sticks and buttons greatly increases playability of many titles.)
The Game-Changing Controllers
The Steam Controller (as well as the touchpads on the HTC Vive, another Valve product) innovates on haptic feedback via its dual touchpads. These touchpads use fairly-advanced actuator motors to simulate a number of sensations. In its simplest form, the Steam Controller does this to simulate the feeling of using a real scroll wheel or ball-mouse via vibrations, but with supported applications it can simulate the tension of a wire or the friction of opening a cabinet. Because of how the Steam Controller applies haptics, in addition to its other features, it’s an ideal in-between for a traditional gamepad and a keyboard/mouse setup and shows markedly more accuracy in FPS titles than an analog stick thanks to its touchpads.
The JoyCons, through their HD Rumble, are stated to offer a level of haptic feedback advanced enough to translate the feeling of holding a glass with ice cubes in it. And here’s the kicker – the ability to actually shake the simulated glass and count the number of ice cubes by how many you feel hitting the inside of your hand.
Full disclosure, I’ve used the Steam Controller on a number of occasions thanks to my roommate owning one. However, the Nintendo Switch has yet to be released at the time of writing, and I haven’t gone to any events to use one. However, the reports from people who have seem positive.
What Are Their Current Applications?
Well, you’ve already encountered haptics quite a bit in your regular life. Those vibrations that your phone does whenever you tap a letter on the touchscreen keyboard, for instance, count as a form of haptic feedback. In fact, most touches on smart devices come with haptic feedback to make the device more usable.
Other more basic examples can be seen in things like rumble on gamepads.
What Could They Do in the Future?
In the future, however, haptics can go much, much further. Sufficiently-advanced haptics will be able to accurately replicate the feelings of multiple surfaces, and that serves much interest in the areas of Virtual Reality. It’ll also benefit smart devices with more advanced haptic feedback on touchscreens, laptop touchpads, digital art applications, and even in the scientific and medical fields. They’ve even made touchable holograms!
Advancements in haptic feedback technologies are looking to push both gaming and tech at large into new, interesting territories in terms of interactive experiences.
Personally, I can’t wait.