Haptic technology adoption is on the rise. According to a report this year from Statistical Insights, the global haptic technology market is expected to nearly double from $2.6 billion in 2021 to $4.8 billion by 2028, at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 12 percent. One of the key drivers of its growth is within consumer devices. More original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) are using haptic technology in new products – be it is smartphones, tablets, laptops, or accessories – as they look to differentiate in a crowded market.
Differentiation is a particular challenge in the laptop market. Most laptops combine the same three features – a display, a keyboard and a touchpad. These functions allow users to do, for the most part, everything they need. There are niche products: laptops built to suit specific user groups, such as gamers or graphic designers, but for the mainstream market, it can be difficult to differentiate, leaving laptop OEMs looking for new ways to add design, functionality and usability to products. Haptic technology can offer OEMs the capability to differentiate in all three. This is why at the start of 2022, Digital Trends earmarked haptic touchpads as one of the year’s key technology trends for the laptop market.
What is haptic technology?
To date, most touchpads in laptops have been mechanical. This enables users to replicate the experience of moving and clicking on a mouse without the need for a physical mouse to be connected. However, mechanical touchpads have limitations. While the lower part of a mechanical touchpad neatly replicates a mouse click, the design of mechanical touchpads means this is not possible across the entire touch surface, especially when you get close to the hinge where it is not possible to get a click. Mechanical touchpads are also limited in size and functionality.
Haptic touch is a type of electronic feedback that uses tiny but precise surface movements to mimic the sensations of pressing a button, tapping a key on a keyboard or scrolling a screen. Haptic technology essentially replicates the touch experience electronically. It detects the precise pressure and manner of how a surface has been touched and provides different, localised feedback based on this. For instance, when users drag and drop a file icon on a laptop, they press down onto the touchpad and drag their finger along. Haptic technology recognises the press and the release and gives the appropriate haptics sensation for both events.
Recent developments in the precision, versatility and adaptability of finger sensing and haptic touch solutions have made its application far more relevant and engaging for the laptop market. Haptic touch solutions are now incredibly slim, meaning they can save OEMs space in a laptop design. This gives manufacturers the option of increased battery size that can power bigger processors or a slimmer, lighter device – or a combination of both.
Additionally, haptic touchpads deliver uniform feedback across an entire surface – removing the issue where mechanical touchpads work best only in certain parts of the surface. This can provide improved usability for consumers. Haptic solutions can be integrated into many different surfaces such as glass, wood and fabrics. Combined, this gives manufacturers the ability to create new design options, offering larger edge-to-edge touchpads in different materials.
Haptic experience is customisable by strength, sensitivity and sharpness – altering how powerful the feedback feels and how much pressure is needed to identify a push for a click. Surface sensations such as ‘multi-level press’, ‘spring effect’ and ‘scroll haptic’ can also indicate different actions on a surface, such as activating caps lock on a haptic keyboard or gesture haptics on a touchpad for scrolling up/down or zooming in/out.
This can be taken further: haptic touch has the potential to give incredibly specific feedback such as imitating the sensations of writing on paper or using a paintbrush on a canvas. Such instances are particularly useful for devices with touchscreens or large touchpads.
Delivering more sustainable electronics
The ability to integrate haptic trackpads into laptops not only benefits the design and user experience – it also allows consumer electronic brands to consider more sustainable devices. The increasing awareness of, and legislation around, e-waste is a concern for consumer electronics manufacturers, with an estimated 57.4 million tonnes of electronic waste discarded in 2021. Consumers increasingly expect manufacturers to use more sustainable materials and packaging.
Haptic touch technology is compatible with a host of materials, including plastic, glass, wood and leather. Sensors can be layered beneath almost any rigid material and give the same strong, instant feedback. This opens doors for consumer device designers to use more sustainable materials that can ultimately help to reduce e-waste.
Touch solutions driving innovation
In a crowded and competitive market encumbered by a slowdown in design innovation, haptic touch technology offers a new way to create engaging devices that look different, feel different, and transform the user experience by bringing surfaces to life. For many consumers, haptic touch significantly enhances the user experience without requiring them to change user behaviours. Haptic touch offers manufacturers new design avenues, greater functionality, and a significantly enhanced user experience.
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