What Is Haptic Feedback and How Do Users Benefit?

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Have you ever noticed that your phone sends clicks and pulses to you when pressing buttons? What you’re experiencing is Haptic feedback.

Haptic feedback has a powerful role in improving the user experience for those who use it. It’s what lets users know that they’ve done something and that the phone received their input.

A 2018 study saw that skin communicates positive and negative touch stimuli to humans’ sensory neurons. 

With that in mind, it should come as no surprise that touch plays an important part in helping people make sense of the world, and also the devices they use every day.

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What Is Haptic Feedback?

Haptic feedback refers to the use of touch to communicate with users. 

While the phrase ‘haptic feedback’ might not ring a bell, you’re probably more familiar with this technology than you know. 

When your phone vibrates, for example, this is an example of a device giving you a tactile response.

A graphic showing a hand holding a smartphone with an icon of a blue email envelope and sound waves emanating from it, against a background of partial blue and yellow geometric shapes, suggesting a notification or message being received.

Or if you’re a gamer, you’ll probably be familiar with the controller vibrating in your hands when taking damage, or when drifting in a racing game. 

These examples are haptic technology at its most basic level. But haptic feedback goes a step further when it comes to smartphones. 

Haptic feedback is designed to respond to specific kinds of user touch. So the responses you receive when holding a button versus just tapping it are different and thus communicate different things to you. 

This sort of interaction is more nuanced and makes smartphones much more dynamic than people realize. 

How Does Haptic Feedback Work?

Haptic defines a family of technologies that work similarly. But each haptic technology communicates in different ways. 

Here are some of the most common haptic technologies in use:

Vibrotactile Haptics

Vibrotactile haptics is the most widespread haptic technology amongst commercial haptic devices. 

It’s the buzz of your phone and the rumble of your controller. What’s most interesting about vibrotactile feedback, however, is that the technology seeks to communicate sound through vibrations. 

Generally, humans have a receptor in their brain called Pacinian Corpuscle that is tuned in to detect these special sound vibrations. 

Through feeling sounds, you can react to subtle cues about objects you interact with. 

It might be hard to fathom, but when you run your finger on a surface, it is sound vibrations more than anything, that let you know whether that surface is rough or smooth. 

Devices using vibrotactile feedback tend to rely on motors to do the trick. 

In an Xbox controller, for instance, there’s a motor on either side of the controller. When the motor responds to an in-built trigger in a video game, it spins.

The unevenness of the weight gets a good vibration out of the controller. And that gives gamers a cue that there’s something to be excited about. 

Ultrasonic Mid-Air Haptics

Ultrasonic mid-air haptics is the latest technology in haptic feedback, which genuinely seems like it came out of a modern science fiction film. 

Mid-air haptic technology generates tactile sensations on a user’s skin in mid-air, without needing any direct interaction with the user’s body. 

The scientific root of this phenomenon involves ultrasonic phased arrays. These arrays focus acoustic radiation in space and deflect the skin, stimulating a tactile sensation. 

In practice, such a sensation is difficult to describe. But you can guarantee it’s the next big thing in virtual reality applications


Microfluidics technology utilizes fluids that flow through and are confined in containers. 

The geometrical constraints create pockets of pressure or temperature on a user’s skin. 

Point-of-care (PoC) diagnostics in the healthcare industry are a major facilitator of microfluidics. Blood testing especially takes advantage of this technology. 

Glucose testing, cholesterol testing, and even COVID-19 testing employ microfluidics. 

Force Control

Force control haptic technology encompasses large-scale mechanical devices that exert force on some part of the user’s body or their full body. 

This type of haptic feedback normally works via a robotic lever or controller. The manipulator of the lever can feel the force the controller is experiencing. 

They can also adjust the level of force they receive the reduce physical fatigue. 

Force feedback is exceedingly helpful in the manufacturing process for its sensor capabilities as it ensures a machine is exerting the proper amount of force for a given task.

A surreal collage of a robotic arm holding a blue towel next to a bathroom scale with a muscular arm flexing inside it, set against a white background, possibly symbolizing technology's role in fitness and health or the concept of strength and automation.

Surface Haptics

Surface haptics is another common haptic feedback mechanism. In surface haptics, interactive touch to a physical surface prompts a tactile effect. 

Interactive touch, in this case, typically requires the use of human fingertips. Similarly, touchscreens are the optimal physical surfaces to deploy surface haptics. 

While at first surface haptics might not seem any more interesting than a simple vibration, the possibilities are endless. 

What if you went online shopping and it was possible to feel the fabric of the clothes you’re considering buying?

The crux of this innovation is active friction. Passive touch surfaces can be a virtual environment in and of themselves. 

Naturally, delivering surface haptics for commercial use is the latest challenge among modern application development trends

Types of Haptic Feedback

Without getting into the science fiction of it all, you’ll want to familiarize yourself with the two principal types of haptic feedback. 

Both forms of feedback below are vibrotactile, which will be the most viable technology to use within your business. 

You can combine these forms of feedback to seriously awe your users. 

Transient Haptic Feedback

Transient haptic feedback is by definition brief. It comes and goes. 

These impulses occur at a specific point in time, perhaps when you toggle a switch or use the Duolingo app.

Continuous Haptic Feedback

Continuous haptic feedback, unsurprisingly, is the exact opposite of transient haptic feedback. 

The patterns that take place in continuous haptic feedback are more akin to the vibration of a ringtone.

The feedback is noticeably lengthy and happens over a period of time.

Improving the User Experience with Haptic Feedback

User experience (UX) thrives on custom interactions. Users want to be immersed in the digital experiences they seek out. 

As technology becomes more and more modernized, immersive experiences must involve a sort of interactivity that older generations could never even imagine. 

This is why there are smart applications that store user data and tell you everything from your favorite song to your heart rate. 

Likewise, businesses that prioritize mobile application development are constantly on the lookout for ways to enrich their consumers by making frequent updates and collecting user feedback. 

Any app reviews you’ve seen likely challenged the user interface (UI) of a particular app or the ads that appeared far too often. 

Users want technology that works with them rather than against them. That much is clear.

Haptic feedback is a clever technology that businesses can use to improve the UX. 

Tactile feedback extends a unique charm to users who feel positively when specific actions elicit a mutual response. 

Today, games are by far the most popular type of mobile app and take up more than 20% of the app market

If you’ve been paying attention, then you’ll understand why this is relevant. Mobile games are the missing puzzle piece when it comes to using haptic feedback to its full potential. 

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Using Haptic Feedback in Your App

Using haptic feedback in your mobile app will improve its user experience.

If you’re looking to build your mobile app, Trio can help you build your MVP or scale your core team with top-tier senior iOS, React Native, or Android developers. 

If you’re looking to build the next big mobile game, you can learn more about hiring qualified game developers at Trio!

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With over 10 years of experience in software outsourcing, Alex has assisted in building high-performance teams before co-founding Trio with his partner Daniel. Today he enjoys helping people hire the best software developers from Latin America and writing great content on how to do that!
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