By Nedko Ivanov
Consumer technology products are becoming increasingly difficult for designers and manufacturers to differentiate. Laptops, in particular, are all of a similar size and shape and offer the same functionality. Clamshell laptops typically combine the same three features – a display, a keyboard, and a touchpad – with few aspects that distinguish models from competitors. There are niche products on the market, but these are usually focused on the needs of a particular audience, such as gamers.
Laptop designers have been innovating with hardware by introducing interactive touch bars or dual touchscreens, but this is now old news. Creating a noticeably different design is challenging, so what can laptop designers do to provide an alternative?
An area well equipped to offer consumer technology designers a competitive edge is haptic touch. With the haptics market experiencing a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of more than 13 percent to 2026, according to Market Research Future (MRFR), the opportunity for consumer technology companies to innovate using this technology is growing rapidly.
What is haptic touch?
Haptic touch is a type of haptic feedback that uses tiny but precise surface movements that mimic the sensations of pressing a button, tapping a key on a keyboard, scrolling on a screen, and more. Powered by piezo disks beneath the surface, haptic technology can sense the precise location of where a finger makes contact with a surface and send an instantaneous pulse of feedback mimicking the sensation of clicking on a touchpad or typing on a keyboard.
Haptic technology can also detect the pressure and manner of how a surface is touched and provide different, localized feedback. For instance, when users select and drag a component on a laptop, they press down onto the touchpad and drag their finger along. Haptic technology recognizes the press and gives feedback that feels the same as using a mechanical touchpad, despite no mechanical element underneath the touchpad.
Versatility enabling new designs
Haptic touch enables broader design options for consumer electronics companies. It can be applied to a wide range of sizes and applications – from laptop touchpads to an accessory mouse, keyboards, and displays – and these can be combined to offer manufacturers slimmer and smarter devices. For instance, current mechanical touchpads on the market typically measure 4mm thick, while haptic touchpads can be as slim as 2.4mm. Subsequently, devices with haptic touchpads and keyboards are thinner and less obtrusive, allowing seamless designs. Alternatively, laptops could use this extra space to house larger batteries enabling devices to be more powerful and intelligent with a lighter look and feel.
Haptic touch technology is also compatible with various materials, including plastic, glass, wood, and leather. Ultra-thin haptic sensors can be layered beneath almost any material and give the same robust and instant feedback, replicating the feel of clicking a button. This opens many more doors for consumer device designers to differentiate their products using new and exciting materials, including more sustainable options that can ultimately reduce e-waste.
Personalized feedback for enhanced UX
The number of Piezo transducers in a device can be scaled up to the required level, enabling coverage of a wider area and/or more precise haptic feedback. This is customizable 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.
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. Such instances are particularly useful for devices with touchscreens or large touchpads.
Durable and cost-effective solutions
Finger sensing and haptic touch offer almost unlimited design potential within devices while also designing more durable designs that can ultimately save money. With a haptic touch solution, manufacturers can use less materials by building a keyboard using a single panel of material instead of fitting 100+ keys to a frame. It also eliminates the risk of consumers missing parts, which reduces the rate of keyboard-related device returns and replacements, saving companies money.
One of the biggest reasons for the failure of a laptop and other devices is liquid ingress. It is too easy to spill a beverage across a laptop keyboard, but this can render a device useless, causing thousands of pounds worth of damage. A haptic touch surface can replicate the feeling of typing on individual keys and tapping a touchpad but across a seamless impenetrable surface, removing the risk of liquid ingress.
Why is uniqueness important?
Creating a device that increases the scope for customization and personalization helps consumer electronics designers differentiate models in a crowded market. Haptic touch technology offers infinite opportunities, from the materials used to the size and placement of touchpads, keyboards, and even batteries.
Haptic touch offers more versatile and robust solutions for both developers and consumers. It can make electronic devices more customizable, cheaper to manufacture, and last longer, significantly reducing the growing e-waste issue.
About the author
Nedko Ivanov is the CEO of haptic touch technology company, Aito. The company helps consumer electronics manufacturers innovate and differentiate in a multi-billion-dollar market. The company designs and develops patented finger sensing and haptic feedback solutions that enable consumer electronics companies to create bespoke tactile feedback for laptops and other devices. Having previously led Redux, another haptic touch business, in the run-up to its acquisition by Google back in 2017, Nedko has a proven track record of growing technology businesses and is an expert at leading companies through successful acquisitions by global tech giants.
Filed Under: Sensor Tips