updated 10:15 am EDT, Thu March 22, 2012
Tech could allow for localized feedback
A newly-published Apple patent application, Touch-Based User Interface with Haptic Feedback, suggests what Apple might have in mind for future iOS devices. Under the proposed system, devices such as iPhones and iPads would use actuators to provide feedback in response to touch. Apple specifically suggests using piezoelectric actuators, which would let a device provide localized feedback, instead of simply vibrating an entire device.
The haptic feedback layer would arrange piezoelectric actuators into a grid pattern. As an option, it might sit under an extra protective layer. The actual feedback technology would let users feel buttons and icons, and use "force sensors" to determine how hard a person is pressing down. For the latter an outer screen would need to flex slightly.
The application was first submitted in September 2010. Although Apple has filed patents related to haptic feedback in the past, the topic has become more prominent since a quickly-disproved rumor claimed that Apple was using technology by Senseg in the third-gen iPad. Apple could conceivably use Senseg's concepts in a future device; instead of actuators, electrical pulses would be used to add texture to onscreen objects.