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These Smartphones Can Make You Think You're Touching Grass And Rocks

There has been talk of the years of haptic technologies that would allow us to move our hand over a glass touchscreen and be tricked into thinking we were touching a fuzzy material, or some rough surface. But that was all R&D talk. At Mobile World Congress this year, however, AllThingsD found a pair of companies who have put that haptic feedback tech into functioning prototype devices.

Senseg and Immersion are the two companies pushing these devices with advanced haptics, but more than just serving as harbingers of novelty, Ina Fried says that they’ve also developed some real life applications for this evolved touch technology.

At its booth this year, Immersion was showing a phone with digital maracas that feel like you’re actually rattling rice. Then there’s the roller coaster video that gives you both the click-click-click as you climb and the “whoosh” as the descent begins. Yet another demo app adds to any music playback a bass track you can feel.

Both Immersion and Senseg also demonstrated haptics used another way – as a physical cue to something in a long list of data. Imagine, for example, scrolling though email and feeling a physical bump when you get to a message from your spouse or boss.

The possible applications of this technology, from gaming, to notifications, to entertainment, seem to be limited only by one’s imagination. So what’s the secret of this tech? Each company has their own. Fried says that Immersion uses a piezo-module, which provides increased control over the location and intensity of vibrations. Senseg, on the other hand, generates an electrical field over the screen with the use of a special coating.

When we think of substantial features smartphone and tablet makers can add to devices over the next few years, the list is rather sparse. But if this tech can be made cheap and accessible, it’ll be something worth talking about. [AllThingsD]