Since Fujitu’s prototype Haptic Sensor Tablet revealed yesterday is all about touch, describing it will be like trying to explain how a steak tastes. But here goes: it works by emitting ultrasonic vibrations below the touchscreen, which can be pulsed with varying force on any region of the screen.
Those oscillations actually push your finger off the surface of the tablet and, depending on the force, can give different tactile sensations. For instance, a high pressure layer of air can reduce friction, making the surface of the screen seem slippery. By contrast, rapidly varying the pulses can make the display seem rough or even bumpy.
At least, that’s the theory. After trying it, we found some illusions like the slippery surface to be very convincing, for instance. But the rough texture sensation feels more like the screen is just sticky, and the bumpy experience is even less convincing. When touching the crocodile skin, it just felt like I was moving my finger over slippery and then clingy patches.
There’s also a strong buzzing sensation, which is mildly disconcerting. All that said, though, it was still a lot of fun, and it’s hard to see how you could get much more realistic than that with a smooth, 2D surface.