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What Is Haptic Feedback? A Short Guide

Updated: November 22,2022

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You've probably heard about haptics and haptic feedback before, but you may not know what all the fuss is about. So, what is haptic feedback, how does it work, and have you interacted with it before? Let’s find out.

Haptic Feedback - Definition and Common Use Cases

Haptic feedback is a sensory input method that uses the sense of touch to communicate information to the user. It can take many different forms, including vibration, pressure, texture, and temperature. When used in conjunction with visual and auditory cues, haptic feedback can help to create a more immersive user experience.

If you've ever been using your phone and gotten a slight vibration letting you know you've pressed a button, then you've experienced haptic feedback. Phones use this feature to give users a physical confirmation that they've completed an action.

But the haptic response isn't just restricted to phones - it's used in all sorts of devices. From making your PS controller rumble when you fire a gun in a game to the automotive industry and dashboard panels, haptic feedback can be used to enhance the user experience in numerous ways.

In some cases, haptic feedback can even be used to provide information that would otherwise be hard to represent, such as the texture of a virtual object.

While haptic vibration is most commonly associated with smartphones and gaming controllers, it is also finding its way into many other devices, including VR headsets and automotive interfaces. As technology continues to evolve, we can expect to see it become an increasingly important part of our lives.

Types of Haptic Feedback

There are several different types of haptic feedback, each of which uses different technologies to create the sensation of touch.

Vibrotactile Feedback

Vibrotactile or vibration feedback is the most common type of haptics. It is created by using an actuator to create vibrations. This is the same technology that is used in smartphones and gaming controllers. 

The downside is that it can be difficult to create more complex sensations. It's also one of the most affordable and commonly used technologies.

Electrotactile Feedback

This type of haptic feedback uses electric current to stimulate the nerves and create a sensation of touch. It can be used to create a wide range of sensations, from a gentle tingling to a strong shocking sensation.

This touch feedback technology is often used in research and development as it allows for very precise control over the sensory stimuli. However, it's not commonly used in consumer products.

Force Feedback

Force feedback is similar to tactile feedback, but it also physically manipulates the force response of controls used. For example, if you were using a joystick, the force feedback would provide resistance to your movement. This type of haptic feedback is often used in gaming controllers and simulators as it can create a very realistic sensation.

Force feedback haptic technology is used in driving simulators and excels if you use a steering wheel controller.

Thermal Feedback

What is a haptic feedback type that’s not been used so far in consumer tech? That would be thermal feedback, and it can be used to create the sensation of touching a hot or cold object. This tech is very power-intensive, though, and not really practical to use with the current limits of our technology.

Ultrasound Feedback

Ultrasound feedback uses sound waves to create vibrations users can feel through the air without needing to wear or hold any devices. However, this is one of the most expensive types of haptic feedback to create and is currently more in the research stages. 

How Does Haptic Feedback Work?

Haptic feedback is created by an actuator, a small motor that produces the desired effect. There are different types of actuators, and each has its preferred application. 

The most commonly used actuators are ERM (eccentric rotating mass), LRA (linear resonant actuators), ultrasonic transducers, solenoid, thermoelectric, and piezo haptic.  

The motor in haptic devices is controlled by an algorithm that can create different vibration patterns. The actuator can be located in various sections of a haptic controller or a smartphone, depending on the desired effect.

For example, a gamepad usually has the actuator located in the grip, while in a VR headset, it may be found in the area that goes over the user’s temples.

When haptic feedback is used in conjunction with other sensory inputs, such as sight and sound, it can create a more realistic and immersive experience for the user.

Haptics for Gaming Controllers

In gaming controllers, haptic feedback is used to create different sensations that simulate the experience of interacting with the game world. For example, if you fire a gun in a game, the controller will vibrate to simulate the recoil.

Combining Gyro and Haptics

Combining other technologies with haptic controllers helps create an even more immersive gaming experience. One such example is using a gyroscope to implement gyro aiming and controls. 

Feeling the effect of firing a weapon through tactile response and precisely aiming by physically moving your controller is incredibly engaging.

The next step is the adaptive triggers that the PS5 DualSense controller uses, which can enhance the experience further with effects such as variable string tension when firing a bow.

Most modern controllers use such technologies to create new kinds of immersive experiences in their games. Sony’s controllers DualShock and DualSense both make great use of the gyroscope, as you can see in games such as Returnal.

If we compare Sony and Xbox controllers, they both make great use of haptics - it’s just that Sony took it a bit further with the adaptive triggers, which adds immersion at the cost of battery life. Microsoft also hasn’t adopted gyroscope tech yet, but it might for the next generation of its high-end Elite controllers.

Games such as Fortnite always had great support for controllers and continue to define haptic and tactile standards for the whole industry. 

Not only can you customize your controller in Fortnite’s settings towards your preferred options, but you can also choose in which situations you want to use gyro aiming

Unfortunately, haptics feedback isn’t immune to creating bad gaming experiences if there’s a discrepancy between your issued commands and the response from the controller. For example, the PS4 controllers had input lag that users had to fix before getting a more realistic and immersive rumble response from the controller. 

Challenges in Creating Different Somatosensory Responses

Creating different somatosensory responses is one of the main challenges for haptic technology. The human body can perceive a wide range of stimuli, from gentle vibrations to more intense ones. Creating actuators that can generate these kinds of sensations is difficult and expensive.

It’s hard to define what haptic feedback will feel realistic and natural. When we interact with the world, we expect certain things to have a specific kind of haptic response. 

For example, when we touch a metal surface, we expect it to be cool and smooth. Creating these kinds of sensations that feel natural is difficult and requires careful calibration.

Closing Thoughts & the Future of Haptic Feedback

Haptic feedback was a revolutionary tech when it first came out. These days we often take it for granted, as it’s used in everything from smartphones to the automotive industry. Despite this, the technology keeps evolving, and various clever uses elevate our gaming and VR experiences to the next level.

What is haptic feedback’s future? It undoubtedly lies in developing better actuators and algorithms that can create more realistic and natural sensations. Additionally, haptic feedback will need to be combined with other technologies, such as sensors and AI to create even more immersive experiences.


What is the purpose of haptic feedback?

Haptic feedback is used to create different sensations that simulate the experience of interacting with the game world. For example, if you fire a gun in a game, the controller will vibrate to simulate the recoil.

Should I turn off haptic feedback?

It depends on your preferences. Some people find it enhances their gaming experience, while others find it distracting. You can experiment with turning it off and on to see what works best for you.

What is phone haptic feedback?

What is haptic feedback technology that you’ll likely encounter the most in your daily life? That’s right - the tech found in modern smartphones.

When you press a button on your phone, the entire device will vibrate to give you feedback about that action. This is known as “haptic feedback.” Most phones have this feature turned on by default, but you can easily turn it off from the settings menu.

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A true tech and gaming savant, Ivan has been fascinated by the digital world since the early days of gaming on antiques such as the ZX Spectrum and Commodore’s beloved Amiga. Whether you’re interested in the latest PC and console gaming news, antivirus software, or smartphone reviews, or simply want to learn about the newest geeky gadgets around, we at KT have you covered, and Ivan’s likely the one we’ll ask.

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