Now feel this: Immersion releases “first haptic design toolkit”

Now feel this: Immersion releases “first haptic design toolkit”

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Someday soon, it might become commonplace to feel a car’s motor or the shake of a martini-in-progress on mobile video ads, if a newly released haptic toolkit from Immersion catches hold.

The San Jose, California-based company says its TouchSense Design Cloud — now in beta with a release version expected this fall — is the “first haptic design toolkit” for readily creating your own tactile effects for mobile video ads. Founded in 1993, Immersion has previously offered an API to its multi-platform haptic technology, but it had to provide supporting services for outside developers.

With haptic feedback, users can “feel” the keystrokes on an Android phone screen, the sensation of rotary knobs turning in a car’s dashboard screen, or the rumble of a tank in a videogame. In a mobile video ad, a Peugeot’s engine on an open highway, a vibration to accompany a ghost’s appearance in a movie, or the pop from an alien’s weapon could generate visceral sensations.

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If you have an Android phone, you can try out some sample videos through this free app.

Immersion says its technology is currently employed in three billion devices, including games, cars, and medical equipment, as well as phones. At one point, the company had offered standalone design software for computers to create some kinds of haptic experiences, although that was discontinued.

The new toolkit, Design Director David Birnbaum told me, was specifically designed for sharing via the cloud, and for fitting into the normal production workflow of a video ad.

The haptic information is created as a .wav sound file, editable with any digital sound editor. Immersion targets Mac-based editors, the most popular kind in media production.

An engineer generates a sound file, edits it, and then exports it via Immersion’s Haptic Monitor Connect app to its Haptic Monitor app in a nearby Android smartphone for real-time playback, to feel how the sound file renders tactilely. The tech currently works only on Android phones, Senior Product Manager Ricky Bhatia told me, because Apple has not provided outside access to the iPhone’s actuator, the small motor that provides tactile feedback.

Through trial and error, the engineer can generate the desired touch sensation. There is currently no library of standard effects.

“We considered a library,” Birnbaum said, “but [sound engineers] wanted full control.”

The engineer can get approval from clients or others by uploading the .wav file to Immersion’s new Design Cloud on the web, where the tactile sensation can be remotely experienced in sync with the mobile video ad via a mobile web browser on an Android device. Then the .wav file is exported as a proprietary .HAPT file for distribution with the video.

A screen from the TouchSense Design Cloud

A screen from the TouchSense Design Cloud

Although the .wav file can be shared via the Design Cloud on the web, the .HAPT file is only available in video ads on an Android app that utilizes Immersion’s software development kit (SDK). Currently, Birnbaum said, “one or two” unnamed app publishers are utilizing the SDK. He added that, at some point, the haptic experience might become available in mobile video ads on the web.

The distributing ad network must be able to support the .HAPT file, which, at the moment, only Opera Mediaworks can. Immersion says the first tactile ads were run in September of 2014, and that the Opera Mediaworks network currently handles over 500 tactile ads for smartphone apps and nearly 500 for tablet apps.

Since you already know what a keyboard or a car feels like, you might wonder why a marketing campaign would bother adding touch.

Birnbaum noted that touch feedback adds a startling component that makes the experience feel more realistic, and boosts engagement.

The company reports that 85 percent of users who experience tactile feedback in mobile video ads say that they are more engaged with the content. Additionally, Immersion says, there’s a 220 percent boost in clicks compared to non-haptic video ads, 59 percent more replays, and 24 percent higher ad recall.

Of course, if tactile feedback is everywhere in mobile video ads, it could become less noticeable. At which point advertisers will need to do what they get paid to do: come up with some new way of employing the tech.




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