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ROKR E8: Barely Haptic

01.10.08 | Permalink | Comment?

Curious ChapAfter my first day attending CES, I went back to my hotel room and checked out news coverage of the event by Engadget and other tech oriented sources. This effusive Cool Hunting post caught my attention. It described the new, not-yet-released Motorola ROKR E8(the highlights in the quote are mine):

The latest in Motorola’s line of music phones, the ROKR E8, has a new feature that (believe it or not) rivals the iPhone. The innovation is a little piece of tech called “localized haptic feedback,” which makes pushing a button on the touch screen feel like actually pressing a button. This is achieved by a small vibration under the spot where you touch, and feels like the solid surface really is a button. It’s a tactile capability that we at CH have often wished for and the experience of using it is nothing short of amazing—upon demoing it, I really thought it was a real button (and I’m not easily fooled).

I had already went by the Motorola booth at the Las Vegas Convention Center and had planned on spending my second day at CES’ other location, the Sands Expo. But this, I had to experience. I had to feel a “real button”. So I went back to the Convention Center.

See, when I read the above, I expected that, as I use different apps like phone, music, or camera, that I’d feel different bumps on the surface, as described in the Apple patent:

Haptic Keyboard

But the ROKR E8 is nothing like that. Essentially, the buttons portion of the phone is a single, solid plastic surface. Different icons are illuminated depending on the app, as shown below:

Motorola ROKR E8

When you press one of the illuminated icons, the entire plastic surface depresses and you feel a vibration. No depression is felt when you press anything else (save for a bug that I reported to the Motorola rep).

I felt let down. The Cool Hunting post was overly nice to this clunky phone. Being able to control whether you feel a button depression or not is nothing new. In fact, I had looked at using piezo switches 5-6 years ago for possible use in our response pads. Piezo switches let you vary the activation force that is needed. All Motorola added was a sense of vibration when the plastic surface is depressed.

Big deal.

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