Although the visual channels feature the most prominently in user interfaces, the tactile interaction provides a broad range of potential for applications too.
According to Chalis, the author of a interaction-design chapter dedicated to tactile in
teraction, although there is a broad range of reasons why designers might wish to explore non-visual modes of communication, this interaction type is perhaps being undervalued in terms of the potential source of feedback that it might offer. In his chapter, he discusses key issues for tactile interaction in terms of physical, perceptual and technological aspects.
The psychology of touch involves both physical and perceptual aspects, that are respectively responsible for detecting stimulus and interpreting it. The perception can be: tactile, kinesthetic or haptic. For instance, the vibrotactile feedback that is often employed in gloves, takes advantages of the cutaneous sense, which belongs to the tactile perception.
The general human reliance on vision suggests that if a conflict were to arise between our sense of touch and our sense of sight, it would be the visual aspect that becomes dominant. However, the visual dominance versus tactual dominance should not be thought of as a dichotomy as there is evidence of compromise between the two senses when they are in conflict. In addition, this level of compromise is likely to be highly individual and will also be affected by a bias towards the suitability of one or both senses to the nature of the task.
It is clear that current technologies cannot yet facilitate dynamic tactile displays that offer the same richness of detail and contrast that we experience with the objects around us on a daily basis. However, as much as this would be an obvious ultimate aim within a context of augmented reality or virtual environments, there are perhaps much more attainable targets that will still be of significant use.
Ben Challis researches about alternative modes of interaction. His original article, on which this post in based, can be accessed online at: http://www.interaction-design.org/encyclopedia/tactile_interaction.html
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