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MWC 2014: Fujitsu invents haptic sensory tablet, lets you "feel" textures

Mobile device screens have come a long way, but how cool would it be if they could actually let you feel the texture of what you're looking at? It might sound futuristic, but the technology is here.

At MWC, Japanese technology giant Fujitsu unveiled a new prototype tablet with a touch screen that can convey a sense of slipperiness or roughness, depending on the image being displayed. The so-called haptic, or tactic, sensory technology was developed by Fujitsu Laboratories.

"This technology enables tactile sensations — either smooth or rough, which had until now been difficult to achieve — right on the touch-screen display," Fujitsu said in a statement. "Users can enjoy realistic tactile sensations as they are applied to images of objects displayed on the screen."

Technologies that convey texture by vibrating a touch-screen display or by generating static electricity are not new, but Fujitsu is the first to use ultrasonic vibrations to convey tactile sensations by varying the friction between the touch screen and a user's finger. For instance, inducing an ultrasonic vibration on the surface of the touch-screen display creates a high-pressure layer of air between the screen's surface and a person's fingertip, reducing friction and creating a floating effect.

"Taking advantage of this phenomenon makes it possible to create a slippery sensation on a touch-screen display," the company said.

Meanwhile, the screen can also convey a bumpy or rough sensation by rapidly cycling between high and low friction.

On Fujitsu's prototype tablet at MWC, visitors can touch an image of an alligator and the screen will mimic the sensation of the animal's rough skin. The company said it hopes to bring its technology to market by next year.

"The tactile sensory technology in this prototype has wide-ranging potential applications, including for electronic product catalogs, on tablets and other devices, as well as potential applications for a variety of services," Fujitsu said.

Meanwhile, Fujitsu also has announced plans to release the successor to its Stylistic S010 smartphone this Autumn. The next-gen model will be sold in a "range of locations in Europe" and is expected to support LTE and NFC and come with a quad-core CPU. The existing Stylistic S010 has been sold in France by Orange since June 2013.

To keep up to date with everything coming out of MWC 2014 this year, we have our team on the ground in Barcelona live blogging the whole event to bring you minute-by-minute coverage as it happens.