Immersive Messaging

Immersive Messaging, which I created in Immersion’s Advanced Research Lab, was shown at the Wall Street Journal’s All Things Digital conference. The demo was presented to Walt Mossberg on a stage in front of some of the world’s most influential players in high tech.


Immersive Messaging addresses an important question: Is it possible to enable people to trade emotional messages with gesture using their phones? Gesture and touch play a well known role in face-to-face communication. Much of emotional communication is pre-verbal, gestural, and haptic. So, a handheld device with gestural input and haptic output should allow us to communicate emotion intuitively, just as we do everyday with other people in the same room. But we are going to need new interaction metaphors to make it work.


User experience relies on interaction metaphor. For Immersive Messaging, this metaphor comes to life as a virtual object that we call a “hapticon.” Hapticons are about the size of icons, but have physical properties. A phone full of hapticons is like a treasure box full of small objects. When you move or tilt the phone, the hapticons move separately. When you shake the phone, they bounce off the walls and rattle around. Hapticons can be generated, edited, traded, and destroyed with gesture.

Live touch

Sending hapticons back and forth has a lot of potential. But when people interact using hapticons, the physical interaction is indirect. Could we enable users to directly touch each other through their phone, in real time, with no intermediary object such as a hapticon?

When two people are on a voice call, the Live Touch app turns their phone screens into blank canvases full of playful possibility. Just as people sometimes doodle on a piece of paper while they talk on the phone, the Live Touch environment lets them draw beautiful, colorful comet trails with their fingers. Both users draw on the same surface, so that they collaboratively create a light show for each other. When fingers cross, both users feel haptic feedback. In this way, they perceive that they are touching each other’s fingertip in real time, just as they are hearing each other’s voices. The sense of emotional connection is enough to fill awkward silences and enable a new way to communicate over long distances.

Twiddling™ by Immersion Corporation. © 2009 Immersion Corporation
Live Touch by Immersion Corporation. © 2009 Immersion Corporation

Here’s a video of the presentation.


Here’s Clent Richardson, Immersion’s CEO at the time, discussing Immersive Messaging on the FOX Business Network.

You can find out more about Immersive Messaging on Immersion’s website, or in the press release.

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