The Haptic Breakdown: What’s Inside Your Smartwatch

Inside of the Pebble smartwatch.

In this post, we’ll look at the different ways that some of the most popular wearables implement haptics. Outside of the Apple Watch, most wearables use a simple eccentric rotating mass motor for haptic feedback.

Apple Watch

The Apple Watch was first introduced in the fall of 2014 and has since become the world’s best selling wearable device. It was Apple’s first introduction of its “Taptic Engine”, which provides haptic feedback for alerts and notifications. While the design of the Taptic Engine module is proprietary, it is likely a customized linear resonant actuator.

Moto 360

Motorola first announced the Android Wear-powered Moto 360 in the spring of 2014. The device provides haptic feedback through vibrations produced by its ERM. Although the device vibrates to provide notifications, the haptic feedback is not as detailed or crisp as the vibrotactile pulses produced by the Taptic Engine inside of an Apple Watch.

Pebble

The Pebble, Pebble Time, and other Pebble variants contain ERMs that produce the vibrotactile alerts and notifications for the device. These ERM-type actuators are similar in function to the motor inside of the Moto 360, though they do not provide the same resolution of haptic effects that may be produced by a linear resonant actuator or piezoelectric actuator.

Fitbit Blaze

It’s unclear exactly which type of motor the Fitbit Blaze uses, but it appears to be an eccentric rotating mass motor like most other wearables. The Blaze’s haptic feedback is similar in resolution and detail to that produced by a Pebble or Android Wear device.

Microsoft Band

The Microsoft Band also uses an ERM-type actuator and provides haptic feedback similar to the Fitbit Blaze, Pebble, and Android Wear devices.

The Future of Wearable Haptics

Our first product, Moment, uses four separate linear resonant actuators to provide rich haptic effects. In the future, we envision devices using more power-efficient LRAs or piezoelectric actuators, which are capable of producing detailed rhythms and temporal patterns.


At Somatic Labs, we’re using haptic technology in Moment, a wearable device that lets you hack your sense of touch.

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Author: Ajay Karpur

Ajay graduated from Arizona State University in 2016 with a B.S.E. in Electrical Engineering. He has experience in signal processing, hardware design, and software development.

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