What Is Haptic Feedback and How Does It Work?

best apple watch games

What Is Haptic Feedback and How Does It Work?

Key Points

  • Haptic technology replicates the experience of touch using different forces, vibrations, or motions.
  • Haptic feedback works through tiny motors or actuators in your device that vibrate or move in specific ways.
  • Haptic feedback settings on an iPhone can be adjusted in the Sounds & Haptics section of the Settings app.
  • Pros of using haptic feedback include a more immersive experience and physical confirmation of button presses, while cons include fragile motors and potential disruption in quiet settings.

It’s a classic scenario we’ve all found ourselves in a time or two. You’re in a meeting, at a movie, or sitting in the quiet area of your local library. Then, your phone starts buzzing like crazy. It’s so far beyond a simple vibrate, too. It’s buzzing in a rhythm. You scramble to turn it off before more heads turn. This embarrassing, noisy vibration is all thanks to haptic feedback. But what is haptic feedback? And how does it work in the first place? We’ll help make it make sense below. Then, we’ll tell you a way to turn it off.

Haptic Feedback Explained

Young Man Spending Time at Home, Sitting on a Couch in Stylish Loft Apartment and Playing Arcade Car Video Games on Console. Male Using Controller to Play Street Racing Drift Simulator.
The idea behind haptic feedback is to enhance the feeling of physical touch in a virtual world.


Haptic technology has gone by many different names since first emerging more than 50 years ago. While the technology we enjoy on our smartphones and other electronic devices is a long way off from how it originated in the 1960s, the same basic idea has been there from the start. Haptic technology is the umbrella term used to describe any technology that replicates the experience of touch by using different forces, vibrations, or other motions.

We know it best as 3D or Force Touch today, but it originally dates back to neuroscience research in the ‘60s. Neural plasticity scientist Paul Bach-y-Rita could be called the pioneer of haptic technology. Using a 20×20 array of metal rods, Bach-y-Rita would raise and lower the poles to poke subjects in the back in unison with a 20×20 array of pixels on a screen. Over the next few decades, scientists and product developers alike would continue to research and perfect the tech.

These days, haptic technology is mainly used to simulate physical touch in a virtual world. From touchscreen smartphones to state-of-the-art console controllers to VR headsets and beyond, haptic technology is all over the place in the 21st century. Often referred to simply as haptics, this technology is used at various frequencies and intervals to create unique feelings in the user’s hand. This could range from a bump to a knock to a simple tap on the finger.

How Does Haptic Feedback Work?

Man holding iPhone next to coffee cup.
Why does your phone vibrate in a rhythm whenever you get a call? This is haptic feedback.


Haptic feedback works through the use of tiny motors or actuators in your device. These motors wait for special signals from your device’s software that tell them to vibrate or move in specific ways. These vibrations are meant to create sensations that you can feel through your fingertips. The strength, duration, and pattern of these vibrations will vary depending on the feeling the software is hoping to recreate.

For instance, in a video game with a character driving on a bumpy road, the controller may use haptic feedback to mimic the feeling of the wheel shaking in the driver’s hands. Or, when receiving a text with the Fireworks effect on iMessage, you may feel the phone vibrate with each colorful burst. It’s all about translating digital information into physical feelings — making your interactions more engaging and realistic in the process.

It all ties back to what scientists call the three sensory systems: cutaneous touch, kinaesthetic touch, and haptic touch. Cutaneous receptors include nerve endings and thermoreceptors and deal with feelings of pain or temperature. Kinaesthesia has to do with muscle movement and the feelings associated with tendons and joints. Haptics deal with grasp and tangibility, helping us to explore and perceive objects as they are. Thus, the use of haptic feedback in our smart devices.

How to Adjust Haptic Feedback Settings on iPhone

If you’re an iPhone user who wants to adjust the haptic feedback coming from their phone, you’ll have to do some digging through your settings first. Thankfully, we’ll help make it easier for you by providing step-by-step instructions to make it happen. There are similar settings found on other haptic-enabled devices like gaming controllers and smartwatches, as well. However, these instructions only pertain to iPhone settings.

Step One: Open Settings

Settings icon on iPhone home screen.
Open the Settings app on your iPhone to adjust haptic settings.


First, open the Settings app on your iPhone. You can also search “Settings” using the search feature by swiping down on the screen.

Step Two: Select Sounds & Haptics

Options listed in Settings app on iPhone.
Select “Sounds & Haptics” from the Settings app.


Select “Sounds & Haptics” from the settings screen. It’s located about halfway down the page below “Notifications” and above “Focus.”

Step Three: Tap Haptics

Sounds & Haptics settings on iPhone.
Tap “Haptics” to open advanced haptic feedback settings.


Once inside the Sounds & Haptics settings, look for the tab that reads “Haptics.” Tap this heading to reveal a new series of settings on the next page.

Step Four: Adjust Haptic Feedback

Haptic settings on iPhone.
Choose your haptic preferences when you receive a call.


Now, choose how you want your haptic feedback to respond to incoming calls. You can opt for haptics to always play, to only play in silent mode, or to never play at all.

Step Five: Toggle System Haptics

Toggle system haptics in your settings.
Turn your system haptics on or off using the toggle button.


Return to the previous screen and scroll down to the bottom to find more haptic feedback settings. Here, you can choose to toggle all haptics on or off depending on your particular preferences.

Pros and Cons of Using Haptic Feedback

Pros of Haptic FeedbackCons of Haptic Feedback
When done right, haptic feedback can make a game feel more immersive.The motors used to create haptics are very fragile and can break easily.
Haptics on your smartphone and add a special flair to text messages or calls.Haptics can be very loud, making them disruptive in quiet settings.
You get a physical confirmation that a button has been pressed with haptic feedback.Sometimes, poor haptic feedback can be distracting instead of immersive.
Haptic feedback is customizable depending on user preferences.Some may experience increased battery consumption when leaving all haptics on.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is haptic feedback?

Haptic feedback — often referred to simply as haptics — is a technology that enables your smart devices to communicate with you through special vibrations. It allows you to feel physical feedback from your devices (such as vibrations or subtle movements) as a reaction to your interactions with the device.

How does haptic feedback work?

Haptic feedback works via a network of small motors or actuators built into your smart devices. These parts receive signals from your device’s software telling them to vibrate in a certain pattern. In response, the motors vibrate or move in specific ways to create unique, lifelike sensations in a virtual world.

Where is haptic feedback used?

Haptic feedback is used in a wide range of devices, including smartphones, game controllers, virtual reality headsets, and other touch-sensitive interfaces. It can typically be found in any smart technology that blends the real world with virtual experiences.

Can you turn off haptic feedback?

Yes, you can typically turn off haptic feedback features on any device that uses them. For instance, on an iPhone, you can go into settings and adjust your haptics depending on your unique preferences. Gaming controllers offer similar haptic customization features in the advanced settings of your game or console.

What's the purpose of haptic feedback in gaming?

In gaming, haptic feedback plays a vital role in enhancing the gaming experience and making it feel more immersive. It can simulate various sensations, such as the feeling of walking on different terrains, feeling the force of different impacts, or even sensing the recoil of a weapon. The basic purpose is to make the games more fun and exciting.

To top