Touchie-Feely Tattoos

by Translation Guy on March 26, 2012

The touch of a touch screen, the first time. What was special, a moment I’ll never forget.

But the thrill is gone. Most of the time I’m just going through the motions. I think it’s because touch screens don’t touch back, sort of like hugging someone who accepts a hug with arms hanging limp as spaghetti. Awkward!

I’m looking for more rewarding digital encounters. I thought I’d play a larger field, like on an iPad. Those retinal screen pixels just go on and on, but no feedback there, either.

Most digital devices will touch back to the extent of a bit of vibe for a pocket buzz, handy in the dark at a performance of say, opera. Heck, even beepers do that. But for cell phone sellers, more is needed. They think that real touch–two-way touch–seems just the fan to flame the banked coals of human-smartphone relationships grown cold.

Haptic communication it’s called, when feedback gets all touchy-feely. At University of Utah, engineers are developing controllers that wave, pulse and bound instead of just shake

“Our research suggests that once a user becomes accustomed to haptic feedback on a phone or tablet screen, other devices that don’t offer it can feel ‘dead’,” Marek Pawlowski, editorial director at the mobile industry research firm PMN told the BBC.

To get a jump on the market, cell phone giant Nokia has looked to dystopian Sci Fi for inspiration, with a patent application that could someday cover the bodies of smart phone users with vibrating digital tattoos for a bigger haptic footprint and livelier digital interaction.

The patent application describes tattooing, stamping or spraying ferromagnetic material onto a user’s skin and pairing it with a mobile device.

“It suggests a magnetic marking could be attached to either a user’s arm, abdominal area, finger or fingernail.”

In the patent application, inventor Zoran Radivojevic suggest such magic moments on “low battery indication, received message, received call, calendar alert, change of profile, e.g., based on timing, change of time zone, or any other.” the filing reads.

“’The magnetic field may cause vibration of one short pulse, multiple short pulses, few long pulses… strong pulses, weak pulses and so on.”

“The filing also suggests that the magnetized marking could be used as an identity check. By picking a certain shape the user could create ”specific magnetic impedance” –effectively her own magnetic fingerprint.

I guess a tattoo is a good way to remember a password. But what if I want to change my password? I don’t think that’s the killer app for this technology.

I’m sure that app developers will come up with something, and that’s what’s got me worried. Call me old-fashioned, but I’m not so sure vibrating magnetic tattoos jacked into the Web are such a good idea.

Can you imagine this kind of technology in the hands of a Congressman? It will spell the end of sexting, that’s for sure.


A Concerned Parent

PS: I think it is seriously too bad that the digital market will soon be penetrating our skulls from ever channels, even those formerly reserved for our most intimate communications. Resistance is futile, I imagine, but at least this is just a glint in Nokia’s corporate eye, I think, so far.


  1. I can’t see something that is sprayed on being any good. Maybe if the phone came with preprogrammed stickers that you could put on your body (maybe reusable) that would work. You could put one on when you went swimming and it could vibrate when your phone rang.

  2. Next it will be a spray on LED screen or something right on your forearm. It would be something like what a quarterback wears to check the play signals, but only permanent.

  3. Could probably kill two birds with one stone here. With the magnetic tattoos I could stop wearing my magnetic bracelet for my arthritis. I never really cared for the look of it anyway.

    • Ken says:

      Tattoos match any outfit, Dragutin.

  4. Mac says:

    If the tattoo is sprayed on, wouldn’t it last only a few days as skin cells die and sluff off?

    • Ken says:

      That’s why a tattoo is the way to go if you are looking to make an indelible impression.

  5. When my kids got their ninendo Wii I liked the feedback in the controller. Now it’s annoying. I guess I have the opposite of what the research shows.

  6. Can I get my tattoo as a dragon? Or how about that sexy topless babe all the sailors have. :)

    • Ken says:

      Consumer choice. Anyway you want it, so long as you get it.

  7. Mike Kranz says:

    With the stuff modern phones can do now, where else is there to go? Phone makers have to get more and more creative to keep an advantage. I don’t know if anything will come of this, but I guess the gazillions in research on this tech is why the cell phone biz is so outrageously priced.

  8. It’s only a matter of time before phones are implanted. Sick, uh?

  9. My first few phones would ring, vibrate, or both. Then I had a phone that wouldn’t do both at the same time. When I had it on ring with low volume I would often miss the call if I couldn’t hear it. I really missed the vibration. I wouldn’t mind have a way to vibrate in more than one place.

    • Ken says:

      Sounds like you’ll be an early adopter, Gavrilo.

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