Article: Force Touch

by on March 14, 2015

While visiting the Apple Store yesterday to see if they carried a Thunderbolt-to-USB 3.0 adapter (sadly, they don’t), I decided to check out the 13” MacBook Pro with Retina Display. I’m not looking to get a new computer any time soon (more on that later), but I was curious about Apple’s new trackpad technology. After Monday’s keynote, many were concerned that the new trackpad would be weird since it didn’t click.

Although I didn’t want to devote an entire article to it, I thought I should add my experiences about using a trackpad. I know it’s silly for 2015, but this is a major change. Having not done much research before hand, I found that if I clicked on it like any other unibody Mac with a glass trackpad, it felt basically the same. I suspected that maybe it still featured the hinge-and-button arrangement of the past, but it doesn’t. Apple managed to recreate the feel mostly through new technology. That’s pretty amazing.

Jason Snell sums up my thoughts:

I have never liked the tap-to-click gesture on trackpads, preferring a physical click. So hearing that the new MacBook trackpad doesn’t actually depress made me despair. But what Apple has implemented—a series of force sensors underneath the trackpad surface and a Taptic Engine that can vibrate the surface on demand—is a remarkable simulation of the real thing. If I hadn’t known how the thing worked, I would’ve sworn that Apple had gotten its own announcement wrong and that this trackpad was just like all of the other trackpads on other Apple laptops.

Nope! When you press on the trackpad, the Taptic Engine fires up and shakes the surface of the trackpad. Your brain interprets the vibration and the pressure as a downward click, even though that’s not what’s actually happening. (The vibration from the Taptic Engine is from side to side, not up and down.)

On the other hand, Force Touch gives you an additional type of click, the force click (not a right click), by pressing harder. Again, it felt like I was actually clicking a physical button and I could feel the stops for a normal click and a force click. In the reporting since Monday, a lot of tech writers seem to have observed it differently, but I think the best analogy is like the shutter button on a digital camera, with focus being a normal click and snapping the picture being the force click. The force click option is software controlled, so you can change the pressure if you find you’re activating it too often or not enough.

I find this whole thing as a fascinating development for the future of Apple. If they can create this technology on a MacBook trackpad, what’s to say they couldn’t give the feeling of a physical click on an iOS device? Although I’ve seen haptic feedback before on mobile devices, this doesn’t feel like the device would vibrate on every tap, but you’d swear you were actually pressing buttons.

Besides the idea of other uses, this signals that Apple is thinking of ways to improve its products beyond specifications. While I am disappointed to see MagSafe go from the MacBook (and with “all day battery life”, it may not be an issue, much like iPads), it’s nice to see ways that the company is creatively trying to improve aspects of the user experience.

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