Apple announced a new trackpad, the Force Touch Trackpad as part of the details of its new ultrathin MacBook during its Spring Forward event last week. Highlights of the new trackpad are pressure sensitivity and haptic feedback, provided by what Apple calls its Taptic Engine. Both features, headliners in their own way, work together to provide click-like feedback from a piece of glass that doesn’t actually “click”.
Although early reactions seemed to indicate Apple nailed it, I was skeptical. After all, I use a Microsoft Touch Mouse every day at work, and every smartphone I’ve ever used with haptic feedback left me wondering what purpose it really served. So, I had to try it for myself and I did just that yesterday. I went to a local Apple Store, immediately found a 13 inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display and tried it. Color me fooled. I had to do a double take to make sure I was testing the right model. My honest first impression was that it felt like a click, but not quite as deep as the click feels on my 2010 MacBook Air. Taptic Engine fooled me but it isn’t that good.
I was about to walk out when an Apple store employee walked over to the MacBook Pro next to me with a customer he was helping. He started talking about the new trackpad and he directed the customer to press normally to feel the “click”. I couldn’t see the customer’s reaction, but it felt like “so what?”. Then the Apple employee told him to press harder. So I did it. WHOA. Like Joey Lawrence WHOA.
Not only does the deeper press activate the new force press gesture, it also registers the more familiar deep click feeling I’m used to with my MacBook Air and Magic Trackpad. Mind irrevocably blown.
So what does it all mean? Well there’s some low hanging marketing fruit that Apple will be quick to tout. If the previous click trackpad ever stood in the way Apple delivering its new MacBook in that super thin form factor, it no longer does. There’s also a new gesture that Apple can add (the Force Press) which, depending on the context, can perform a variety of functions like word lookups or varying the seek/rewind speed in QuickTime. The third and final piece of low hanging fruit is that the feedback and pressure sensitivity can be tuned to your specific tastes and clicky strength. Nothing revolutionary there, just fine tuning an already delightful experience.
But maybe gestures are the key. Except, maybe it’s not about adding more input gestures that our fingers perform, but instead gestures performed by the Taptic Engine that our fingers perceive? A recent update to Apple’s own iMovie hints at the future of such feedback, signaling the end of clip with a slight bump to the user through the new trackpad. On last week’s episode of The Talk Show, Serenity Caldwell posits that similar technology could be used for accessibility enhancements. Clever.
Windows PC trackpads still haven’t caught up to Apple’s venerable trackpad and, gimmick or no gimmick, the Force Touch Trackpad puts Apple that much farther ahead.