Apple’s Force Touch trackpad: What you need to know

May the haptic force be with you

Introduced last week, Apple’s new MacBook and 13-in. MacBook Pro range introduce a new trackpad feature called Force Touch.

What is it?

Apple says:

“The new trackpad features built-in force sensors that allow you to click anywhere and haptic feedback that provides a responsive and uniform feel. You can even customize the feel of the trackpad by changing the amount of pressure needed to register each click. The Force Touch trackpad also enables a new gesture called Force Click, a click followed by a deeper press, for tasks like pulling up the definition of a word, quickly seeing a map or glancing at a preview of a file.”

Force Touch and Force Click bring some (not all) of the contextual menu items you gain when you Option-Click an item. The technology consists of four force sensors situated underneath the trackpad. These detect clicks and identify the force of those clicks, meaning you can click and select items anywhere on the trackpad.

The system translates the pressure of those clicks into different actions, so a light click might select an item while a firmer click may select information about that item. You get to set how much pressure is required to register a click, and the system can tell whether you’re clicking with your thumb or another finger and automatically adjusts the sensitivity level.

There is also a taptic engine which gives you a vibrational response when you tap, making it feel as if you are pressing the pad down, even though the trackpad doesn’t actually move. iFixit tells us the Taptic Engine on the MacBook Pro uses four separate magnets that work together to create different types of vibrational feedback.

You “feel” a vibrational response as you cross each pressure threshold, (light click, firm click, hard click etc.) In some apps, you may find multiple recognized levels of force.

forectouch iFixit

A bank of magnets makes the feeling happen

What it does

Apple has published extensive information on using the Force Touch trackpad, which works in conjunction with Apple’s existing Multitouch user interface features.

Among other things, it lets you preview files, calendar events, Web pages and more. Apple also intends for developers to integrate Force Touch support within their apps.

More interestingly, the trackpad also supports pressure-sensitive drawing, so you can sign your name using it. Press lightly for a thin stroke or harder for a thick one in supporting apps.

Apple describes 14 ways in which to use ForceTouch:

Force click text in a webpage or Mail message and a popover appears showing you Look up results for that text.

When composing a message with an image or PDF attachment in it, Force click the image to activate Markup. This lets you annotate the attachment.

Force click an existing event to see a details inspector, or Force click a meeting attendee to see their contact card.

Apple’s complete description of different ways to use Force Touch is available here.

It is interesting that Force Touch will also change the speed of fast forward and rewind of assets in QuickTime or iMovie; while you receive haptic feedback in iMovie to let you know when you have accomplished some tasks, such as forwarding to the end of a movie or putting a title in place. You can also use the pressure sensitivity to accelerate as you zoom into or out of a map in Maps.

One more thing

It makes some sense to imagine Apple will introduce support for Force Touch inside future versions of its $69 Magic Trackpad at some point. It is also likely Force Touch will be rolled out in future iOS devices.

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Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.

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