Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Force Touch Trackpad

Thomas Brand:

This weekend I had the opportunity to try out the new Force Touch trackpad on the new 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display. The sensation of a physical click is so good I had to turn the computer off, disabling the haptic engine, just to make sure I was using the new trackpad. With the MacBook Pro turned off the trackpad doesn’t move. (Clicking on it gives you the same sensation as pressing on the palmrest.) But after turning the MacBook back on, clicking the trackpad gives you the same sensation as the old trackpad where the surface is depressed. Dr. Drang calls this sensation tactile illusion, and it is caused by electromagnets in the haptic engine rapidly shaking the trackpad in a lateral motion. I call it another reason to buy a Mac.

Apple didn’t design the new Force Touch Trackpad just so that it could fit into a thinner Mac. Using the built-in software you can adjust the force of the new trackpad’s click without turning a screw.


Here are some examples what you can do with a Force click.

Dr. Drang:

The trackpad uses four force gauges, one at each corner, to measure the force you exert when pressing down on it. It’s remarkably similar to the way my bathroom scale works. The force gauges are themselves very simple: short cantilever beams with strain gauges on one side. The strain gauges change resistance according to the curvature of the beams, the curvature of the beams changes according to the forces acting on them, and the four forces on the beams add up to the total force of your touch. By putting a gauge at each corner, the force is measured accurately regardless of where you touch.


More interesting to me is the feedback the trackpad gives you. A set of electromagnets along one edge of the pad shake it laterally according to criteria that are a complete mystery to me. Somehow, though, buzzing the pad laterally gives the user the impression of downward motion. Everyone who’s tried it out says the feeling is uncannily like pushing down on a regular trackpad.

Update (2015-03-20): Apple:

Apps can have any button, control, or region on the screen respond to a press of stronger pressure. A Force click can provide a shortcut to additional functionality within the app.


Pressure sensitivity in the trackpad enables apps to give users greater control. For instance, fast-forward in media playback can speed up as pressure increases.


Let users react to a Force click gesture while in the middle of performing a drag, for instance, to immediately open a new target for the drop.


Download the latest release of Xcode 6, which includes OS X 10.10.3 SDK, and use the development resources below to learn more about creating apps that support the Force Touch trackpad.

Here is a summary of what’s new:

Buttons and segmented controls can also now be set as spring loaded. When enabled, the receiver may be activated by dragging something over it and force clicking—pressing harder. When spring loading is enabled and a user drags something over the receiver, the receiver highlights to indicate that it responds to force clicking. In this situation, if the user presses harder, additional highlighting occurs to indicate that the receiver was activated.

Update (2015-03-22): Julio Ojeda-Zapata:

Execution is everything, and the Force Touch trackpad has been implemented impeccably based on what I’ve seen so far. It just works, and is a welcome addition to the MacBook line. I hope Apple makes it possible for desktop Mac users to join the Force Touch party too, with an updated Magic Trackpad.

Excellent though it is, I’m still a mouse guy.

Update (2015-03-30): Thomas Aquino:

The part that struck me about using Force Touch was how useful it was in alerting me that I clicked something. Clicking a word did two things: (1) it showed me the definition; but (2) more importantly, I felt the click at the same time. Feeling my action was key because it let me know that I’m clicking without me having to rely solely on my vision to know that I clicked. And that’s the accessible part – the Force Touch trackpad gives me yet another cue (beyond the popover animation and sound of the click) that something happened.

3 Comments RSS · Twitter

"But after turning the MacBook back on, clicking the trackpad gives you the same sensation as the old trackpad where the surface is depressed."

Except that the trackpad *does* move "in"/down, just a bit, in the MBP 13". And yes, I did check About This Mac -- Early 2015. If I clicked "hard" on a word in Safari, for instance, the Dictionary, Wikipedia, and Apple Store pop-up popped up, so I had the right machine.

And the trackpad did move at least a millimeter -- easily viewable. I'm not saying the MacBook Thin's trackpad moves; I have no idea. But the MBP 13" Force Trackpad I tried certainly does.

@ruffin Thank you for pointing this out. It is good to remember that the new MacBook’s trackpad is not the same as the MacBook Pro one that people have been writing about recently.

[…] that Apple is going to trade some or all of those for thinness, while also making the keyboard and trackpad […]

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