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How does Force Touch work? Inside Apple's new MacBook trackpad technology

Lou Hattersley | April 7, 2015
Apple looks set to revolutionise how we interact with laptops with its new Force Touch trackpad. This new haptic touchpad technology measures click sensitivity and provides electromagnetic feedback, discover the engineering behind Force Touch.

Apple's latest range of MacBooks feature a whole new type of trackpad called Force Touch. But how does Force Touch work, and what is it like to use a Force Touch trackpad?

In this article we're going to take a look at the technology behind Apple's new Force Touch trackpad. How is Force Touch different from regular trackpads, and how do you use the new gestures in Force Touch? Above all: what is it like to use a Force Touch trackpad, and is it worth getting a new Force Touch MacBook instead of an older model?

What is the Force Touch trackpad?

Force Touch is a new type of trackpad (the square area on a MacBook that you slide your finger around and press to control the on-screen pointer). Apple's trackpad already has various gestures thanks to multi-touch, but Apple has added pressure sensitivity and haptic feedback to the mix (thanks to the Taptic Engine).

There's a lot of new terminology here. Here are some Force Touch terms to become acquainted with:

Force Click: This is a new type of click where you press deeper, and harder on the trackpad than normal. The trackpad depresses to a second level and the Force Click produces a different result. For example: clicking on a word selects the word; pressing harder to Force Click a word selects it and brings up the dictionary definition of the word.Haptic feedback: This is the response from a small electrical buzz in the Force Touch trackpad that simulates pressing the pad. The haptic feedback responds to touches and simulates a small click effect using electromagnets (rather than the physical depress of the trackpad). The surface of the trackpad stays fixed.Taptic Engine: This is Apple's name for the electromagnets that sit underneath the Force Touch trackpad. The Taptic Engine is what responds to your finger presses, and provides haptic feedback accordingly.Pressure sensitivity: As well as the standard Click and Force Click the Force Touch trackpad measures pressure sensitivity. Apple's Force Touch developer page states: " Drawing and other creative apps can take advantage of the pressure-sensing capabilities of the trackpad to make lines thicker or give a brush a changing style."

One of Macworld's favourite websites, iFixit.com has a great teardown of the new MacBook Pro 2015 model with the Force Touch Trackpad. The detailed inside look at the Force Touch trackpad reveals the magnets, coils and strain gauges that sit behind the Force Touch trackpad.

What is Force Touch like to use?

Macworld's Andrew Harrison does a great job of summing up what it's like to use Force Touch in his New 2015 Retina MacBook Pro review. Andrew says " It will take some concerted retraining of muscle memory, but one of the great advantages of the Force Trackpad is the ability to make a simple 'click' anywhere across the surface of the trackpad, and not simply along the closest edge as we have been trained to do since using hinged mechanical trackpads."

 

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