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The MacBook's new trackpad will change the way you click

Jason Snell | March 13, 2015
To make the new MacBook so thin, Apple had to shrink the keyboard's height and remove the trackpad's up-and-down click. So far, Jason Snell prefers the trackpad and its new Force click gesture.

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.)

This is all presumably to drive a little more thickness of out of the MacBook, but it has a fun side benefit: Now the clickiness of the trackpad can be controlled by software. A new slider in the Trackpad system preference pane lets you adjust how much force is required for a click, so you can tweak it to fit your preferences.

More impressively, Apple should be rolling this functionality out to third-party Mac developers soon. I'm really curious to see what sorts of features they'll dream up. As a proof of concept, Apple demonstrated a version of QuickTime Player that allows you to adjust the fast-forward speed based on how hard you press on the fast-forward button. The feature itself is a little gimmicky, but as a demo for the new trackpad it was impressive. The harder I pressed on the trackpad, the more clicks I felt. It was as if the trackpad was tabbed somehow, so I could feel as I pushed through each successive step to the next.

And all the while, the trackpad wasn't actually moving lower--it was all in my mind. It was enough to make me immediately desire a version of this trackpad for my desktop.

The new MacBook also introduces an entirely new gesture to the Mac vocabulary. You know about clicks, double-clicks, and control-clicks (or right-clicks or two-finger-clicks). Now meet the Force click. On the version of OS X running on the MacBooks in the demo room, I could click extra hard on a word on a web page in Safari, and it would open a floating palette with a dictionary definition or a link to a Wikipedia page. (In technical terms, Apple has wired its Data Detectors technology to the Force click feature in Safari. On today's Macs, you'd have control-click on a word and choose Look Up to perform the exact same feature.) In Finder, a Force click kicks off a Quick Look preview.


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