Future Force Touch
Gary Marshall goes panning in the river of rumour for nuggets of knowledge
Apple’s been getting awfully touchy of late. Force Touch, its combination of a vibration mechanism and pressure-sensitive force sensors, enables MacBook and MacBook Pro users to feel as if they’re using a physical switch instead of tapping on glass, while the same technology in the Apple Watch can tap you or transmit somebody else’s heartbeat. And whether it’s on your wrist or underneath your fingers, it can also detect different levels of pressure and react to your touch accordingly.
Force Touch is expected to appear in iPhones and iPads, but Apple has even more interesting ideas for your fingers. In its patent application “Touch Surface for Simulating Materials”, Apple describes how haptic feedback could be used to “simulate a material” such as metal or wood in a MacBook trackpad. It might even include a thermal element called a Peltier Device to heat or cool the bit that you’re touching. Fancy feeling cold, cold steel or hot, hot sand when you play games or book holidays?
Multiple patents suggest that Apple has big plans for Force Touch across all kinds of devices. For example, in 2013 it was granted its second patent for Force Touch sensors in the Magic Mouse, offering gestures including “nudge”, “scoop”, “tilt” and “tap”.
There’s another place you might see Force Touch soon, and that’s between your fingers. We’ve known that Apple has been experimenting with styluses for some time, and in 2012 Apple filed a patent application for a Force Touch pen. Such a pen would be much more interesting than a mere stylus: it might emulate brush strokes in a drawing program, with its built-in speaker offering a suitable soundtrack to each stroke, or it might use physical feedback when the tip approaches a boundary or a tappable bit of the UI.
Do you think the keys on the new MacBook don’t move much? Soon, they might not move at all. In 2011, Apple filed a patent describing a haptic system that uses tiny puffs of air to make the user “feel” the keys of an entirely virtual keyboard, such as the on-screen keyboards we’re used to in iPads and iPhones. A MacBook whose keyboard was as smooth as its screen would certainly look fantastic. Could haptic feedback make it feel fantastic too?
Future Force Touch trackpads could use haptic feedback to simulate real materials. They might even change temperature as you touch them.