Synaptics first introduced the TouchPad to laptops in the mid-1990s, which was seen as a revolution to the paradigm of mobile computing interaction. Now the company has introduced what it promises to be the next generation of mainstream mobile computing interaction: the ForcePad.
The ForcePad uses the same multi-gesture capacitive touchpad found in virtually any netbook on the market that uses a Synaptics TouchPad with one caveat: as the name implies the ForcePad is pressure sensitive. Synaptics says the ForcePad can detect up five fingers at once, with sensitivity to detect up to 1000 grams of force.
For ForcePad users, the most notable difference will be the lack of a ‘click’ button. The user simply applies concentrated pressure in a specific area.
Utilizing the device’s pressure sensitivity, the ForcePad supports a variety of new pressure sensitive gestures. One example could be for toggling fast-forward during movie playback: instead of tapping a touchpad’s click button a number of times to make the fast forward faster a user could simply increase pressure on the touchpad.
Critics have often praised the integration of gestures into Mac’s UI as one of the stronger aspects of the system. With these new gestures offered by the TouchPad, the Windows world is certain to leapfrog Apple in this regard.
Synaptics is planning on spinning off their pressure tracking research into more than just touchpads. The company is planning on integrating this technology into a keyboard called ThinTouch. Because of Synaptics’ pressure sensitive technology, this keyboard would not require springs — making the keyboard 40% thinner. According to Synaptics’ press people, focus grounds that have done blind tests of this technology say the experience is as good as Apple’s keyboards — the apparent standard to beat.
“If the ForcePad had been around 15 years ago, I don’t know if we would ever have used the mouse,” said Rick Bergman, the chief executive of Synaptics, to VentureBeat. “This is the biggest thing in touch innovation since the launch of the TouchPad in 1995.”
Writing in Techpinions Patrick Moorhead, of Moor Insights & Strategy fame, said that he is “excited” about the ForcePad because advances in human-computing interaction have historically defined winners in the tech sector.
“I believe that many PC makers will quickly adopt these Synaptics technologies to differentiate themselves from Apple and from each other, and some will even drive them across mid-range product lines, too. Unfortunately, some OEMs will continue to count pennies as they lose dollars,” wrote Mr. Moorhead .” When Apple comes out with their next generation of HCI, they will wish they had invested that dollar.”
OEMS are expected to have units offering ForcePad support in 2013.