Right now, virtually all reporting about Apple focusses on its biggest new product in years – the Apple Watch. It’s the centre of the Apple media show, and no matter where you go on the web, there’s no way to get around it or avoid it – even here on OSNews. Apple is the biggest company in the world, so this makes perfect sense, whether you like it or not. Even if the Apple Watch does not sell well by Apple’s standards, it will still be a billion dollar business, and it will still leave a huge mark on the industry.
However, I think Apple has a much more interesting new product on the shelves. This new product got its stage time during the various keynotes, and it sure isn’t neglected by the media or anything, but I think its potential is so huge, so game-changing, that it deserves way, way more than it is getting.
I’ve been using touch devices for a really long time. From Palm OS and PocketPC devices, to iPhones and Android phones, and everything in between. I’ve used them with styluses, my fingertips, my fingernails, but there has always been a hugely important downside to touch interaction that made it cumbersome to use: the lack of any form of tactile feedback. In all these years, I’ve never learned to type properly on touch devices. I still regularly miss tap targets, and I still need to look at my device whenever I want to tap on something. It’s cumbersome.
Apple’s new Force Touch and Taptic Engine technology has the potential to change all of this.
This week, I bought a brand new 13.3″ retina MacBook Pro, equipped with the fancy new trackpad technology. Remember the hype on stage as Apple unveiled this new technology? For once, they weren’t overselling it. This really feels like some sort of crazy form of black magic. The trackpad does not move; it does not physically depress, and yet, when you use it, it’s indistinguishable from a traditional trackpad.
When the device is off and the trackpad is, thus, unpowered, “clicking” on the trackpad feels just like trying to click on any other rigid surface. A blind person would not know she is touching a trackpad. Turn the device on, however, and the technology comes to life, turning this inanimate piece of glass into something that feels exactly like a traditional trackpad, clicks and all.
Using Force Touch – where you press down a little harder – is an even stranger sensation; it feels identical to a camera’s two-stage shutter button, even though there’s no actual downward movement of the pad. My brain still doesn’t quite comprehend it. I know how the technology works and what’s happening, but it’s still downright amazing.
With the ability to give this kind of detailed tactile feedback to your fingers, Apple is on the cusp of solving the problem of the lack of tactility on touchscreens. Once this technology is further refined, it will surely find its way to iPhones and iPads, allowing you to feel individual keys on the virtual keyboard, and buttons in the user interface. Not only will this allow people to type more accurately and find their way around their device, it will also mean that one of my best friends, who is suffering from a very rare degenerative eye condition that will leave her close to blind within 15-20 years, could possibly continue to use an iPhone.
Force Touch and the Taptic Engine are, despite their horrible names, the most exciting products Apple has unveiled since the original iPhone. I’m excited to see where Apple takes this, and once it makes its way to the iPhone, I will have to think long and hard about my choice of mobile platform.