How you interact with your laptop is about to change forever. Synaptics, the company that develops software and firmware for the clickpads and touchpads found on any number of laptops, has debuted a new version kind of touchpad dubbed the ForcePad that incorporates pressure and gesture sensing technology.
The ForcePad represents a sea change of sorts for the way consumers interface with their laptops, and has been developed alongside Windows 8 to ensure that the pad takes full advantage of the operating system's gesture-based UI. We spent some early hands-on time with the ForcePad and were very impressed with what we saw.
Not only can the ForcePad detect pressure from individual fingers, but it can differentiate between the amount of force you apply to the pad with five fingers. To demonstrate the ForcePad's pressure sensitivity and accuracy, Synaptics's reps opened a test program featuring an animated sponge. As we applied pressure to the ForcePad, the sponge deformed. Moving our fingers close together and adding more pressure created a large indent in the sponge, while reducing pressure decreased the size of the dent.
Synaptics also lets us toy around with a video game that saw us maneuvering a fighter jet based on how much pressure we applied to either side of the ForcePad. The more force we used on the right or left side of the pad, the sharper our turns were. Putting more force on top of the pad would determine how quickly our jet climbed into the sky.
Some of the more practical ways Synaptics is integrating the ForcePad into the Windows environment is by improving gesture controls. Whereas pinching-to-zoom on an image or map would see you repeating the gesture several times until you reached the level of zoom you wanted, the ForcePad allows you to pinch and then press down to continue zooming. It makes for a much smoother experience than the traditional jerky movements you experience with a standard touch or clickpad.
Also seeing improvement is the all important two-finger scroll feature. Instead of having to drag and lift and drag to reach the bottom of a long web page, the ForcePad allows you to scroll and apply pressure, which in turn continues the scroll without a hitch. The more pressure you add, the faster you'll scroll. Reduce the pressure and your scrolling will slow down.
But perhaps the best part about the ForcePad is its size advantage over current clickpads. Synaptics says the ForcePad is 40 percent thinner than a similar current-generation pad. That adds up to a lot of additional space for battery packs, cooling, or even a thinner overall laptop.
Synaptics isn't stopping at the ForcePad, though. The company also gave us a preview of its next generation ThinTouch keyboard, which will feature a redesigned key mechanism, capacitive touch sensitivity that can be programed to allow users to enter special characters by applying more pressure to a key and even autocomplete. Like the ForcePad, Synaptics says the ThinTouch keyboard will be 30 to 50 percent thinner than the competition. The photo above illustrates the difference in thickness between one of Apple's proprietary MacBook keyboards and Synaptic's ThinTouch keyboard.
To help spur innovation for the ForcePad and ThinTouch, Synaptics is taking part in the annual User Interface Software and Technology Student Innovation Contest.