Apple’s already beautiful MacBook touchpad could soon become even more functional. A new patent filing suggests Apple is working to integrate pressure sensitivity and tactile feedback into the next generation of laptop trackpads. Is Touch ID next?
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Apple files patent for pressure-sensitive MacBook touchpad with tactile feedback

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Apple has refined the touchpad to an art. The glass trackpad found in today’s MacBook computers is sleek and simple: all touch surface, all button. Gesture controls allow users to   simulate left and right mouse button input, scroll, swipe, zoom, and more. A newly filed patent suggests Apple now seeks to add another dimension of control.

Filed January 9th, a patent application for “touch pad with force sensors and actuator feedback” calls for a glass trackpad not unlike the one found on current MacBook models, but there is a twist. Embedded beneath the trackpad would be an array of force-sensitive sensors to allow for pressure sensitive input based on how hard the user presses into the touch surface.

Not only would the new trackpad allow for a greater range of input, it would also provide output in the form of tactile feedback. Actuator motors situated below the touchpad could vibrate in reaction to input commands. Think of it like the rumble feature of your favorite gaming controller or the haptic feedback offered by several keyboard apps for Android smartphones (and obtainable on iPhone through a few jailbreaking tricks).

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It’s not the first time Apple has dabbled with pressure sensitive input or tactile feedback, either. A filing from last year described a similar technology for touchscreens deployed in products like the iPhone and iPad. Similarly, older patent filings deal with haptic feedback for tablets. More in line with their current filing, Apple has also explored the possibility of haptic feedback in their Mac keyboards.

Apple’s patent describes the touchpad’s pressure sensitivity as useful for certain functions such as press and release actions. How forcefully a user clicks on a particular item could alter what action is performed. It is easy to imagine how a light click might allow a user to drag and select multiple items, while a more deliberate click could be used to rearrange or drag an item between folders. Pressure sensitivity could also come in handy for artists, mimicking pen and brush strokes in apps like Photoshop when a full-on Wacom tablet and stylus setup isn’t practical.

Tactile feedback, likewise, could have any number of uses. Imagine using a hard-press drag to move an item to a new folder. The trackpad could vibrate to confirm the file has been moved to the new location, signaling that the user can now release their click. This would be similar to current audio feedback provided by OS X. Then, of course, there is the gaming angle, which would add a new layer of immersion to the growing number of games available on the Mac platform.

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Naturally, hearing of such an advanced touchpad has us thinking of other Apple technologies that could make their way to the MacBook platform. While there is no mention in this particular patent filing, might Apple seek to add Touch ID capabilities to the surface of their touchpad in the near future? Another patent has mentioned as much (as well as Touch ID-embedded displays). It would certainly require some changes and a few more sensors than those mentioned here, but the prospect is tantalizing,

The most interesting aspect of this patent may be the fact that the technology laid out is not at all farfetched. In fact, it’s the sort of thing we wouldn’t be surprised to see introduced in the next generation or two of MacBook computers. As with all patents, however, a filing does not indicate Apple has any plans to follow through, but we’d be willing to bet at least some aspects of this patent will make their way to Apple’s lineup in the near future.

 

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