August 20, 2012

Trackpad Gets Touch Sensitivity From Synaptics

Enid Burns for - Your Universe Online

Synaptics recently showed off its ForcePad, the next-generation trackpad for use in laptops, notebooks and even as a peripheral for the desktop computer. The new hardware should be out some time next year, but don't expect to see it on the Mac any time soon. This technology caters to Windows for the time being.

The ForcePad looks like a trackpad on a notebook, but it can take commands based on the force you apply with your fingers. It can also take commands from each finger individually. The technology goes hand-in-hand with Windows 8, which will be released by Microsoft on October 26. It will be longer than that before Synaptics releases its ForcePad, which is expected to become available some time next year.

One thing holding up the release of ForcePad is applications. While it does everything a trackpad can do, it does more and Synaptics needs to build an ecosystem of applications, demo programs and even games to build momentum for computer manufacturers such as HP, Dell and Lenovo to put the next-generation touchpad into use, VentureBeat reports. One way Synaptic is encouraging this is participation in the User Interface Software & Technology Student Innovation Contest. The company provided its hardware to students in the UIST contest to have participating students build applications for the ForcePad.

In a recent demo, Synaptics showed a flight simulator program that had users control an airplane using gesture- and pressure-based commands on the ForcePad. Press your fingers over to the right, and the airplane banks in that direction.

One advantage to the ForcePad is that it can tell the difference between a command and an accidental brush on the touchpad. This clears up all of the erroneous commands regular laptop users can report experiencing where the cursor is sent somewhere else in a Word document, or another window is selected because the palm of his hand brushed the touchpad while typing.

Another advantage to the Synaptics ForcePad is that it's thinner than the average touchpad. This means laptops - and Ultrabooks, can get even thinner. The technology, it is hoped, will advance Windows-based devices beyond Apple capabilities, VentureBeat reports analyst Patrick Moorhead of Moor Insights & Technology said. "Both ThinTouch and ForcePad are significant technologies in that they greatly enhance the PC experience for Windows 8," Moorhead told VentureBeat. "PC manufacturers, who are getting hammered by Apple in the premium PC market, now have a potential UI weapon to fight with that isn't just playing catch-up. They have the chance to get ahead of Apple on the hardware. OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) can no longer stick to their conservative user interface plans to try to save a dollar by buying cheap touchpads and keyboards."

In addition to the ForcePad, Synaptics showed a ClickPad and ThinTouch keyboard. The ThinTouch keyboard has shorter keys. When you type the pressure creates the feeling they dip as much as traditional keyboard keys by spreading the force horizontally. Capacitive touch sensor technology powers the ThinTouch keyboard, as well as the ForcePad.