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Apple Force Touch trackpad impressions

I was recently faced with a pretty tough decision. I’ve needed a new notebook for a little while but had mostly been sitting on the sidelines waiting for the right time to buy. I use both Windows and OS X pretty regularly, but planned to stick with OS X on my laptop.

Apple refreshed the MacBook Pro with Retina during its Spring Forward event in March, when it also announced the new MacBook. Which would I choose? Did I need power or a thin and light laptop? After visiting the Apple Store, I ultimately went with the refreshed MacBook Pro with Retina, which has so far turned out to be an excellent choice.

One of the new features that’s worth discussing on both laptops, however, is the new Force Touch trackpad. So, after almost a week using it, I’m here to report back on how it works and my impressions on it.

First, had Apple not told me that the laptop features a new trackpad, I would have never guessed that it changed. That’s both good and bad. It’s good in the sense that Apple was able to create a trackpad that feels normal, though it doesn’t act like traditional trackpads does. It’s also bad in the sense that it’s supposed to be a highlight and it’s barely noticeable.

I’ve read a lot of reports about how amazing the tech is. Sure, it is pretty cool. Apple describes it as such:

Traditional trackpads use a “diving board” mechanism, which requires room underneath for the downward motion of a click and makes it harder to click the part of the surface closest to the keyboard. With the Force Touch trackpad, force sensors detect your click anywhere on the surface and move the trackpad laterally toward you, although the feel is the same familiar downward motion you’re accustomed to in a trackpad. The Taptic Engine also provides haptic feedback, so instead of just seeing what’s happening on the screen, you can feel it, too. The trackpad sends a tangible response to your fingertip when you perform certain tasks, like aligning annotations on a PDF.

That’s pretty amazing stuff. When the laptop is off, the trackpad just feels like a glass pad. When it’s on, however, there’s a bit of a flex and it provides feedback as if you’re pushing down on that aforementioned “diving board.” Except, of course, the diving board doesn’t exist. The feedback is the result of the taptic engine.

A recent Retina MacBook teardown from iFixit gave us a closer look at the taptic engine on the new MacBook, which you can see in the gallery below:

My favorite part about the trackpad is that, unlike traditional ones, you can push down anywhere and get that feedback. So you’re not limited to the bottom left or right panels. Also, since it’s basically digital instead of mechanical, you can adjust the sensitivity of the press on the fly.

Also, Apple highlights the ability to push down and hold down on the trackpad to bring up more information on a specific word, like a definition when you’re browsing the Web. That’s neat in Safari, though I typically use Chrome so haven’t really found much of a use for it. I use it more in other apps, such as previewing a file in Finder. I suspect support will be extended to other areas in the future, too.

I don’t think the Force Touch trackpad is a big enough feature to make it worth buying the MacBook Pro or MacBook over another laptop that doesn’t have it, but it’s really convenient and it works well. It’s more like icing on the cake to already fantastic notebooks, and it’s the best trackpad I’ve ever used.

We’ll be bringing you a deeper dive into the new MacBook soon, but I just wanted to share my experiences with Force Touch on the refreshed MacBook Pro with Retina in the meantime.

Todd Haselton

Todd Haselton has been writing professionally since 2006 during his undergraduate days at Lehigh University. He started out as an intern with...