ForcePads: the Future of Point Devices?

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November 8, 2012

The rapid modern progression in computer technology has seen the world of consumers having to rapidly adapt to new point devices with which to interact with their devices. Over time, developers have tried to get more and more from initially simple designs.

Things started, of course, with the humble mouse.  And this little guy has been stretched to each logical extreme: some designs are so simple so as to only permit the user to point and click (no right click or scrolling wheel), while other designs have seen the entire back and sides of the mouse covered in buttons and wheels and numberpads and other things the purpose of which escapes all but the most tech-savvy.  It is possible that some of them do nothing at all – how would we know?  Still, complexity beyond the standard left/right click and scroll wheel has never really caught on, and most desktops stick with this traditional model.

With the advent of laptops, having a mouse became a cumbersome prospect, and thus came the creation of the touchpad or trackpad.  Once again, initially just for pointing and clicking, touchpads soon came to incorporate scrolling as well, and now most ultrabooks have plural- or multi-touch touchpads that allow you to zoom in and out and all sorts using nothing but a couple of fingertips.

Touchscreens like those found on new tablets and smartphones have the same basic style of interaction as the touchpad, but here the user interacts directly with the interface through the screen, rather than having a controlled pointer.

And now, here comes the ForcePad.

How many times have you tried to type or select something with your trackpad or mouse only to find that it doesn’t work?  And, much like when the TV remote is low on battery, how many times have tried to rectify the problem by pressing harder… and harder… and harder, while shouting ‘WORK!  WORK!’?

We’ve all done it, and we all feel pretty stupid about it, because we all know that our response doesn’t make it work any better.  And the reason it doesn’t work is because touchpads and touchscreens don’t respond to pressure – they only react to the interruptions in the screen’s electrical field caused by the finger.  Pressing harder doesn’t interrupt the field any more.  What fools we are.

But, maybe, not any more.  New research has resulted in the development of a pressure-sensitive touchpad called the ‘ForcePad’.  By adding another dimension to user control, the hope is that the ForcePad will create a new level of user interaction.  They are slated to be included in ultrabook models as early as next year; a prototype attached to a Lenovo laptop can be seen in this video.

Exactly what this new trackpad will do is, however, not that clear at the moment. One clever idea is to allow users to cycle through windows by applying pressure, a much quicker and convenient option than those presently available.

Beyond this idea, however, there’s not much information around about how the ForcePad might be employed.  Still, developers constantly surprise with the imaginative levels of their innovation, and the ForcePad presents just one more possibility to be exploited for the benefit of the user.

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