The Synaptics ForcePad combines pressure-sensing technology reminiscent of a graphics tablet with a dead-zone-free touchpad.
Human interface device specialist Synaptics has released details of a technology it claims will lead to a revolution in laptop control: the ForcePad.
Designed as a next-generation replacement to the touchpad, the ForcePad ditches the traditional clicking mechanism for a pressure-sensitive multi-touch surface. Unlike a traditional touchpad, which can detect where your fingers are but not how hard they are pressing, the ForcePad is claimed to be able to sense both the position and the pressure of up to five simultaneous points.
The basic technology isn't exactly revolutionary: digitiser tablets have featured up to 1,024 levels of pressure sensitivity for years, while even the cheapest laptops come with touchpads capable of at least two-point multi-touch sensing. Combining the two, however, is pretty clever - and promises to bring some new gestures to the fore.
As well as the usual graphics-related functions such as increasing the thickness or opacity of a line according to pressure, Synaptics suggests that the system will allow for adjustments in scrolling speed with harder presses meaning faster scrolling, fine control of fast-forward and rewind speed for media, and an inertia-like system which will continue the effects of a gesture - such as fling-to-scroll - for longer the harder you pressed.
The ForcePad also does away with moving parts completely: no area of the device itself is clickable, with the system relying entirely on a tap-to-click principle. As a result, the ForcePad has no 'dead areas' corresponding to buttons, and is significantly thinner than a traditional touchpad - ideal, Synaptics claims, for Ultrabooks and similar ultra-portable designs.
The devices will come with Synaptics' Gesture Suite, a software package enabling compatibility with both the gestures integrated into Windows 8 as well as the force-enhanced gestures Synaptics has come up with itself.
What Synaptics hasn't yet detailed, however, is how much extra a ForcePad will cost over a traditional touchpad. As a result, we're expecting the answer to be a not-insignificant sum - and, as a result, the ForcePad to be restricted to devices aimed at the higher end of the price spectrum initially.
More details, and a couple of demonstration videos, are available on Synaptics' website