The Force Touch Trackpad

I recently upgraded to a new 13" MacBook Pro from a 2012 13" MacBook Air. Everything, of course, is several generations newer and faster. The retina display is amazing, the SSD is 2x faster on write and 3x faster on read, the CPU is substantially faster too.

The thing I want to rave about, though, is the Force Touch trackpad. This thing is seriously, seriously brilliant and, in my opinion, a subtle but significant step forward in the Mac experience.

Most of the reviews you'll read about the trackpad go on about the technical implementation of the haptic click effect and how it "really feels like a click". This is totally true, but it wildly misses the point about how Force Touch changes the interaction with your Mac.

Let's back up a bit. Trackpads have always been basically a rearrangement of the mouse. In early days, the trackpad didn't move and there were physical buttons. With the unibody MacBook Pro and the multi-touch trackpad, Apple hinged the trackpad itself and eliminated the button. This wasn't that much of a change; it just put the button under the bottom edge of the trackpad.

In both designs of trackpad, to perform any kind of click-and-drag, you still had to make a gesture which involved pointing, clicking and holding with the thumb, and moving the pointer with another finger.

In later versions of Mac OS X, around the time of the release of the desktop Magic Trackpad, Apple introduced a three-finger drag gesture that allowed you to tap with three fingers and move to perform a drag.

On a Mac with a Force Touch trackpad, I discovered, that setting is gone. And I was really mad about it! I've been using that gesture for years! How can they take it away? Well, it turns out that you don't need it any more.

My big insight into the Force Touch trackpad is that you never need to use your thumb for clicking - ever. The reason we used the thumb was because the click was only effective in the lower quarter of the trackpad due to the hinge. As long as your tracking speed is set high enough that you can go from one side of the screen to the other in one movement, you can just use your pointing finger.

If you think about it, this really takes the Mac another step closer to more direct manipulation of objects on screen. Once you realise that you can genuinely click with your pointing finger equally anywhere on the trackpad, you can get the sense that dragging something in Keynote on the Mac is a lot more like dragging something in Keynote on iPad: point to it, press on it, move your finger instead of "point to it, click a button with your thumb, hold it, move your pointing finger, release your thumb, release your pointing finger".

I really love the Force Touch trackpad. Once I flipped the switch in my brain, it has been a really nice upgrade. Yes, I'm unlearning decades of muscle memory, but when I started to just think about it like an iPhone, it became incredibly fast and fluid to use. It might be the first trackpad that's as fast and precise as a mouse.