How the MacBook's Force Touch trackpad works

Apple announced a new MacBook model that features a much larger Force Touch trackpad. Here's how it works.

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2 min read
Watch this: Test driving Apple's Force Touch trackpad

Apple's new Macbooks include a wider, more spacious trackpad, giving you more room than ever to use Force Touch.

Force Touch, originally introduced on Apple's 2015 MacBook and 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro, is like 3D Touch for your Mac. When you push into your trackpad -- with force -- new options appear. For instance, if you force-touch over an image file, a preview appears.


How the Force Touch trackpad is different

Current trackpads use what Apple called a "diving board" design, where the top edge of the trackpad near the keyboard is fixed in place, allowing the rest of its surface to be clicked. The Force Touch trackpad, however, features four sensors that let the trackpad be clicked anywhere, including along its top edge.

When editing photos, for example, I sometimes lose track of where I am on the trackpad and have a click denied when attempting to click a spot too close to the top edge. With Force Touch, no longer will I feel the frustration of a denied click.

But, remember: a "click" on a Force Touch keyboard isn't a true click. What feels like a click is actually haptic feedback based on the amount of pressure you've applied to the trackpad.

Why it's different from a right-click

When the first Macbooks with Force Touch were announced in 2015, it seemed like, maybe, the right-click was being phased out. It's clear now, however, that's just not the case.

Here are the primary ways to use Force Touch:

  • Force click. This is the closest thing to a right-click, except, other options appear. For instance, you can force-click a link to preview it in Safari.
  • Force pressure. The Force Touch trackpad can sense how hard you're pressing, giving you even more control. For instance, when you're watching a movie, the pressure of your click determines how fast you fast-forward or rewind. The same function works for zooming in on Maps or adjusting the weight of a drawing tool.

More than one kind of force-touch

Not all clicks are created equal with the Force Touch trackpad. It can tell the difference between a light tap and a deep press, which has allowed Apple to create new Force Touch gestures. You can deep-press on a word when browsing Safari, for example, to call up a Wikipedia entry. You can deep-press an address to bring up its location on a map or preview a file in Finder.

The pressure sensitivity also lets you make small changes in pressure to adjust the speed when fast-forwarding through QuickTime, for example, or zooming in on a map. Apple also showed that the trackpad's will also make electronic signatures more realistic.

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Along with the new sensors, the Force Touch trackpad features a taptic engine that provides tactile feedback, letting you know by feel when you performed certain tasks. Apple gives the example of aligning annotations on a PDF. You'll get a little pulse when things are lined up just so.

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