What it is: Force Touch is Apple’s latest technology to provide tactile feedback and accept various pressure from the user’s fingertips.
For the longest time, user interfaces depended on visual elements in the form of buttons, windows, icons, and pull-down menus. However, relying on sight alone creates a limited user interface. That’s why Apple has created Force Touch. Force Touch offers two features. One, it lets flat surfaces provide tactile feedback. On the Apple Watch, Force touch can tap your wrist to let you know when to turn while following driving directions on your iPhone. However, a more interesting feature involves the latest MacBook.
Instead of building a mechanical trackpad, Apple chose to create a completely flat trackpad that physically never moves anywhere. Yet when you press down on it, the taptic engine underneath mimics movement to fool your fingertip into thinking it pressed down on the trackpad to simulate a mouse button. Such tactile feedback lets Apple create trackpads that eliminate the traditional two button design found in Windows PCs while also taking up less space since a Force Touch trackpad doesn’t need physical space to move when the user presses down on it.
Second, Force Touch can interpret fingertip presses to behave accordingly. A simple tap might move a video forward a few frames while a stronger push on a flat surface would signal a more urgent task to advance a video faster.
Force Touch is a crucial part of the Apple Watch’s user interface and is slowly filtering its way to OS X and iOS. Already GarageBand and other programs accept Force Touch gestures. That means tomorrow’s Magic Trackpad will likely accept Force Touch gestures.
More importantly, the iPad will likely incorporate Force Touch. That means Force Touch can simulate the tactile feel of a physical keyboard as you type on a flat glass surface.
With Force Touch, Apple has created a new user interface that rivals will have a hard time mimicking. It’s easy for Android to create a touch screen interface that looks and works like iOS, but without hardware advances like Apple’s taptic engine, rivals will have a harder time creating a similar Force Touch interface for Android smartphones and tablets.
It’s easy for Android to include support for similar Force Touch gestures. Now it’s much harder for manufacturers like Samsung, HTC, and LG to create a taptic engine that works reliably and consistently with Android. Rivals won’t have an incentive to share taptic engine technology because they want an advantage over rivals. That means Android manufacturers will need to come up with their own taptic engine technology, which will likely be different than a rival’s taptic engine technology. That translates into inconsistent behavior and less reliable performance.
As Apple continues improving their technology, they also make it harder for rivals to copy their technology. Force Touch is already available on some Apple products and is slowly making its way to the Macintosh, iPad, and iPhone. By the time rivals catch up, Apple will be another generation ahead.
As long as companies insist on copying, they’ll always be behind. Force Touch is a new user interface technology that makes Apple devices easier to use while also making it harder for rivals to keep copying Apple.
As Force Touch becomes commonplace in Apple products, watch to see how Android and other rivals try to keep up.