One of the more innovative items coming out of Apple’s new laptop announcements last week was their development of a new trackpad for these portables. This new trackpad has several interesting features:
- Made out of glass
- No visible button or button area
- Multi-touch for numerous gestures
While the multi-touch capability was introduced in the MacBook Air (and, later, in revisions to the Pro models), some new ones have been added with the new laptops. The first two items are completely new.
In utilizing the new trackpad, there are some observations I’d like to make that may interest those who have yet to try it.
Made from glass
I would challenge anyone to have guessed that this thing is made out of glass. If you were expecting to notice this by sight or touch, that’s just not the case. Visibly, it looks very much like the old trackpad (minus the button, of course), but there is no sheen that one might have expected from a glass surface (like on an iPhone, for example).
Further, when dragging your finger across there is more friction than one would probably expect from a smooth piece of glass. Clearly, it’s been optimized in a manner that Apple believes is consistent with what a trackpad normally feels like.
You may wonder, if it doesn’t look or feel any different why bother with glass at all? I’d guess that one reason is that it simply won’t wear down. I suspect this thing will feel and act the same way three years from now as it does the day you buy it. I could be wrong, but it seems to me that would be a chief advantage in using glass. Glass is also highly recyclable, which would fit in with Apple’s green initiatives.
This is the nicest new feature to me, and yet I don’t think Apple explained it very well. They repeatedly state that the entire trackpad is the button. That’s true, but not in any practical sense.
The trackpad doesn’t appear to “float”, so it’s not really available to be clicked anywhere. Rather, it seems to be “hinged” at the top, and sort of swings down when you press. Because of this, clicking at the very bottom of the pad is easy, and clicking at the very top is hard (or nearly impossible). Between the two is a gradation of effort required to click.
What this means (for me, at least) is that I can readily click on the bottom half of the pad, but on the top half it gets more hit or miss. There’s nothing wrong with this, it’s just that Apple’s explanation implies you could easily click anywhere, and that’s not the case unless you want to push really hard, which I don’t think is very practical.
My opinion of the new button is very positive. In fact, I can see all trackpads moving this way in the future. Think about it, you now have a “button” much larger than usual (about half the size of the trackpad), while at the same time you have no physical button taking up precious space for other trackpad movements and gestures. Bottom line is you get a big button and huge trackpad area in a space that previously could not have accommodated both. It’s the best of both worlds.
Some of the gestures, such as two-finger scrolling, and one- or two-finger tapping, have been around for a while. While others, such as pinching for zoom, or two-finger object rotation, or three-finger swiping, were the domain only of the Air and Pro models. But now all gestures are available across the laptop line, and they’ve also added four-finger gestures for switching apps and using Expose.
Older gestures like two-finger tapping (for a right-click) and scrolling are so second nature to me that I’m frustrated on a trackpad without them. In my more limited use of the new ones I can see they will quickly become indespenaible as well, and I’m not the only one who feels that way.
In my opinion, the new trackpad is an improvement in every way. Leave it to Apple to re-think something as mundane as the trackpad and make it better. I suspect a lot of this was done out of necessity. Put simply, I think they needed to allow more room to make use of the gestures (after all, there’s no sense having such gestures if you feel cramped when trying to use them).
In any case, the reason for the change is not what interests me. What interests me is that this is the kind of innovation — and bringing to market — that Apple is very good at.