Apple Patents a MacBook Touch Bar With Force Touch Capabilities


Illustration for article titled Apple Patents MacBook Technology It Completely Abandoned on Its Smartphones and Smartwatches

Photo: Alex Cranz | Gizmodo

Apple has reportedly filed a patent application to bring Force Touch to the MacBook’s Touch Bar after ditching the pressure-sensing technology on its smartphones and smartwatches. And honestly, given the string of increasingly niche reboots in recent years, I say why the hell not.

On Thursday, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office published a patent application that shows off an updated version of the MacBook’s Touch Bar, as spotted by 9to5 Mac and Patently Apple. The new version looks practically identical to the current one with the exception of additional circuitry that adds Force Touch capabilities, indicating that we may see more of the feature in next year’s redesigned MacBooks (outside of the trackpad, that is).

Force Touch is Apple’s haptic feedback tech that can detect subtle variations in pressure and respond differently depending on how forcefully you tap your device. The company began baking it into the MacBook trackpad in 2015 to keep all the functionality of a traditional trackpad without the need for mechanical buttons. Apple added the feature to its iPhones that same year under the name 3D Touch, but it was later discontinued and replaced with Haptic Touch, a less sensitive version that dumped much of its predecessor’s capabilities, beginning with the iPhone 11 series. Apple’s line of smartwatches included Force Touch from the very first model until the company abruptly dropped support with watchOS 7 earlier this year.

That’s why it’s raising a few eyebrows to see Apple then double-down on the feature with its laptop series after the company abandoned it elsewhere. The patent, which Apple originally filed in May 2019, doesn’t go into detail about how Force Touch would work on the MacBook’s Touch Bar, though as 9to5 Mac points out, it could be used to avoid accidental taps, an annoyance that MacBook users have complained about for years at this point.

As of now, Apple only includes the Touch Bar on its higher-end laptop model, the MacBook Pro. The tiny OLED touch display replaces the strip of programmable function keys at the top of a traditional keyboard, with Apple’s idea being that the Touch Bar allows users to configure more elaborate shortcuts and functions than any single mechanical key could handle.

That was the idea, at least. In practice, users complain that they hardly ever use the thing, or if they do it’s a frustrating accident. After introducing the Touch Bar in 2016, Apple hasn’t iterated the product in any meaningful way, and its prime real estate on the keyboard makes inadvertently triggering it entirely too easy to do. Adding more sophisticated haptic feedback tech could certainly help on that front, so Apple might very well be banking on Force Touch to inject some renewed hype for the feature after letting it languish these past few years.



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