Apple’s recent launch of a new line of notebooks marks another milestone in touchpad functionality. While for other manufacturers, the touchpad rarely even makes it onto a specification sheet, touchpad improvements have recently been a recurring bullet-point in Apple’s notebooks’ launch presentations.
I used a MacBook at Sybase for a while and I really enjoyed the huge touchpad and two-finger scroll. Compared to my Dell XPS M1330, the touchpad was gigantic and the scrolling was far more accurate. Then the MacBook Air upped the stakes by building in more finger gestures. And with the new generation of aluminum MacBook and MacBook Pros, the touchpad has done away with its singular button, instead making the entire touchpad ‘clickable’. Furthermore, a bunch of new three and four finger gestures have been included to activate features such as ExposÃ©. Again, the touchpad has increased in size.
I thought the lack of a dedicated button sounded a bit like trouble and sure enough, there have been some problems with the entire-touchpad-as-button idea. At Indigo, our team product manager ordered a new MacBook Pro and had it delivered to the office. It was a seriously sweet piece of kit, although I didn’t even try to get any hands-on time with it. Didn’t seem appropriate at the time. I’ll have to ask him whether he’s run into any touchpad issues.
While perhaps not a complete success, the new touchpad shows that this is an area that Apple is innovating in (or at least getting Synaptics to innovate in). There are some significant usability improvements that can be had with a relatively small change to many existing laptops, such as improving the touchpad. I’m not sure why no one else is following Apple’s lead. Anyone? Anyone at all?
Now, what I’d really like to see is a context-sensitive, multi-touch display, a la the iPhone, as a touchpad. Make it a screen and have it display useful buttons, depending on the current use. For example, on the desktop, show the most commonly (or customized) used programs as icons that can be launched directly from the touchpad. The possibilities could be astounding.