Synaptics has announced a new line of trackpads and keyboards coming sometime next year that will cut the size of current laptop inputs in half.
Many of you have doubtless used a Synaptics device in the past, though you may not have been aware of it. Synaptics is the company responsible for making the trackpad in almost any laptop made in the past five years. Recently, Synaptics made some announcements that focused on making laptops thinner and lighter than they already are. By using its new ThinTouch keyboards and ForcePad trackpads, the keyboard and trackpad on laptops could have their size cut in half.
The ThinTouch keyboard uses capacitive touch sensors rather than the common scissor switches to register input; the keys themselves actually register the keypress, but the keys will still move a few millimeters in order to simulate the key travel feeling of most island-style keyboards. Without needing a physical switch to register the input, Synaptics claims that keyboards could be made up to 50 percent thinner. The lack of a physical switch would also make the keyboards easier to backlight and more durable than current keyboards, given the relative lack of complexity in the physical mechanisms.
The ForcePad trackpad, on the other hand, has become thinner by seemingly removing physical movement entirely. Rather than including physical buttons or a large clickable surface, as with most current trackpads, the ForcePad is pressure-sensitive and supports up to 64 different levels of pressure for up to five fingers, according to Anandtech. While ThinTouch keeps the basic keyboard design the same, going to lengths to ensure that there is a tactile keypress despite not requiring it, for example, the ForcePad radically changes the way inputs are handled on most trackpads, possibly necessitating a steeper learning curve before it becomes second nature to most users.
Each of these products should be available to OEMs sometime next year. Though the difference in height is unlikely to make a large difference in the width of laptops (we’re talking about millimeters of space), it will make room for things like larger batteries or better cooling systems, especially in Ultrabooks or other ultra-thin format laptops. With the difference in height between the MacBook Air and ASUS’s comparable Zenbook UX32VD being measured in millimeters, the new trackpad and keyboard on offer from Synaptics could eliminate that difference entirely.