When Apple announced its smart watch in September 2014, it introduced a new user interface technology called Force Touch. This new technology detects the amount of pressure being applied by the finger and, upon sensing a heavy press, it displays a context menu, if relevant to the current screen. Watch apps use the context menu to display relevant actions from the current screen, and typically between one and four relevant actions can be displayed.
For example, in its WatchKit Human Interface Guidelines, Apple has an example of a stopwatch app and a context menu that could be revealed using Force Touch. These reveal secondary actions that could be used for the stopwatch, which are used less frequently and don’t need to be displayed as primary options.
Interestingly, Apple has decided to introduce the Force Touch feature in its new MacBook and, according to The Wall Street Journal, the next iPhone will also have Force Touch capabilities. This isn’t surprising, as Apple is all about having a consistent experience across its products. As it introduces a new behavior, it would expect that Apple users learn the new gesture and are likely to replicate it on other touchscreen devices. Don’t be surprised if the iPad is next to have Force Touch.
Apple isn’t new to introducing innovative gestures with touch or haptic feedback. Apart from introducing new touch gestures for the iPhone, Apple has a number of unique gestures that it has been introducing on the MacBook with the trackpad as well as on the MagicPad, which replaced the mouse. Apple was the first to get rid of the buttons that usually accompany a trackpad, and introduced multi-touch gestures, which replicated gestures like the mouse right-click feature.
With the Apple Watch and Force Touch, Apple is trying to solve the issues of limited screen size and hidden menus. However, with the MacBook and the iPhone, it allows developers to introduce newer functionalities around apps or games. Also, the Force Touch on the MacBook seems much more advanced, as it has haptic feedback, allowing for the trackpad to adjust and feel like an actual mouse and create the sensation of a button being pressed. On the phone and the watch, Force Touch is embedded into the display and it is not yet clear whether there will be a haptic feedback mechanism that goes with it. If it does, Apple would be able to create new button-like sensations or textures on a touchscreen, which will be revolutionary and highly compelling for application developers.
Apple already has a patent around touchscreen haptic feedback using piezoelectric actuators, and therefore it is highly likely that we are going to see some of that be released in the near future. In the patent, Apple says:
“The user can typically only feel the rigid surface of the touch screen, making it difficult to find icons, hyperlinks, textboxes, or other user-selectable elements that are being displayed. A touch-based user interface may help a user navigate content displayed on the display screen by incorporating haptic feedback.”
It’s unclear if the Force Touch on the Apple Watch will include the type of haptic feedback mentioned in the patents. We will have to wait for the Apple Watch to check if it indeed has some sort of haptic feedback mechanism. If it does, Apple will indeed create a brand new market for apps and experiences and will set a benchmark for other touchscreen device makers to follow suit. Having a haptic feedback display on the watch could turn the Apple Watch into a much more compelling device, possibly even convincing the naysayers, and turn it into a revolutionary timepiece.