Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) next generation Macbook is a fairly radical device.
It's incredibly slim -- just 13.1mm thick, and extremely light, at just two pounds. The keyboard has been completely redesigned, and the machine is fanless. The result is an ultraportable device, one that makes the standard Macbook Air seem almost chunky in comparison.
But none of that is particularly notable: many of Apple's competitors in the space already offer laptops that are just as portable, if not more so. (Samsung's new Series 9 laptop, for example, is actually thinner, fanless, and weighs almost exactly the same.)
Rather, the more revolutionary aspect of the Macbook is its new input technology -- a technology that should benefit Apple's entire ecosystem of products.
Introducing Force Touch
When it comes to trackpads, Apple has long dominated its competitors. Recent Windows laptops have made strides, but most tech pundits agree that Apple's trackpads remain the industry standard.
With Force Touch, Apple is pushing even further ahead. The new Macbook's trackpad is equipped with special force sensors, allowing it to gauge the level of pressure a user exerts. There's still the standard mouse click, but, by pressing a bit harder, users can activate a different sort of click -- one that enables them to interact with software in entirely new ways.
Right now, Force Touching is primarily limited to Apple's own software, and the ways in which it's been employed are somewhat gimmicky -- QuickTime users can speed up or slow down a video by Force Touching instead of clicking multiple times -- but that should change over time. Apple has opened up Force Touch to third-party developers, and already, some are taking advantage of it.
Earlier this week, Ten One, a creator of drawing software, updated its Inklet program to support Force Touch. With a stylus, Inklet users can draw on the Force Touch trackpad, and its pressure sensors will adjust the thickness of the line.
Windows laptops, in contrast, do not offer Force Touch, giving the Mac a new point of differentiation. Force Touch could improve the use of certain software, endearing the users of this software to Apple's Mac.
More than the new Macbook
But Force Touch isn't exclusive to the Macbook. Although Apple used the introduction of the Macbook to highlight the technology, the 13-inch Macbook Pro and Apple Watch also offer it. Eventually, Force Touch could come to many of Apple's products, including its smartphones.
According to The Wall Street Journal, Apple is considering adding Force Touch to the next iPhone, which should make its debut this fall. Like Mac software, iOS software should benefit from Force Touch -- by applying various degrees of pressure to their iPhone's screen, users could interact with apps in entirely new ways.
Developers would have to put in effort to make their apps compatible with this new technology, but it could give Apple's platform an advantage over rival mobile operating systems if it became the standard. Android, with its diverse set of hardware manufacturers, would take time to follow suit (if it ever did). Meanwhile, iOS apps could offer functionality that their Android counterparts couldn't match -- apps designed around Force Touch would be difficult, if not impossible, to port over.
Another advantage for Apple's platforms
With the exception of the Apple Watch, Force Touch was the most exciting development to come from Apple's Spring Forward event, far overshadowing the Macbook itself.
It will require developer buy-in and will take time to manifest (older devices lacking Force Touch capabilities will be around for years) but its existence could give Apple's platforms -- both Mac and iOS -- a significant advantage over their competitors in the years ahead.