Entertainment, Hardware

Synaptics at CES 2013 – Enabling Thinner Better Ultrabooks

This year, at CES 2013, we met with Synaptics to talk about the latest in their touch products as well as the latest in their other human input devices.

We first began our meeting with a follow-up to our meeting with Synaptics back in July where they introduced us to their new Forcepad touchpads as well as their ThinTouch keyboards. Back at that time, the Forcepads were only able to work in rigged systems and in prototyped enclosures. The Forcepads have not quite made their way into products, but Synaptics is telling us that they are expected to be later in the year.

The beauty of the Forcepads is that they enable for an added level of functionality with the touchpads by adding the sensitivity of force. They also reduce the overall thickness of the touchpad by almost 50% enabling thinner laptops with more fully featured touchpads. As if that weren’t enough, Synaptics is going to include their own hinges for their Clickpad line of touchpads, unlike they have done in the past where they allowed OEMs to pick the hinges they wanted. Not just that, but they’ve also made them significantly thinner as well.

The real impressive stuff, the stuff we had been waiting many months on were actually the ThinTouch keyboards. Back when Synaptics showed us their ForcePad touchpads, they also gave us a taste of what their new keyboards for ultrathin laptops would be like. Their goal was to improve keyboards on Ultrabooks and the like, while simultaneously enabling ever thinner laptops. The ThinTouch keyboard does this using a magnetic resistance system combined with an off-set depression mechanism which increases the distance that the keys depress by making them move ever so slightly to the side. By not depressing straight down, there is more key travel distance giving it a more natural feel. The mechanism is also magnetic rather than mechanical or rubber domed, which means that it will almost always type the same the first time as it did the last time.

A prototype keyboard for testing, now we’ve got a whole keyboard to play with, not individual keys.

This new keyboard is less than half as thick as a lifesaver, that’s freakishly thin.

What is extremely interesting about using such a keyboard is that it is also a giant capacitive touch sensor because each of the keys is a capacitive sensor. The hope is to use this ability to capacitively sense on each key for other use cases, however there are not any at the current moment other than the obvious. One of the most obvious use cases of combining these keyboards with Synaptics’ touchpads is that if you’re typing or have your fingers resting on the keys, the touchpad will simply turn off and prevent errors/ghost dragging.

The new ThinTouch rigged into a Lenovo X1 Carbon laptop.