Ina Fried

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Synaptics Aims to Move Beyond the Trackpad

Synaptics, best known for powering the trackpad at the bottom of many PC notebooks, is looking to branch out.

The company is detailing two new products. One is a pressure-sensitive version of the trackpad, known as ForcePad. The other is something called ThinTouch, which aims to replace the traditional keyboard.

ThinTouch feels similar to a traditional chiclet keyboard, but is actually much thinner because its keys sit on top of a pressure sensor rather than the traditional “scissor” mechanism. The keys move, but most of that movement is actually lateral rather than vertical. (Most users can’t actually tell the difference, Synaptics insists.)

Both products offer a similar advantage — they are thinner, allowing for either thinner laptops, additional cooling space or larger-capacity batteries. They also feature fewer moving parts, which could mean less breakage.

The products are now sampling, and are expected to show up in notebooks next year.

Moor Insights analyst Patrick Moorhead said the new products should find their way into both mid-range and high-end systems. The technologies, he said, add just a few dollars in cost but add a lot of flexibility. The technologies are even more important with Windows 8, which relies heavily on touch control and gestures.

“ThinTouch and ForcePad are tools [computer makers] can use to combat Apple, who has run away with the premium market and experience,” Moorhead said. “Historically, [computer makers] have not been willing to pay a few more dollars for an improved and consistent experience but after looking at the premium success of Apple, I think they will step up and adopt this widely even across the mid-range.”

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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik