Haptic trackpads are everywhere at CES 2022– and I’m delighted by it

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Touchpad, trackpad, whatever you call them – it’s one of the most-used parts of your laptop, and at CES 2022, it’s going through a major overhaul.

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A growing trend is beginning, with four new flagship laptops opting for haptic feedback trackpads instead of a physical click mechanism. And that’s a good thing if you ask me.

Turn off the keyboard and trackpad on the Dell XPS 13 Plus.

Haptic Trackpad Wherever You Look

Among the best new laptops at CES 2022, it was impossible not to note the growing popularity of the haptic trackpad.

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Lenovo was one of the first Windows manufacturers to try out haptics in a touchpad with the 2020 Yoga 9i. This feature spread to the ThinkPad Titanium Yoga in 2021. And now, this year, both the new ThinkPad Z13 and Z16 use this haptic trackpad, along with the Yoga 9i’s refresh.

Aerial view of Lenovo ThinkPad Z16 laptop.

So yes, Lenovo is all in. But now, Dell, HP, and more have jumped on the bandwagon as well.

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Take, for example, the Dell XPS 13 Plus. The Haptic Touchpad is built directly into a single piece of glass that makes up both the tracking surface and the palm. There is no line to differentiate between the two.

If it was only that device, I could chalk it up to a one-time experimental facility. When I saw HP was announcing its first haptic trackpad on Chromebooks with the Elite Dragonfly Chromebook, I was intrigued. These are signs that this technology is moving beyond just the premium Windows laptop sector. It will be only a matter of time before this type of technology is expected in all flagship laptops.

A woman uses the trackpad on the HP Elite Dragonfly Chromebook 3.

That may not sound like a ton, but with Dell, HP, Asus, and Lenovo all taking it, it’s only a matter of time before we see even more widespread adoption.

As much as laptop buyers might suspect, there are several significant benefits to choosing haptics over mechanical parts. Laptops can be thinner, less prone to mechanical failure, and there is also less room for variation in quality.

a growing trend

turn off trackpad on macbook 2015

Apple’s trackpads have always been my favorite, thanks largely to how quiet and responsive Haptics is. I’m still convinced that most MacBook owners are completely unaware that there are no physical buttons.

For years, Apple has had its own Force Touch trackpad. It first appeared as an advanced feature in the 2015 MacBook, and then rolled out to the rest of the Mac lineup, from the MacBook Air to the Magic Trackpad Mac accessory.

For years, Windows laptops ignored this trend and continued with the traditional touchpad. But the seas of change came in 2021, especially with Microsoft’s Surface Laptop Studio. The implementation was every bit as convincing as Apple’s, and even better, given the ability to fine-tune the sensitivity of the haptics in the settings.

A hand manipulating the trackpad on the Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio.

Recently a similar adoption rate occurred with a performance aspect ratio. MacBooks have been using 16:10 for many years, whereas most Windows laptops were happily sticking to 16:9. But then again, some machines adopted 16:10 (or 3:2) in one year. A couple years later? You’d be hard-pressed to find more than two new laptops sold with a 16:9 panel.

The explanation for the slow growth comes down to hardware contracts and supply chains. Manufacturers of Windows laptops don’t actually make displays or touchpads — nor do they send a slew of volumes into a single design to convince a component manufacturer to mass-produce them. Therefore, unless the demand becomes large enough, it can be expensive and difficult to manufacture a new piece of hardware.

Graphic showing the haptic layers of the Trackpack.

In the case of Haptic Trackpad, one of the new manufacturing partners is a company called Sensel, The young California-based startup’s first confirmed implementation of Haptics is shown in the ThinkPad X1 Titanium Yoga. The company hasn’t confirmed whether its touchpad will be used in this latest crop of new laptops, but it’s safe to assume that as more partners sign on, interest in this technology will only increase.

By CES 2023, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the number of new laptops using the haptic feedback trackpad doubly so. If we’re lucky, they might pop up in some mid- and budget-level devices as well.




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