Synaptics, the hardware company that makes the trackpads used in most laptops–Mac or PC–has a new touch technology called the SmartBar. It’s a touch-sensitive spacebar that squeezes into your keyboard like any other, but it also allows you to make special taps and gestures to perform shortcuts.
That means you can swipe with your thumb to select text–no mousing required. Tap with both thumbs, and you’ll pull up a dock menu. Scroll through a webpage by resting your left thumb and swiping with your right. You can even pinch-to-zoom by moving your thumbs together and apart.
Maybe this sounds like a list of gimmicks. I really don’t think that it is. Moving from your keyboard to your trackpad is an inelegant solution to navigating a desktop interface. You’re typing, then you’re mousing, then you’re typing again. It’s a constant string of interruptions that we’ve become desensitized to over decades of habituation.
Laptops like the Thinkpad have attempted to address this flow by planting a tiny mouse button right in the keyboard. A large community of loyalists still swear by this design, but most of us have sided with the comfortable, SUV-like trackpads of Apple.
What I like about the SmartBar is that it’s not trying to do too much. It’s not trying to fully replace the trackpad with a deep list of three-finger and four-finger gestures, but instead, eliminate some of the most common reasons you’d need it: easy access to the dock, simple word highlighting, and scrolling. Furthermore, the SmartBar isn’t challenging laptop users to change their fundamental ergonomics. You already rest your thumbs on the spacebar as you type, and so Synaptics is merely asking for you to learn a few new moves, not a whole new piece of choreography.
The SmartBar is launching first with in a line of gaming accessories from Tt eSPORTS gaming. It will be up to PC and laptop manufacturers as to whether or not we see the technology anywhere else (like, say, keyboards for tablets).