Apple popularized the idea of a smartphone touchscreen that can detect and respond to variable pressure with the iPhone 6s. Most smartphone users who don’t want an iPhone aren’t able to use the feature yet, but next year, Android users may get some smartphones that use the same technology.
Synaptics has announced that its ClearForce technology, which gives smartphone functionality similar to that enabled by Apple’s 3D Touch, will be integrated into new “force-enabled smartphones” expected to ship in early 2016. What does that mean? Android devices are likely to get a pressure-sensitive interface, which is so far available only on Apple’s new iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus.
The company says that it’s been “working closely with leading global OEMs and LCMs to deliver this new dimension in touch.” ClearForce, which Synaptics says enables “new dimensions in user interfaces such as speed scrolling, zoom, gaming, and text or photo editing by applying variable force with a finger or stylus,” would pave the way for a wide variety of pressure-sensitive functions, including:
- Variable speed scrolling
- Picture zoom and panning
- Function preview and selection
- Continuously variable gaming control functions
- Unlock and wake up
- Right-side mouse click behavior (open contextual menus)
- Line thickness control while drawing (e.g., when writing Chinese characters and creating artwork)
- Image editing (brightness, contrast, and saturation)
- Uppercase and symbol selection (to bypass keyboard mode changes)
Abhimanyu Ghoshal reports for The Next Web that while ClearForce hasn’t yet said which manufacturers it’s working with to build devices that will feature the new technology, it’s “safe to assume that Android handset manufacturers will want in on the action in order to take on the iPhone 6s.”
More smartphone makers are expected to adopt their own versions of the technology in order to compete with Apple’s 3D Touch. Some already have, including Huawei, which at this year’s IFA trade show, showed off the Mate S phone with the company’s own pressure-sensitive display, designed to allow for zooming and previewing with a harder press.
On Apple’s iPhone, 3D Touch enables a form of control that is something like a right-click, with the option to preview content, open contextual menus, or gain more control in mobile games. David Curry reports for Digital Trends that ClearForce will likely be used on Android phones in much the same way that 3D Touch is used on the iPhone, though Google might need to approve the technology.
And while Huawei’s pressure-sensing system for the Mate S is regarded as little more than a gimmick, the company is calling for developers and fans to submit ideas on more advanced uses for the technology. It’s not known whether Synaptics is behind Huawei’s technology. ClearForce is currently only being used in the development of smartphones, but Synaptics says that its technology will also come to tablets, wearable devices, and in-car touchscreens in the future.
Zach Epstein reported for BGR in September, shortly after Apple demonstrated how 3D Touch works on the iPhone 6s during its high-profile press event, that iOS and Android exist as they do today because they both take inspiration from each other “quite often.” Many Android fans, pondering the question of whether Samsung and other leading Android smartphone manufacturers should take a cue from Apple and implement a version of 3D Touch on their own smartphones, expressed that they’d like to see the feature on their next Android phone.
Kevin Tofel reports for ZDNet that while Synaptics may hand smartphone manufacturers the display hardware to enable pressure sensitivity on the hardware side, the apps and software to take advantage of the capability are the other half of the equation, and Android doesn’t currently offer much support on that front. But Tofel thinks that Google can update Android to add pressure-sensitive features. “And I suspect it will do so — or is doing so now — since Synaptics says the controllers are past the sampling stage and are already in mass production.”
Because Synaptics is already building its touchscreen controller, it’s possible that smartphone manufacturers will unveil the first Android implementations of the pressure-sensitive technology at the Consumer Electronics Show in January. The best-case scenario would be for Google to bring support for the feature to Android at an operating-system level, but it’s also possible that Samsung or other top Android phone manufacturers will implement it by themselves.