If you want to observe strange human behavior, go hang out near some elevators. I’m not even talking about the Berlin Wall of distance we try put in the inches between ourselves when we get on. I’m talking about when we are waiting for the elevator. You see people press the up button, wait a few seconds, then press it again. If they have to wait for 30 or more seconds, someone will inevitably walk up and press it once more, as if the first time didn’t take. Then you’ll have the people who really jab it, risking the splintering of fingers, just to let the elevator know that while maybe the last guy wasn’t in a hurry, they mean business.
It always struck me as crazy (even as I would do the same thing). The elevator is programmed to go to whichever floor called it first, in a shifting algorithm, immune to the urgency with which it is pressed. That’s how electronics and mechanical devices work. They can’t read your intent due to the ferocity of your pushing. I may have to eat my words, though. Cupertino’s Apple just announced Force Touch for its next phone release, a far more sensitive touchscreen system that can understand different pressures. It could make our mobile devices – and then who knows what else – understand us just a little bit better.
Force Touch and Being More Receptive
Force Touch is already available on the Apple Watch and on certain Macs, but Bloomberg reports that Apple suppliers are developing it for the iPhone now.[1. “Apple Suppliers Start Making New iPhone With Forcetouch.” 06/28/2015 http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-06-29/apple-suppliers-said-to-start-making-new-iphone-with-force-touch] The introduction to its latest line of phones can push this innovation into the mainstream. The new phone will be the same size as the iPhone 6 and the iPhone 6 Plus, but will have this development. Apple, like most other companies, tends to introduce inter-generation phones and tablets, tweaking things here and there and slow-rolling developments before they all come together in the next generation.
Force Touch is a system that understands how much pressure you apply when you tap your iPhone 6 and can call up different functions based on that pressure. If you use tap softly, it can bring up texts (for example – this actual system is hypothetical). Hold down a little more to call up your Twitter, or a hard tap for email (as disgusted as you are with using something so outdated). There will be subtleties and variations here, and as of now it is not known if you can program it so that everyone’s watch is idiosyncratic, but the beginning of change could be here.
This kind of technology can make our smartphones and tablets slightly easier to use. They are more receptive to our needs, with less scrolling and looking. Of course, there will inevitably be YouTube clips of people saying they aren’t tapping hard but getting their email, and other complaints that fall along the valid/whiny-entitled continuum. There is also a good chance that this will be a failed experiment, as it won’t be sensitive enough to really make a difference. And at the end of the day, it is just a minor upgrade, making things only slightly more convenient. But it points toward an interesting trend.
Getting to Know You
The techno-futurist dream is technology that really understands us, not just as users, but as people. Technologists are working our mobile tech, internet-connected devices, and the whole ecosystem of the Internet of Things to be part of our human experience, and part of that can be the ability to recognize mood, urgency, and desire.
The Force Touch system is manifestly not that, but in its (theoretical) ability to understand the difference between pressures, and to distinguish what that means, it is a step in that direction. It is a subtle, but still important, shift. Right now, the device relies on us getting to the right spot on the screen and touching or swiping. Essentially, we’re responding to the demands of the screen, no matter how programmable and easy those demands are. Now, the phone itself is responding to our demands. It is a slight difference, but in the direction of something bigger.
If our devices can understand how we are feeling or what is the problem simply by registering our actions, it’s a step toward a future where our devices understand and react toward us as physical beings. Perhaps there’ll even be a day where the elevator recognizes that the dude on the 14th floor is really impatient, but I can only hope the technology is combined with the wisdom not to reward such behavior.