Even people who don’t like mouse touchpads like the MacBook’s mouse touchpad.
The MacBook touchpad is a slab of textured glass over metal with a nice grip. The cursor moves smoothly and it recognises a range of smartphone-like multitouch gestures with no problem. It just “feels” right.
There’s nothing quite like it — and just about every Windows laptop out there falls way short by comparison. A reviewer who rounded up a bunch of Windows 10 laptops for the Wall Street Journal this week found this out the hard way.
I got curious as to why so few Windows laptops can touch what Apple’s done with its own touchpad.
Turns out, the answer should have been obvious: Apple’s obsessive control over how its products get made.
Since 2008, Apple has held a patent on its touchpad design, covering a bunch of different MacBook models. That patent is both for the process it uses to prepare the glass for that signature texture, as well as the actual mechanical way it clicks down.
It doesn’t mean that nobody else can make a trackpad, or a glass trackpad, or even a minor variation on Apple’s trackpad. But it means that they can’t do it exactly like Apple without risking legal action.
Secondly, and more importantly, Apple takes full charge of the MacBook’s design and manufacturing process, from hardware to software. From MacBook to MacBook, the touchpad is exactly the same, and built to the same exact specifications.
It means that Apple has a great basis to make sure that it works really well, all the time.
Meanwhile, Microsoft is dealing with a moving target. Different laptops have different touchpads. In fact, cost-conscious manufacturers may use two different brands of touchpad from two different suppliers in the same model, as reporter Farhad Manjoo reported back in 2012.
It makes it a lot more complicated for Windows to “talk” to a touchpad. And in the meanwhile, things get lost in translation, metaphorically speaking, resulting in all kinds of erraticism.
In 2013, Microsoft partnered up with Intel, along with prominent touchpad hardware suppliers Synaptics and Elan, for what it called “Precision Touchpads.” With Windows 8.1 and a Precision Touchpad, users would get smoother mouse scrolling and better support for multitouch gestures.
But because every laptop is slightly different, and because manufactuers like Dell and Lenovo love to put their own software preloaded on the computers that they sell, there were all kinds of compatibility issues.
A laptop can have a Preicison Touchpad, but the software that came preinstalled with their computer may not support it.
In that scenario, Microsoft can only do so much, since they’re not the ones actually making the computers.
It’s a big part of why Microsoft pushes its own Surface tablet/laptops so hard: The $US129 Surface Type Cover has a trackpad that supports Precision Touchpads, and the touchpad itself is built to Microsoft’s exacting specifications. The sales pitch is that it makes for a more ideal Windows 10 experience.
In the meanwhile, unless Microsoft just bites the bullet and starts making more traditional laptops, the best way to use Windows 10 for that ideal touchpad experience might be with a MacBook.