The MacBook Pro’s new Force Touch Trackpad is great. Pity about the name

14 Mar 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Good Luck Trying to Fix New MacBook Air, Pro.

Perhaps we should have read it as an omen that the MagSafe 2 adapter for older, original MagSafe connectors was listed as discontinued on the Apple Store in the U.S. and Canada last week.In QuickTime, Apple explains, you can place the cursor over the fast-forward button, then control the rate of fast-forward by how firmly you press down on the trackpad.If you have a MacBook Air, you’ll know it’s an astonishingly light, beautifully designed laptop that offers great portability, decent power and, in the more recent models, excellent battery life. Sure, it lacks the super high-resolution Retina display found on the top-of-the-range MacBook Pro, but all those pixels take some wrangling, so battery life was protected by a less glorious screen.

And though the top end of Apple’s range, the MacBook Pro, had in recent years upgraded to a snazzier look with a narrow black frame round an edge-to-edge glass-covered screen. Both MacBook Airs boast the same basic specs: fifth-gen, dual-core Intel Core i5 processor with Intel HD Graphics 6000, 128GB of storage, 4GB RAM, Wi-Fi connectivity, Thunderbolt 2 port, and dual microphones. Force Touch was announced as one of the major innovations in the new 12-inch MacBook, which also gets a Retina Display, a far smaller circuit board, more battery, and a new USB-C port.

The first notable difference: The 13-inch Air got a boost from a faster, flashier SSD, while the 11-inch model still features the same SSD found in Apple’s 2013 computers. Inside, the iFixit team finds Intel Broadwell chips. “Broadwell shrinks the MacBook Air’s previous architecture (Haswell)—meaning not a lot has changed performance-wise, but a new manufacturing process makes the transistors smaller, and the entire chip more power efficient by up to 30 percent,” iFixit noted. “Once you get past the outer case, all the major components are fairly easy to access for replacement,” the teardown said. Stand on it, trip over it, yank it—the force of the smallest effort pulls it free. …the surface area of two magnetically attracted halves determines the number of magnetic flux lines and therefore the holding force between them because the holding force is proportional to the contact area between the two magnetically attracted halves… A USB Type C (or USB-C) cable has no such advantage. In fact, the MacBook incorporates many of the design techniques Apple learned from the iPad, including making the laptop work without a fan and squeezing all the electronics onto a small card, known as the logic board. It has two distinct differences: first, a USB-C male end, such as the tip of a cable, is plugged into a port, very much like larger and deeper Type A and Type B USB connections.

Second, while MagSafe was optimized to help with “non-axial” force—any direction except straight out—the USB-C style plug and jack suffer the worst from that. As astrophysicist Katie Mack said, “The genius of the MagSafe connector is that if you apply a force in any other direction it breaks the magnetic seal very easily, and then there’s virtually no force required to remove the connector entirely.” But how likely is a cord-tripper to yank a new MacBook off a surface versus the USB-C cable coming out first?

Actually, the sensors at the four corners of the pad detect when a certain level of pressure is being applied, then give your fingers a little tap with the haptic feedback engine inside. The usual Apple obstacles are there: proprietary screws and SSD, glued-in battery, soldered-in RAM (leaving no chance for an upgrade), and a fused-in Retina display, with no separate, protective glass. My calculations, vetted by Mack and a variety of engineers, show it’s almost certain the MacBook will move a bit or a lot unless all your stars perfectly align. Apple’s new Force Touch trackpad does a lot of marginally useful things in OS X, but the feature’s one really useful trick — controlling video fast forward and rewind speeds — is a bit of a Fail.

Because an object under acceleration continuously increases its velocity, an object travelling at rest that is moved at 1m/s2 traverses 0.5m (1.6 feet) in the first second, 2m by the second second, and 4.5m by the third second. Cupertino this week also revealed an Apple Watch launch date and prices, as well as an exclusive deal with HBO to be the launch partner for its new streaming service. After 10,000 connection cycles, no fewer than 6N should be required. (To compare with something you’re already familiar with, USB Type A connectors sold as parts typically note a minimum 10N force for extraction.) The MacBook exerts a pull of its own, just sitting there. Lift the lid (noticing in passing that the MacBook is so well-balanced that the base doesn’t tip up with it as it does on some laptops) and the Retina display shines out: rich, detailed and immediately immersive. With a little practice I was able to hold the playback speed at 2X, but I could not increase the speed to 5X or any speed above that and hold it there.

The white characters on each of the black keys are smaller because now the backlight is changed, with individual LEDs behind each key instead of a blanket light behind the whole board. We multiply that by 0.92 kg to get our force in newtons, or approximately 9N. (Aerospace engineer Bradley Grzesiak cautioned me to avoid too many decimal places: earth’s gravity varies enough around the globe.) But we have to factor in friction.

A standard friction coefficient for rubber on wood, the closest comparison I could find, is 0.70 for static friction (sometimes called stiction), or friction at a standstill. The feature may work better in the forthcoming Retina MacBook, but I don’t know why it would — there’s even less space to work in in that smaller machine. Drang—the nom de Internet of a consulting engineer who writes exceedingly clever things about science, software, and engineering—suggested via email that 0.70 is optimistic for many surfaces, and 0.40 more reasonable.

The new MacBook drops USB ports, which are common for printers and other accessories. (Ironically, it was the iMac that popularized USB.) Apple’s proprietary MagSafe power-charging port has been replaced with a standardized USB Type-C connection. I’m focusing on video playback because that, to me, was the coolest and most useful application of Force Touch, but the feature does lots of other stuff in the OS. That thinner case presented battery challenges, especially since the scooped edges that contribute to the great design aren’t friendly to batteries which are traditionally oblongs. So Apple came up with stepped cells (terraced, the company calls it) which mean they can fit into angular compartments with less space going to waste.

However, Grzesiak pointed me to a 1942 National Bureau of Standards (now NIST) testing report on rubber (see above) that looked with more detail into the initial point of overcoming static friction at various rates of initial acceleration. A jerk from a cable could accelerate a laptop so rapidly that the initial coefficient factor of rubber on a glass table could be as high as 5—meaning you’d need force on the order of five earth gravities (50N) to get the MacBook moving. But recall that force involves mass and acceleration: an abrupt yank by a heavy weight (like a human’s leg intersecting with a cable) could briefly produce force on that order of magnitude! After the laptop has overcome static friction, kinetic friction comes into play, dramatically reducing the force necessary to keep it in motion and accelerate it further.

In that scenario, we know you need to apply an initial force of between 2N and 50N depending on materials and assumptions to cause the MacBook to reach an acceleration rate of the magical 1m/s2, but then less force thereafter. My complaint is that, for me, it just seems too difficult to move your finger around the track pad and at the same time apply various degrees of pressure. Assuming the USB extraction force’s upper end, 20N, is the static friction and 8N is the kinetic friction, it’s possible that the cable pops free in a fraction of a second before the laptop moves much, if at all. Most of the other (simpler) Force Touch functions worked fine, but there are other perfectly good ways of doing those things without using Force Touch. If you pull on the cable with constant speed, or with any acceleration less than 4.8 m/s2, the connector will never come out, and you’ll dump the MacBook on the floor.

The new Intel Core i-series processor, the way-faster internal flash memory, better battery life, and slimmed-down design are more than enough to close the deal. Because the USB Implementors Forum describes a wide range in the spec, until and if Apple’s specific USB-C adapter is tested across multiple computers for extraction force, it’s impossible to know the necessary acceleration. If you’re pulling at any angle other than straight on, it’s quite difficult, as the force is now directed in a direction that would increase friction a lot.” Dr.

Greg Koenig, an industrial designer in Portland, Oregon, and a principal at Luma Labs, examined Apple’s logic board images and other photos of the MacBook at my request. However, if the laptop is secured in some fashion—even if you’re holding it tightly in your hands—the cable’s male plug end is probably the weak point, and it would be torn off, said Koenig, leaving its shell in the USB-C port, potentially without causing any harm to the MacBook.

At some level, I’m trying to reverse engineer Apple’s thinking around design and testing, both in its larger engineering participation in shaping USB-C, and in its particular implementation. All the calculations and exercises above have certainly been performed a thousand times in simulation and prototyping internally, shaping the development of the socket, logic board, external cables, and more. I’ve heard it said since Monday morning that MagSafe was the single best hardware feature Apple invented for its laptops, and I’m hard pressed to deny that—although extra-long battery life is nice, too.

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