New Synaptics touchpad controller could bring Apple-like 3D Touch tech to Android

Google Android's long press may soon become pressure sensitive like the new iPhone 6s and 6s Plus thanks to Synaptics.

Apple's new iPhone 6s and 6s Plus bring 3D Touch, a way for device owners to interact with apps by pressing harder on a display. Android has no such function, although it has long supported long-presses. That may be changing if Synaptics has a say.

The company announced a trio of touchscreen controllers for smartphones and tablets, one of which supports "ClearForce variable force sensing."

That sounds similar to Apple's 3D Touch for phones and Force Touch on the Apple Watch to me.

Of course, adding pressure sensitivity to display hardware is only half of the equation.

Apps and the software platform are the other half and right now, Google Android doesn't offer such support. Then again, why would it if the hardware couldn't take advantage of it?

With the new Synaptics 3700 series of touchscreen controllers, Google can retool 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.

While many think that Apple's 3D Touch is nothing more than a different way to equal Android's long press features, it actually is a bit unique.

My ZDNet colleague, Matthew Miller, noted this after getting his own iPhone 6S Plus:

"In addition to four possible quick actions provided when you press down on app icons, you can also Peek and Pop within apps like email. This functionality lets you preview message contents on a pop-up screen without actually opening up the message. This support is present in other applications so try it all over your iPhone."

It's that "peek" and "pop" implementation that gives iOS a step up over Android for faster navigation and action. A long press is just a single action, typically a menu pop-up, and not equipped for multiple interface choices.

Since Synaptics is already building the 3700 touchscreen controller, I anticipate we'll see some type of Android implementations at January's Consumer Electronics Show.

Ideally, I'd like to see Google bring it to Android so that all of its hardware partners can use it, but don't count out Samsung or another partner to implement pressure sensitivity by themselves.

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