Muscle Memory and Force Touch

Muscle memory is a funny thing. It can both get in the way of and help to create a good user experience.

I’m using a new MacBook Pro that has a Force Touch trackpad. It’s my first experience with such a device and I adapted to it without too much of a problem.

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I spend a lot of my time on the computer writing, so my favorite Force Touch gesture is to press on a word I want to check the definition of. I do it dozens of times a day in some cases.

I also use an older Apple Wireless Keyboard and Magic Trackpad — the original, not the larger, considerably more expensive Force Touch-equipped model. They rest on a makeshift standing desk in my office. That desk is not something I use all the time, but I use it frequently enough that I find myself switching back and forth between the built-in keyboard and trackpad and my desk keyboard and trackpad.

A few moments of reorientation and I’m typing away happily, not looking down at all – keeping my eyes on the screen as I type these works. Then I’ll type something I’m not sure about, and I’ll select it and then press.

And watch as nothing happens.

About the same time I get frustrated that what I’m expecting to happen isn’t happening, I remember why. It’s because there’s no Force Touch on the Magic Trackpad.

It reminds me of what happened when I got my iPhone 5S. The 5S was the first iPhone equipped with a TouchID sensor. Within hours of using it, I went to unlock my third-generation iPad by resting my thumb on the Home button, then wondered why nothing was happening. Muscle memory had already set in.

Muscle memory is aided by frictionless interface design, and that’s really what Apple’s hoping to achieve with Force Touch on the trackpad and 3D Touch on the iPhone.