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Future iPhones, Apple Watches and MacBooks could get a big Force Touch upgrade

iphone 13 mini display on in hand with plants in background
(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Future iPhones, Apple Watches, MacBooks could receive a new range of new abilities enabled by a new kind of touch force sensor that Apple's thought up.

A new version of Apple's Force Touch or 3D Touch may be in the works as a patent filed by Apple across six individual applications with the USPTO have been found by Patently Apple (opens in new tab), and show how Apple may try to revive these dormant technologies for future products.

You may remember Force Touch and 3D Touch from multiple Apple gadgets launched a few years back. These features could tell the difference between light and strong taps, or light, medium and strong taps in 3D Touch's case, with different strengths triggering different commands as a result.

3D Touch was used on iPhones from the iPhone 6S to the iPhone XS, but was dropped from the iPhone XR onwards. Now the only place you'll find this ability is in the form of Force Touch on MacBook trackpads, with the gesture on iPhones now replaced by a simple long-press that produces a small haptic feedback buzz, known as Haptic Touch.

Apple's introduction to the patent notes that the current technology required for force sensors takes up a lot of room in a device, isn't very durable nor offers great precision. Therefore the idea Apple has patented would be designed specifically for smaller devices, and would offer a tougher design capable of more precise measurements.

An Apple patent illustration showing new force touch sensors installed on the main body and the strap of a smartwatch

(Image credit: Patently Apple)

You may well have thought of the Apple Watch as a product that could benefit from this invention, and indeed one of the illustrations (above) shows an Apple Watch-like design with a force sensor mounted on the side, alongside the usual Digital Crown. You can also find a mention of a wristband for patients in this section.

The same illustration also shows pressure sensors within the Apple Watch band to detect a user's pulse. We've seen previous Apple patents which try to stuff things like extra battery cells into the strap, but these designs have yet to come to fruition.

An Apple patent illustration showing a new force touch sensor design placed underneath a laptop trackpad

(Image credit: Patently Apple)

The Apple patent also has Illustrations showing the technology in use under laptop trackpads or smartphone touch screens. The sensors are shown to be modular in the illustrations, rather than a single layer designed to fit on a specific product. This would mean it's easier to fit into new devices without having to design a whole new shape.

An Apple patent illustration showing a new force touch technology placed under a smartphone display

(Image credit: Patently Apple)

As with all patents this could just be about Apple staking a claim on an idea, with no guarantee that the concept will ever see reality. This one seems kind of plausible, though, since it's both a revision of a discontinued Apple technology and a sensible advancement on the current Haptic Touch system. Just don't expect to see this on the iPhone 14, Apple Watch 8 or MacBook Air 2022.

Richard is a Tom's Guide staff writer based in London, covering news, reviews and how-tos for phones, gaming, audio and whatever else people need advice on. Following on from his MA in Magazine Journalism at the University of Sheffield, he's also written for WIRED U.K., The Register and Creative Bloq. When not at work, he's likely thinking about how to brew the perfect cup of specialty coffee.