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Your next laptop might have a touch-sensitive spacebar

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The spacebar might be the most used button on your keyboard, but that doesn't mean that it can't do even more. At least, that's what Synaptics thinks. The company — best known for its laptop trackpads — wants to make your spacebar touch sensitive.

That means that you may soon have two different ways to click on your spacebar. You'll still have that satisfying, traditional physical click for typing, but if your laptop or desktop keyboard has the "SmartBar," you can set custom actions for when you merely tap on the spacebar. In fact, Synaptics says you can set five different actions for when you tap on the SmartBar, presumably depending on where you tap the bar.

Tap it, pinch it, swipe it

Perhaps more useful is a feature that lets you highlight the word directly before or after your cursor with a single swipe of the bar, to the left or right, respectively. (If you don't do a lot of typing, the old school way of doing this is control-shift-arrow, or option-shift-arrow on a Mac.) Another gesture that sounds decidedly less useful lets you pinch-to-zoom with your two thumbs across the spacebar.

The most important thing, however, isn't the list of gestures Synaptics has come up with. It's the hardware itself. If and when manufacturers like HP, Lenovo, or Dell decide to put the SmartBar in their laptops, they can easily modify the software to accomplish different tasks.

We'll have to wait until we can get our fingers on an actual unit before determining how useful the touch-sensitive spacebar is. We do know that it will have to be very good at ignoring errant touches for it to be anything other than a nuisance while typing. However, if it works out, it could do for keyboards what Apple's Force Touch did for trackpads by bringing a new input method to an overlooked part of our computers. The company says that the SmartBar is available now to manufacturers, so the first products with the high-tech spacebar could hit shelves later this year.