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THIS MODULAR TOUCHPAD MAY BE THE FUTURE OF INPUT DEVICES

Here’s a  paradox of our times. In recent years, computers have become ridiculously portable. Tablets, laptops, and even some gaming PCs are incredibly sleek and light, making it easier than ever to do whatever from wherever. But now that touchscreens are the norm and ports are being pruned away, you often have to throw a cluttered mess of mice, Bluetooth keyboards, adapter dongles, and maybe even some card readers into your bag if you really want to hunker down and work. When you plug all that in, congratulations: Your light and elegant device is now a Rube Goldberg machine.

With an iPad-sized device that connects to anything with Bluetooth or a USB port, a startup called Sensel thinks it might be able to combine most of those accessories into a simple modular slate. Sensel’s little desktop device looks like a track-pad. And sure, you can use it as a track-pad.

You can also draw on it with a paintbrush, or you can snap on an overlay and use it as a Bluetooth keyboard. It can sense force, so it registers the urgency of your finger, your pen, or your key-press. This versatility—the device’s ability to accept multiple kinds of input and to decode complex gestures—speaks to the company’s broader goal: to crack the next phase of human-computer interaction.

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