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Apple exploring 'invisible,' disappearing buttons for future MacBooks

post #1 of 33
Thread Starter 
Apple's crusade against the physical button continues, with a new patent application describing a disappearing input space that could be featured anywhere on the aluminum shell of a MacBook Pro.

The application discovered by AppleInsider this week, entitled "Disappearing Button or Slider," describes a capacitive touch input on the metal frame of a device. The input appears invisible to the user because it would be made of the same material as the housing it is contained in. The use of "invisible" backlit holes could make the input selectively visible or invisible for the user.

One illustration included with the application shows an iPod-like control wheel located to the left of the notebook's trackpad. Such controls could be displayed with the touch of a finger, and then disappear when they are not in use -- such as when a user's wrist is resting in that area for typing on the keyboard.

It also suggests that the invention could be used as an external button or simply a display for a MacBook Pro when its lid is closed. The application describes an external shell that could indicate battery strength or Wi-Fi signal.

The technology could even be used to replace the trackpad on a notebook, instead allowing the onscreen cursor to be controlled from a touch panel that is flush with the body of the aluminum MacBook Pro.

The application notes that while the iPhone has a flat, touchscreen surface using capacitive sensing, its glass display would not allow for a seamless look on the aluminum casing of a MacBook Pro. In addition, most capacitive touch inputs have either plastic, rubber or glass tracking surfaces. A glass surface in particular may not be ideal for a notebook as it could be too fragile.



"Taken to its extreme, seamless design would have an invisible input," the application reads. "Since a metal housing is advantageous for aesthetic, environmental, and manufacturing reasons, this presents a particular challenge. One method to overcome this challenge is to include a plastic input painted to look like metal. However, this will not match the metal look and finish exactly, so the truly seamless design is not realized."

Apple's described solution would have a capacitor underneath an aluminum surface with invisible holes. A light could shine through those holes when the input device has been activated, allowing users to see the controls as they touch them.



The light would travel through micro-perforated holes, referred to as "invisible holes" in the application, which are invisible to the naked eye, but allow light to travel through. But when the light is off, the interface is not visible.

The input could be automatically enabled whenever the electronic device is on, as a function of the device's operating state (such as opening a media player like iTunes), in low-lighting conditions, or when motion is detected near the device.



External invisible could allow users to accomplish tasks without opening their MacBook Pro. The application describes buttons that could wake up an external monitor, sync an iPod or iPhone with the computer, install software, or shut down the computer, all while the lid is closed.
post #2 of 33
When was this published? Given the pre-unibody photos, perhaps they just decided to scale back to an invisible sleep light.
post #3 of 33
I'd rather see the capacitance trackpad light up for visual controls, but I'd rather have colours and more interactive options, like a Calculator app, EQ sliders for iTunes, etc.
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post #4 of 33
Quote:
Originally Posted by acslater017 View Post

When was this published? Given the pre-unibody photos, perhaps they just decided to scale back to an invisible sleep light.

Yeah. They're already using an invisible sleep indicator. I believe it's just like they describe as an invisible hole that light can pass through.
post #5 of 33
Quote:
Originally Posted by thespaz View Post

Yeah. They're already using an invisible sleep indicator. I believe it's just like they describe as an invisible hole that light can pass through.

Anyone else think it's pointless next to the completely visible IR receiver?
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Originally Posted by addabox

Being an Apple basher means you never, ever have to acknowledge success.
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Originally Posted by addabox

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post #6 of 33
Quote:
Originally Posted by trevorlsciact View Post

Anyone else think it's pointless next to the completely visible IR receiver?

Unfortunately there isn't much you can do. At least it's one thin hole instead of two holes with the other being bigger.

Does anyone even use a remote with their Macs? They already dropped it from the unibody plastic MacBooks.

PS: Speaking of IR, I hope they add it to the next iPhone. Would make a great remote control.
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post #7 of 33
My shirts seem to have disappearing buttons lately. It's very distressing. One day I will find them all having a board meeting in the corner of the clothes dryer.
post #8 of 33
Quote:
Originally Posted by ascii View Post

My shirts seem to have disappearing buttons lately. It's very distressing. One day I will find them all having a board meeting in the corner of the clothes dryer.

They should have put IR on the iPad. Still mad about that. As far as the patent goes, this is probably one for things already out now but it does cover one of my favorite things about my macbook
Groupthink is bad, mkay. Think Different is the motto.
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Groupthink is bad, mkay. Think Different is the motto.
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post #9 of 33
Quote:
Originally Posted by ascii View Post

My shirts seem to have disappearing buttons lately. It's very distressing. One day I will find them all having a board meeting in the corner of the clothes dryer.

I nominate this for Post of the Week.

Proud AAPL stock owner.

 

GOA

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Proud AAPL stock owner.

 

GOA

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post #10 of 33
I'd prefer if they just made the current buttons glass coated (like the trackpad) so the buttons don't show wear after one month of use.

Mac Pro, 8 Core, 32 GB RAM, nVidia GTX 285 1 GB, 2 TB storage, 240 GB OWC Mercury Extreme SSD, 30'' Cinema Display, 27'' iMac, 24'' iMac, 17'' MBP, 13'' MBP, 32 GB iPhone 4, 64 GB iPad 3

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Mac Pro, 8 Core, 32 GB RAM, nVidia GTX 285 1 GB, 2 TB storage, 240 GB OWC Mercury Extreme SSD, 30'' Cinema Display, 27'' iMac, 24'' iMac, 17'' MBP, 13'' MBP, 32 GB iPhone 4, 64 GB iPad 3

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post #11 of 33
This sounds very promising.
post #12 of 33
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Originally Posted by SpamSandwich View Post

I nominate this for Post of the Week.

Seconded.
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post #13 of 33
Quote:
Originally Posted by solipsism View Post

Does anyone even use a remote with their Macs? They already dropped it from the unibody plastic MacBooks.

I do, almost entirely to pause movies/TV I'm streaming on my Mac through to the TV. Although I mostly used that for Netflix and now that Wii has Netflix streaming, too, I rarely do even that anymore.

It wouldn't make me cry if they switched to Bluetooth remotes or something instead and dropped the IR receiver.
Multiplex is an online comic strip about the staff of a movie theater.
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Multiplex is an online comic strip about the staff of a movie theater.
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post #14 of 33
Quote:
Originally Posted by bigdaddyp View Post

Seconded.

Thirded.

Of all the patent-related stories, which have us salivating at things that'll never see the light of day, this one has the most promise, IMHO.

Rather than just the default backlight color, it would be even cooler if they could use colors.
post #15 of 33
I'm thinking a capacitive-touch top cover to the MB or MBP. An unlock gesture to turn it on (make a circle around the apple logo)? then it would simply use light from the LCD panel, shining through microperforated holes on the back of the computer (the way the apple icon does) to create the interface, since the LCD is already there and able to create any pattern or colors they want.

The amount of simplicity or complexity in the interface would depend on the amount that microperfs, when lit unevenly from behind, affect the onscreen image during normal use.
post #16 of 33
Article: "A glass surface in particular may not be ideal for a notebook as it could be too fragile."

Really? I don't know what brought that up. People seem to deal with a glass-covered screen, standard on most Macs. iPhone & iPad do just fine with the same for something you're expected to touch.

Quote:
Originally Posted by solipsism View Post

Unfortunately there isn't much you can do. At least it's one thin hole instead of two holes with the other being bigger.

Does anyone even use a remote with their Macs? They already dropped it from the unibody plastic MacBooks.

PS: Speaking of IR, I hope they add it to the next iPhone. Would make a great remote control.

An IR sender would be pretty nice.
post #17 of 33
The camera indicator on the aluminum MBP's even used micro-perferations to hide the tally lamp. It would be cool to see this built in, and hopefully available to developers
post #18 of 33
post #19 of 33
Quote:
Originally Posted by JeffDM View Post

Article: "A glass surface in particular may not be ideal for a notebook as it could be too fragile."

Really? I don't know what brought that up. People seem to deal with a glass-covered screen, standard on most Macs. iPhone & iPad do just fine with the same for something you're expected to touch.

This is obviously an older patent.

I wonder if it would be feasible to make the backlight keyboard aluminum instead of plastic.


Quote:
An IR sender would be pretty nice.

After the first G4 iPhone pics landed I thought the odd placement of the top edge "style line" might be an IR Tx. After seeing the internals it doesn't look like that is the case.

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post #20 of 33
Apples invisible sleep lightsin metal laptops!are pretty cool. I can see doing more with it maybe.

It always makes me think of that Star Trek movie with the whales, where Scotty invented transparent aluminum.
post #21 of 33
STOP with invisible everything! Input areas should be visible. Apple's own 'software discoverability' concepts needs to apply to hardware. Apple's hardware could use a few more buttons and actual human interaction items. Not every input device should be invisible or only on a screen/flat surface. Humans interact with buttons more accurately than a flat piece of glass. Just ask a blind person how well they can text on an iPhone. Buttons are good for doing something on a device without having to look at it, like while running, walking, biking, dare I say driving (don't text and drive!!) or even being in the dark. If there is a button you can feel, you can use it without looking at the device. If you've not used the device before, you can surmise that it's a control. If you don't see the control then you might not even know it's there.
Ever try to control The Obelisk? See no buttons, no one knew how to turn it on.
post #22 of 33
Oh lord. Apple are good at making controls disappear, but not very good at helping us find out where they went.

Many of the most important software concepts were invented in the 70s and forgotten in the 80s.

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Many of the most important software concepts were invented in the 70s and forgotten in the 80s.

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post #23 of 33
Quote:
Originally Posted by solipsism View Post

...it doesn't look like that is the case.

post #24 of 33
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Originally Posted by macinthe408 View Post


You like double entrendres, eh? Then you may like the comment about the following movie...
Quote:
If you like horror movies and ass-to-mouth then Human Centipede just might be your taste and right up your alley.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9wmTv2nqTHo
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post #25 of 33
Micro-perforations are a nice idea, but would quickly clog with use. They're good for display, but not interaction.

On another vein, why the sleep light wasn't incorporated into the remote sensor I'll never know - other than that the coolness factor won out over design sense and simplicity. That would seem to be more PCish than Applesque.

Why wasn't the IR remote pickup put behind the shell with the sleep-light? I don't think an infrared sensor would work as well behind a mesh of invisible holes, as its wavelength is longer than visible light. Having it behind a plastic window is most likely a design necessity.
post #26 of 33
.

One day maybe not too far away

In a Galaxy maybe close to Home

.

"Computer"

"Yes Mr Jobs, what can I do for you?"

"Play us the film Star Trek with all that Futuristic Technology"

"Yes Steve, no problem"

.

And even if Apple is not the one to take us there

Will be some other who knows how to Think Different

.
post #27 of 33
Quote:
Originally Posted by solipsism View Post

Does anyone even use a remote with their Macs? They already dropped it from the unibody plastic MacBooks..

The remote is a wonderful tool when making presentations. Not having to walk over to the computer in order to press a button each time you need to change slides makes all the difference. As a teacher working a great deal with dramatized presentations (a combination of theatre and traditional lectures) it is especially important to be able to move around in the classroom freely and be able to change keynote slides from wherever I happen to stand at the moment. So, it mustn't necessarily be an IR remote, but I do need some way of remotely changing slides in keynote presentations.

I also use the remote to remotely control iTunes from my bed when I'm waiting for sleep to sweep me away to the land of dreams and wonder (not to mention magic; probably a result of having read too many fantasy novels). Since I tend to listen to audio books, I want to stop the playback before falling asleep, as it can be quite a hazzle to try and find where I was when I dozed off the night before. But I don't want to get out of bed and walk over to the computer to pause iTunes. Granted, I could use iPhone, but the remote is better since I don't even need to open my eyes to use it. Furthermore, I can send my laptop to sleep with the remote after pausing iTunes!

Cheers
post #28 of 33
I've seen this (in plastic PC laptops) for play/pause, volume etc. It looked quite nice superficially.

I don't think this patent has a lot to stand on, though.
post #29 of 33
Quote:
Originally Posted by SuperMacGuy View Post

STOP with invisible everything! Input areas should be visible. Apple's own 'software discoverability' concepts needs to apply to hardware. Apple's hardware could use a few more buttons and actual human interaction items. Not every input device should be invisible or only on a screen/flat surface. Humans interact with buttons more accurately than a flat piece of glass. Just ask a blind person how well they can text on an iPhone. Buttons are good for doing something on a device without having to look at it, like while running, walking, biking, dare I say driving (don't text and drive!!) or even being in the dark. If there is a button you can feel, you can use it without looking at the device. If you've not used the device before, you can surmise that it's a control. If you don't see the control then you might not even know it's there.
Ever try to control The Obelisk? See no buttons, no one knew how to turn it on.

I think you have a point. Controls that needlessly disappear require that you make some movement first (say, wipe the surface) before you can even see the control. I think it's a good idea for full screen video playback, I've eventually gotten annoyed with any other use of disappearing controls.

Quote:
Originally Posted by aldonius View Post

I've seen this (in plastic PC laptops) for play/pause, volume etc. It looked quite nice superficially.

I don't think this patent has a lot to stand on, though.

I have a Dell laptop that has it. Doing it in plastic is easy, in metal might be the part that's hard.
post #30 of 33
The trackpad should be replaced with a touch sensitive lcd. With a lcd trackpad you could introduce all sorts of inputs. Even the much need number pad. When you're done, it goes away. The present trackpad also supports chinese handwriting input. An lcd would improve things along.
post #31 of 33
Quote:
Originally Posted by SuperMacGuy View Post

Not every input device should be invisible or only on a screen/flat surface.

In some cases it would work well though. The iPod click wheel design is efficient for music and volume control and you can't realistically put an actual click-wheel on the device. Apple currently squeeze the controls onto the tiny function keys. Instead, they would free up at least F7-F12 with an etched click wheel.

I think it's about time to get rd of the fn key and this is one way they can do it. You can control display brightness by sliding your finger up and down one edge of the display. Optical media will go eventually so no need for the eject key and Expose and Dashboard are covered by the trackpad.

As long as it doesn't add to the cost, I'm ok with it.

Quote:
Originally Posted by SuperMacGuy View Post

Humans interact with buttons more accurately than a flat piece of glass. Just ask a blind person how well they can text on an iPhone.

Flat surfaces have big advantages though too as they can be adapted to far more input types. Blind people wouldn't benefit from an iPhone just now but it doesn't mean manufacturers should go back to buttons. It just means they need to use technology like piezoelectric feedback or even have the phone speak the button the user is hovering over and have a wireless ear-piece to let them hear it.
post #32 of 33
The idea behind this is actually for the trackpad to act as a secondary display without an LCD. Basically the trackpad stays normal, unless you want it to be something else. I've peeked at prototypes.








Quote:
Originally Posted by Marvin View Post

In some cases it would work well though. The iPod click wheel design is efficient for music and volume control and you can't realistically put an actual click-wheel on the device. Apple currently squeeze the controls onto the tiny function keys. Instead, they would free up at least F7-F12 with an etched click wheel.

I think it's about time to get rd of the fn key and this is one way they can do it. You can control display brightness by sliding your finger up and down one edge of the display. Optical media will go eventually so no need for the eject key and Expose and Dashboard are covered by the trackpad.

As long as it doesn't add to the cost, I'm ok with it.



Flat surfaces have big advantages though too as they can be adapted to far more input types. Blind people wouldn't benefit from an iPhone just now but it doesn't mean manufacturers should go back to buttons. It just means they need to use technology like piezoelectric feedback or even have the phone speak the button the user is hovering over and have a wireless ear-piece to let them hear it.
post #33 of 33
Quote:
Originally Posted by PXT View Post

Oh lord. Apple are good at making controls disappear, but not very good at helping us find out where they went.

Totally agree. I love my new retina MBP, but where the hell did the power/sleep and battery status LED go ?? Really, it can't be much bigger than the tip of a matchstick, yet they removed it. With no DVD drive and spinning hard drive AND no battery indicator, there is no way to tell when the laptop is on or sleeping and how much battery life is left. For nearly 3000 dollars i was really expecting at least those features, especially when they can be totally invisible like in previous MBPs.

The retina MBP reminds me of my first gen iPod Touch.. Absolutely stunning, but second gen will likely be much more thought out.
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