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Apple wants to reinvent keyboards, making them even thinner

post #1 of 73
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Apple could make its notebook computers and keyboard accessories even thinner and lighter with a brand new take on the classic input method.

Apple's interest in reinventing the keyboard was revealed in a new patent application discovered this week by AppleInsider. Entitled "Single Support Lever Keyboard Mechanism," it describes a handful of ways that a keyboard could be shrunk in size without affecting its performance.

In the filing, Apple notes that the size of existing keyboards presents a challenge for the company as it attempts to design thinner, lighter and more attractive devices.

"It would be beneficial to provide a keyboard for a portable computing device that is aesthetically pleasing, yet still provides the stability for each key that users desire," the application reads. "It would also be beneficial to provide methods for manufacturing the keyboard having an especially aesthetic design as well as functionality for the portable computing device."

One of the most common keyboard types is the "dome switch," in which the key pushes down on a rubber dome located beneath the key. Other types of keyboards include capacitive, mechanical switch, Hall-effect, membrane, and roll-up, and each offer their own strengths and weaknesses in terms of two important categories: response (positive feedback that the key has been pressed) and travel (the distance needed to push the key).

Apple's solution is a single support lever keyboard mechanism, which the proposed invention says would allow the keyboard cap to be formed of almost any material, but would also provide stability to each key.

The application notes that the material chosen for the key caps is very important, not only for the appearance of the keyboard but also how it feels on users' fingers. The application includes a number of potential off-the-wall materials that could be used, like glass, wood, stone, and even "polished meteorite."




Regardless of the material, Apple's keyboard key caps would be held in place by a rigid support lever. With its design, the keys could have a total travel range of as little as 0.2 millimeters.

In another method, Apple describes a support lever holding the key cap that would be made of a flexible material. This support lever could be made of spring steel that could allow good tactile feedback to the user when they are typing.




The key cap and support lever would have an "elastomeric spacer" between them and a metal dome positioned below. The spacer would be made of a material such as rubber o silicone that would "provide a desirable and distinctive feel to the user when pressed," in addition to reducing rattling on the keyboard.

"The advantages of the invention are numerous," the filing states, adding: "One advantage of the invention is that a low-travel keyboard may be provided for a thin-profile computing device without compromising the tactile feel of the keyboard."

The filing, made public this week by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, was first filed by Apple in August of 2010. It is credited to Patrick Kessier, Bradley Hamel, and James J. Niu.

[ View article on AppleInsider ]
post #2 of 73
'polished meteorite'?

Clark Kent need a durable keyboard imbued with Kryptonite to keep him from breaking it?
post #3 of 73
Liquid Metal!
post #4 of 73
Quote:
Originally Posted by walletinspector View Post

'polished meteorite'?

Clark Kent need a durable keyboard imbued with Kryptonite to keep him from breaking it?

Unless it's red kryptonite.
post #5 of 73
Neil Hughes is consistently the best article writer on AI.
Citing unnamed sources with limited but direct knowledge of a rumoured device - Comedy Insider (Feb 2014)
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Citing unnamed sources with limited but direct knowledge of a rumoured device - Comedy Insider (Feb 2014)
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post #6 of 73
Quote:
Originally Posted by ghostface147 View Post

Liquid Metal!

I believe you are confused about what LiquidMetal ® is. I don't see how it has any relation to this story.
Citing unnamed sources with limited but direct knowledge of a rumoured device - Comedy Insider (Feb 2014)
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Citing unnamed sources with limited but direct knowledge of a rumoured device - Comedy Insider (Feb 2014)
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post #7 of 73
This is a good segue for the keyboard, I personally thought they were going straight to multitouch panels, sort of a like a Nintendo DS.
post #8 of 73
Even thinner laptops. I'm in.

iPod nano 5th Gen 8GB Orange, iPad 3rd Gen WiFi 32GB White
MacBook Pro 15" Core i7 2.66GHz 8GB RAM 120GB Intel 320M
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iPod nano 5th Gen 8GB Orange, iPad 3rd Gen WiFi 32GB White
MacBook Pro 15" Core i7 2.66GHz 8GB RAM 120GB Intel 320M
Mac mini Core 2 Duo 2.4GHz 8GB RAM, iPhone 5 32GB Black

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post #9 of 73
Ivory keys made from unicorn horns.
post #10 of 73
Another example of Apple's attention to detail!
post #11 of 73
hmmm seems good...I'd have to see it and use it to form a true opinion but so far so good.
post #12 of 73
I knew that one day I would see the ZX-81 and ZX Spectrum keyboards again...

Jokes aside, I personally dislike rubber keyboards. IMHO Keys should be very smooth on their way down to contact, as well as on their way back up.

There needs to be a "full stop" feel when you press your finger on a key and it hits bottom. The problem with rubber is that this "stop feel" is too soft which blurs the lines between the pressed and un-pressed states.

But then again, if it's thin enough people will be more likely to stick it in their bags, and it will be a "better than nothing" keyboard.

If on the other hand it's on a laptop, that might be annoying. There's nothing wrong with today's keyboards.

Of course - I keep an open mind. I may try it and discover it feels different, and will be indeed a new take on tactile keyboards ;-)
post #13 of 73
post #14 of 73
It's amazing how something apparently as simple as a keyboard has changed over the years.

My mom's old Underwood has keys that travel over an inch, and it takes a fair amount of pressure to do so. The top row of keys is also over an inch and a half higher on the keyboard than the lowest row. Today's keys hardly move at all, and the top row is about the same height as the lowest.
post #15 of 73
Quote:
Originally Posted by Skaag View Post

I knew that one day I would see the ZX-81 and ZX Spectrum keyboards again...

haha I quite liked the rubber keyboards of old. I'm personally glad we are seeing the return of low profile.



EDIT : Though I agree with you on the "full stop feel "
post #16 of 73
Wil they add a .com button?
post #17 of 73
The keyboard is over 100 years old. I keep hoping someone will come up with a completely different input device.
post #18 of 73
Quote:
Originally Posted by KindredMac View Post

I want Giddings keyboard...

Transparent? No way.

I want one of these:

Originally Posted by asdasd

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Originally Posted by asdasd

This is Appleinsider. It's all there for you but we can't do it for you.
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post #19 of 73
Quote:
Originally Posted by Feynman View Post

Wil they add a .com button?

I wish they had a button just for my name.
post #20 of 73
Quote:
Originally Posted by tjwal View Post

The keyboard is over 100 years old. I keep hoping someone will come up with a completely different input device.

Wheels are round and have been for a lot longer than 100 years. Isn't about time for them to be square?

Sometimes things have been around for a long time because they are really good ideas. New is not always better: The trackball is newer than the mouse, but only a few people use one. Old is not always bad: If you are in a cubicle and you want to write a mushy email to your beloved, you don't want voice input.

An automobile manufacturer thought that gear shift levers had been around too long, so they replaced them with push buttons. That is why every car today has push buttons instead of a gear shift lever.

The age of a successful solution doesn't matter. "Successful" and "solution" do matter.
post #21 of 73
Quote:
Originally Posted by tjwal View Post

The keyboard is over 100 years old. I keep hoping someone will come up with a completely different input device.

They have, many times. The trouble is they just don't catch on.

Even just changing the layout of the keys on the existing standard keyboard can increase typing speeds by huge amounts. There are also many different variations on two handed keyboards, chorded keyboards, and others that look like they dropped out of some alien spaceship that are all proven beyond a shadow of a doubt to be more efficient and better designed.

The catch is you have to re-train yourself to use them and basically no one wants to do that.

Maybe now we have soft, virtual keyboards the evolution will go a bit faster. For instance anyone who has typed a lot on an iPhone should be able to see what an unmitigated disaster it is to have the U, I, and O keys side by side under the right-hand thumb considering how many words can be completely transformed by picking the wrong one.
post #22 of 73
People are thinking laptops here which is probable, but a clam shell iPad with a keyboard would have a following. The keyboard would have to disappear on the iPad when users don't want it, but it would make for a very handy iPad. Sometimes I think a keyboard that sticks via iOads magnets would be nice.
post #23 of 73
Quote:
Originally Posted by wizard69 View Post

People are thinking laptops here which is probable, but a clam shell iPad with a keyboard would have a following. The keyboard would have to disappear on the iPad when users don't want it, but it would make for a very handy iPad. Sometimes I think a keyboard that sticks via iOads magnets would be nice.

perhaps a very small following—they're called notepads or notebooks.
post #24 of 73
Personally I don't care much for any of Apples input devices, keyboards or mice.

Aesthetically pleasing - Ha, good one!

Like the old crumb catcher keyboard from 2008 - that was a beauty.

Life is too short to drink bad coffee.

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Life is too short to drink bad coffee.

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post #25 of 73
Quote:
Originally Posted by Panu View Post

New is not always better: The trackball is newer than the mouse, but only a few people use one.

I personally think a thumb trackball mouse is the optimal design. Once you get used to it, it's far more precise using discrete thumb movements rather than whole hand movements to control the cursor (either via a rollerball/optical mouse or a trackpad). And the thumb is strong enough for long periods of use (unlike other fingers).

Obviously direct contact with the screen is the most precise, but the weight of your arms becomes a factor over time. Not to mention the fingerprints accumulating on your screen.
 
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post #26 of 73
Quote:
Originally Posted by Prof. Peabody View Post

Maybe now we have soft, virtual keyboards the evolution will go a bit faster. For instance anyone who has typed a lot on an iPhone should be able to see what an unmitigated disaster it is to have the U, I, and O keys side by side under the right-hand thumb considering how many words can be completely transformed by picking the wrong one.

This is just such a big area waiting to be explored - and Apple is possibly the one company that is ideally positioned to do it.

What if Apple came up with a new keyboard layout - that would be optimized to work with Auto-correction - so that there would be a much higher probability that any mistakes that you make while typing can be rectified automatically by the system? Because of touchscreen keyboards, it would be easy for Apple to offer this as an option on the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch - and because of the sheer volumes of these products, it would likely catch on relatively quickly.

For their desktop models, where people are still used to tactile feedback, Apple can give people 2 options - a super cheap multitouch glass panel that can automatically display a custom keyboard for specific tasks - and an OLED based button keyboard, where the text on the buttons can be changed as per the keyboard layout selected - for those who still insist on tactile feedback. Of course the OLED based keyboard would be more expensive, but I think people would still find it extremely useful.

Such a virtual keyboard would allow special functionality - like color selection in Painting apps, tool selection in literally any app, and literally work out as the best way to interact with a vertical screen. Obviously, the vertical screen is not suitable for touch, so a multitouch horizontal keyboard is the next best option.

Such a configurable keyboard will also make Macs truly international - because they will be able to support native keyboards for any language!

The success of a product like Swype shows that people are OK with mastering newer typing skills to suit touch screens. So a new keyboard layout that is specifically optimized to work with autocorrect might not be as far fetched an idea as one would think.
post #27 of 73
Quote:
Originally Posted by walletinspector View Post

'polished meteorite'?



Apple is patenting everything they can think of, even though they have no plans to ever manufacture it.

Their strategy seems to be to prevent these technologies from ever seeing the light of day.

Hey - if the patent trolls do it, why not Apple?
post #28 of 73


"Hello computer?"
Just use the keyboard."
"Keyboard? How quaint."

And that is why we have transparent aluminum, Jonathan Ive's favorite material.

"Apple should pull the plug on the iPhone."

John C. Dvorak, 2007
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"Apple should pull the plug on the iPhone."

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post #29 of 73
Quote:
Originally Posted by Ireland View Post

I believe you are confused about what LiquidMetal ® is. I don't see how it has any relation to this story.

Well, the SIM eject tool that came with the older iPhones were supposedly "LiquidMetal." Anything Apple makes they need to make in very high quantities at a relatively low cost. My understanding is that the LiquidMetal alloy can be made faster than say aluminum.
post #30 of 73
Quote:
Originally Posted by Tallest Skil View Post

Transparent? No way. I want one of these

Glass keyboards haven't taken off coz they look nice but they're not very comfortable to use. I couldn't use my iPad keyboard for any length of time.

If they could come up a way of making the virtual keys softer to touch with a little give and some feedback it would be fantastic. You could have a completely blank keyboard that changes according to what application or language you're using.
post #31 of 73
Quote:
Originally Posted by Panu View Post

Wheels are round and have been for a lot longer than 100 years. Isn't about time for them to be square?

Sometimes things have been around for a long time because they are really good ideas. New is not always better: The trackball is newer than the mouse, but only a few people use one. Old is not always bad: If you are in a cubicle and you want to write a mushy email to your beloved, you don't want voice input.

An automobile manufacturer thought that gear shift levers had been around too long, so they replaced them with push buttons. That is why every car today has push buttons instead of a gear shift lever.

The age of a successful solution doesn't matter. "Successful" and "solution" do matter.

True, but traveling by Airplane is so much better than bumping along the ground using wheels. Likewise, inputting words or numbers using the tips of our fingers is cumbersome. I don't really want to start talking to my computer either. I'm just hoping that a better way will be developed in my lifetime.
post #32 of 73
Agree, insane attention to detail.
post #33 of 73
Quote:
Originally Posted by Shaun, UK View Post

Glass keyboards haven't taken off coz they look nice but they're not very comfortable to use. I couldn't use my iPad keyboard for any length of time.

If they could come up a way of making the virtual keys softer to touch with a little give and some feedback it would be fantastic. You could have a completely blank keyboard that changes according to what application or language you're using.

Yes, for all but writing I think a glass multi-touch surface is superior. Maybe there will be some kind of overlay to give a better touch experience? though the idea of an overlay seems wrong.

But I'm all for thinner. The travel on a new Apple keyboard almost seems excessive now that I also use the iPad a lot. Touch feed-back is nice but little is required to be enough. I'm favouring Kryptonite right now but my guess is that it would be a marketing own goal. People would just roll their eyes and put it down to ott marketing.
post #34 of 73
Quote:
Originally Posted by Shaun, UK View Post

You could have a completely blank keyboard that changes according to what application or language you're using.

That's what the Optimus Tactus intends to bring to the table:

Originally Posted by asdasd

This is Appleinsider. It's all there for you but we can't do it for you.
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Originally Posted by asdasd

This is Appleinsider. It's all there for you but we can't do it for you.
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post #35 of 73
Quote:
Originally Posted by Panu View Post

Wheels are round and have been for a lot longer than 100 years. Isn't about time for them to be square?

Sometimes things have been around for a long time because they are really good ideas.

the QWERTY keyboard is [and was intentionally designed to be] a square wheel.
We should move to the DVORAK keyboard. the only reason we use QWERTY is because typewriters used to jam because people were typing too fast w/ early DVORAK versions. QWERTY slowed us all down, and has led to millions of repetitive use injuries.
post #36 of 73
Quote:
Originally Posted by tjwal View Post

True, but traveling by Airplane is so much better than bumping along the ground using wheels. Likewise, inputting words or numbers using the tips of our fingers is cumbersome. I don't really want to start talking to my computer either. I'm just hoping that a better way will be developed in my lifetime.

Mind control? They're already working on that and it seems to be the best solution. Most can think faster than they can write, type, or speak. Of course some do the previous without thinking...
post #37 of 73
Quote:
Originally Posted by paxman View Post

Yes, for all but writing I think a glass multi-touch surface is superior. Maybe there will be some kind of overlay to give a better touch experience? though the idea of an overlay seems wrong.

But I'm all for thinner. The travel on a new Apple keyboard almost seems excessive now that I also use the iPad a lot. Touch feed-back is nice but little is required to be enough. I'm favouring Kryptonite right now but my guess is that it would be a marketing own goal. People would just roll their eyes and put it down to ott marketing.

What it each key was its own touch display? It could have some sort of mechanical travel. I'm guessing cost would be prohibitive.
post #38 of 73
Quote:
Originally Posted by Pendergast View Post

What it each key was its own touch display? It could have some sort of mechanical travel. I'm guessing cost would be prohibitive.

Oh, you mean this? This $1,000+ monstrosity?



Yeah, cost is prohibitive. I like the Steve Jobs key on the middle far right, though.

Originally Posted by asdasd

This is Appleinsider. It's all there for you but we can't do it for you.
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Originally Posted by asdasd

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post #39 of 73
Quote:
Originally Posted by AppleInsider View Post

[...] The application includes a number of potential off-the-wall materials that could be used, like glass, wood, stone, and even "polished meteorite." [...]

I've been wanting glass keycaps for years. Sick of plastic already. And, in theory, using glass for they keys as well as the frame of the keyboard would enable sensing multi-touch and swipe gestures directly on the keyboard. It could eliminate the need for a separate trackpad.

Try this: next time you're using your desktop or laptop, count the number of times you move your hand from keyboard to mouse and back again. Takes about 1 second each way. You probably do it dozens of times per hour. Then imagine how much faster it would be to simply lift your fingers and gesture directly on the keyboard surface itself with one, two, three, or four fingers from one (or both) hands. Far less wasted motion.

But fundamentally, an ultra-thin keyboard with 0.2mm of key movement would be perfect for an ultra-thin MacBook Air. Making the keyboard thinner is one of the few remaining challenges.

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post #40 of 73
I wonder if alkali-aluminosilicate sheet glass would allow it to be thin and feel great to the touch. The letter could and allow light to shine through well. I only worry about the edge of the keys feeling right.


Quote:
Originally Posted by ilogic View Post

This is a good segue for the keyboard, I personally thought they were going straight to multitouch panels, sort of a like a Nintendo DS.

I don't see that happening since it reduces usability when there is plenty of space for a keyboard. However, making an AMOLED display that would be black most of the time (use no power) and then have options for stock ticker, system info, notifications, slider controls for audio and video apps, an on screen number pad, or calculator would be great. No need for anything high def like on a phone. Dell as worked on a prototype for their Adamo line but you need a company that can work with HW the OS and create APIs to make it useful. That's Apple. That only Apple.

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