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Future MacBook keyboards may come loaded with in-key displays, capacitive touch sensors

post #1 of 37
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While Apple's most recent innovations have come from portables like the iPad Air and iPhone 5s, a document uncovered on Thursday reveals a feature-laden keyboard with multi-function "keystacks" that integrate miniature displays, touch sensors and haptic feedback mechanisms.




Showing the company is still making advances in more traditional tech, an Apple patent filing for "Multi-functional keyboard assemblies" describes a keyboard consisting of an array of so-called "keystacks," or individual keys layered with electronics, sensors and switches.

Published by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, Apple's application takes cues from third-party accessories like Art. Lebedev Studio's Optimus Maximus keyboard, which sported clear keycaps overlaid atop small configurable OLED displays. While both standalone and integrated laptop keyboards are covered in the patent language, it should be noted that the first illustration shows a current-generation MacBook Air.

The Maximus, and successor models like the Optimus Popularis that feature keys with built-in displays, are highly functional tools as each key can be mapped to output specific letters, icons or pictures with corresponding customizable commands. Being small-batch products, the Optimus line never really caught on due to prohibitively high price tags and sub-par performance.


Source: USPTO


Apple's invention builds on this display-within-key concept by adding multiple layers to the keystack. While the Optimus is limited to input via a physical switch and output through an OLED, Apple's invention allows for multiple modes of input and output.

For example, the multi-functional keystack can be configured to accept user input through a switch-type button, while a capacitive surface component can provide a second independent input through multitouch gestures.


Cross-sectional view of keystack.


Going further, Apple notes the system gives users visual feedback through a backlit display integrated into each key. Based on OLED, LCD or other screen technology, the display sits above or below touch circuitry and is viewed through a transparent portion of the key. In some embodiments, the keycaps are made of glass or a similarly rigid -- yet durable -- material that is stronger and thinner than traditional plastic parts.

Diving into the workings of Apple's patent, the invention states each key has its own circuitry that is operably connected to one or more system processors. The basic keystack incorporates a support structure (scissor or butterfly switch), flex circuit, light guide and display. More advanced forms add in capacitive sensing and haptic feedback mechanisms.


Key covers.


Acting as a regular keyboard, the invention allows users to reproduce glyphs, characters or symbols onscreen as they are seen displayed on each key. With dedicated circuitry in communication with a computer's processor, however, the keyboard is able to output visual and tactile information corresponding to a user's input.

The keyboard accepts normal dome switch presses, pressure-sensitive input and capacitive touch-based gestures. Using the latter embodiment, Apple's keyboard is able to replace a traditional mouse or multitouch trackpad. In one example, the document describes a user flipping through the pages of an e-book in iBooks by swiping across certain keys or key combinations.


Both scissor (left) and dome type switches are supported in Apple's invention.


Finally, switches located at the base of each keystack are, in some forms of the invention, able to respond to user input through haptic feedback like vibrations, clicks and increased resistance in relation to a button press.

The rest of the application covers details regarding keystack implementation in standalone and integrated keyboards. Variations on display techniques are also discussed and include less dynamic forms of visual feedback relating to multi-colored light sources and optical filters.

Apple's multi-functional keyboard assemblies patent application claims benefit of a provisional application first filed for in 2012 and credits Craig C. Leong, James J. Niu, John M. Brock, Keith J. Hendren, Thomas W. Wilson, Jr., Bartley K. Andre, Mikael Silvanto and Dinesh C. Mathew as its inventors.
post #2 of 37
Just has a thought, what if the keys were precisely flush with the surface of the computer and the entire area replaced the trackpad as a touch sensitive surface. Only issue then is clicking.
Citing unnamed sources with limited but direct knowledge of the rumoured device - Comedy Insider (Feb 2014)
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Citing unnamed sources with limited but direct knowledge of the rumoured device - Comedy Insider (Feb 2014)
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post #3 of 37
I see the first shipping product being $200, black, and ideal for FCP-X. Next stop, a Magic Trackpad that, with a gesture, becomes a number pad, and or a custom keypad, or a...
post #4 of 37
Quote:
Originally Posted by GordonPrice67 View Post

I see the first shipping product being $200

 

I think you should be prepared to add a zero.

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post #5 of 37

I'm down. Best purchase in recent memory. Anything to make a better version is gold.

post #6 of 37

yes please.  this could help for non-English speaking people.  I would love to see a keyboard in a different language- but they all have English.  this way when i want to type Korean, Czech or Norwegian i can just change the keys like i do on the iPhone/ipad.

 

however, i would also love to see the keyboard go.  I would imagine that they could save room if they did away with the keyboard and just had another display that could act as a giant mousepad/ipad and a keyboard when one needs it.  obviously not everyone would want it, so it could be an upgrade.

post #7 of 37
Quote:
Originally Posted by Lorin Schultz View Post

I think you should be prepared to add a zero.

$2000 for a keyboard? When they are selling arguably a $4000 computer for $3000? Maybe $200 is a little low, but I'll bet nothing more than $300, and that would be for a VERY useful bit of kit. Maybe even keyboard with customizable keys and a trackpad grafted onto the side. A new Magic Keyboard Pro if you will.

Also, as revenant points out, language assigned physically to keyboards is a problem to be solved. I am in Berlin, and buying a new computer is problematic because I would want an english keyboard. If the keyboard could be dynamically assigned, that would be slick. Quickly switching between languages as well as application specific layouts would be a major selling point, and save Apple the logistics of making machines for each language, and maybe getting the ratios wrong.

Time will tell.


Edited by GordonPrice67 - 5/1/14 at 4:57am
post #8 of 37
Another use for sapphire cover glass. 1smile.gif
just waiting to be included in one of Apple's target markets.
Don't get me wrong, I like the flat panel iMac, actually own an iMac, and I like the Mac mini, but...........
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just waiting to be included in one of Apple's target markets.
Don't get me wrong, I like the flat panel iMac, actually own an iMac, and I like the Mac mini, but...........
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post #9 of 37
If only I could type ... sigh
From Apple ][ - to new Mac Pro I've used them all.
Long on AAPL so biased
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From Apple ][ - to new Mac Pro I've used them all.
Long on AAPL so biased
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post #10 of 37
Quote:
Originally Posted by GordonPrice67 View Post
 

I would want an english keyboard. If the keyboard could be dynamically assigned, that would be slick.

 

ZWERTY to QWERTY at the tick of a checkbox in settings.

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post #11 of 37
Posting "news" stories about patents for impractical designs with geeky possibilities, filed just to cover Apple's remotely possible future lawsuits against others, is about as speculative as the patent filings themselves.

None of the actual product we see today as "game changers" was preceded by a patent filing giving away the future of Apple product.
post #12 of 37
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Originally Posted by hill60 View Post
 

 

ZWERTY to QWERTY at the tick of a checkbox in settings.

Not just this but imagine the Language change options. Huge manufacturing benefits.

post #13 of 37

Reminds me of the Art Lebedev Studio keyboards. You know, the one with 108 OLED keys that costs $1,500. And this one, which is a touchscreen concept of theirs.

 

 

In that it’s a meaningless middle ground between keyboard+mouse and a real touchscreen desktop.

post #14 of 37
I'm not so keen on a display on the keys but I'd like one in the tracked.

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post #15 of 37
Quote:
Originally Posted by GordonPrice67 View Post
 
$2000 for a keyboard? When they are selling arguably a $4000 computer for $3000? Maybe $200 is a little low, but I'll bet nothing more than $300

 

 

First, I do not accept the argument that Apple is selling a $4000 computer for $3000. My shopping exercises put Apple's prices among the highest on the market. Other, similar machines have also been very expensive, but Apple always comes in $100-200 more than the nearest comparable equivalent. Perhaps that premium is justified by superior materials, but the point stands that Apple is not doing anyone any pricing favours.

 

As for the price of the keyboard, I'm basing my estimate on existing technology. The much less capable Art Lebedev is USD$1500:

 

http://www.artlebedev.com/everything/optimus/popularis/

 

That $1500 does not include haptic feedback or capacitive touch, so adding the additional features Apple's patent app includes will drive the price even higher. Apple will achieve a lower cost of manufacturing through economies of scale, then immediately swallow those savings with 40% margins.

 

How did you come up with your figure?

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post #16 of 37
Quote:
Originally Posted by Lorin Schultz View Post

...but Apple always comes in $100-200 more than the nearest comparable equivalent.

On the higher end Apple tends to come in lower than the competition.

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post #17 of 37
Yeah, that sounds Great! I want an Esperanto Keyboard! Which Apple doesn't support, because it has such a small userbase. But if all it were was a software addition, there would be no extra cost in supporting "small" language bases.

Also, I've always wanted to teach myself to use the DVORAK layout. But not being able to see the letters in their rearranged positions has been a daunting setback. I would LOVE it, if during my spare time I could have my key caps automatically rearrange to display DVORAK, but display QWERTY when I get to work and have to really get stuff done without stumbling over my hobbies.
post #18 of 37

I think a Pro keyboard that is built around iPad technology could be the answer.

I personally don't like the idea of lots of little OLED screens in separate keys.

 

I'd rather see a keyboard based on iPad hardware + pressure sensitive display.

This way you could rest your fingers on the keys and use  haptic feedback to simulate key presses.

This also gives lots of flexibility with custom keyboard layouts as well as non-traditional inputs such as sliders, knobs and color pickers.

 

If based on iPad technology the price could definitely start in the $300-500 range and come down over time.

post #19 of 37
this has kind of been done a few years ago...


No doubt Apple could make it better, but this isn't new.



http://www.artlebedev.com/everything/optimus/maximus/
post #20 of 37
Quote:
Originally Posted by jltnol View Post

this has kind of been done a few years ago...

No doubt Apple could make it better, but this isn't new.

http://www.artlebedev.com/everything/optimus/maximus/

Does no one read the articles before posting?  It specifically talks about the existing Art Lebedev keyboards.

post #21 of 37
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Originally Posted by malax View Post

Does no one read the articles before posting?  It specifically talks about the existing Art Lebedev keyboards.

I often don't read the articles.

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post #22 of 37
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Originally Posted by SolipsismX View Post
 
On the higher end Apple tends to come in lower than the competition.

 

I guess it depends on what you're shopping for. In my case it has always been the other way around. Of course, "in my case" means only four or five comparisons, and each time for the same kind of product.

 

The difference in price is never huge, just a couple hundred bucks, but always with Apple taking the highest spot. Each purchase has involved at least one or two BTO options for things that can't be purchased third-party, like GPU and CPU upgrades, so that undoubtedly tipped the scales some since Apple's upgrade prices seem to be even higher than the already spendy rates charged by other suppliers.

 

My comparisons have all been on notebooks. Maybe it's different with desktops. I didn't even bother looking at alternatives for the Mac Pro we just bought so I have no idea how it would have compared.

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post #23 of 37
Quote:
Originally Posted by Lorin Schultz View Post
 

 

I guess it depends on what you're shopping for. In my case it has always been the other way around. Of course, "in my case" means only four or five comparisons, and each time for the same kind of product.

 

The difference in price is never huge, just a couple hundred bucks, but always with Apple taking the highest spot. Each purchase has involved at least one or two BTO options for things that can't be purchased third-party, like GPU and CPU upgrades, so that undoubtedly tipped the scales some since Apple's upgrade prices seem to be even higher than the already spendy rates charged by other suppliers.

 

My comparisons have all been on notebooks. Maybe it's different with desktops. I didn't even bother looking at alternatives for the Mac Pro we just bought so I have no idea how it would have compared.

 

So how many of these notebooks have thunderbolt?

 

Just wondering.

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post #24 of 37
We shall see.
post #25 of 37

Great! More parts to fail.

post #26 of 37
WANT!
post #27 of 37
Quote:
Originally Posted by Lorin Schultz View Post

How did you come up with your figure?

Mostly a quick calculation to be sure, but...

2 GPUs: $1200 (price between the W5000 that is lower performance than the D300, and the W7000 that is similar performance but double the RAM)

CPU: $400

12 GB ECC: $200

256 GB PCIe SSD: $300

Mobo: $500 (about a $200 premium to account for all the Thunderbolt)

PSU: $200

So with just major systems accounted for it's nearing $3000 already. Throw in silent cooling, good system integration and all the rest, and OK, they are selling a $3500 machine for $3000. And as you move higher I do think the separation is greater. NewEgg sells the W9000 for $3400 EACH, so $6800-$1200 for the "W6000" and you have a premium of $5600, while Apple allows that upgrade for just $1000. $4600 savings, advantage Apple. ;)

Sure, you can get similar performance on benchmarks for a lot cheaper by going with an i7, GeForce cards, SATA SSD, non ECC RAM, fewer Thunderbolt ports, etc. But then it isn't apples to apples. That config would be a machine that is great for a lot, even the vast majority, of users, but not for the target audience of the Mac Pro. Those GeForce cards alone are going to be MUCH less capable when it comes to OpenCL, which is where the real power in the nMP comes from. So I still submit, if you need and can use the real horsepower of the nMP, then nothing even comes close for the price you pay. If you buy it for gaming, you are ripping yourself off. ;-) For pro audio, I guess you are maybe future proofing yourself, as I would assume that soon enough lots of pro audio apps will take advantage of the GPUs for openCL, but for now I understand they don't, so the nMP is a bit wasted on that market. 

post #28 of 37
Quote:
Originally Posted by hill60 View Post
 
So how many of these notebooks have thunderbolt?

 

Just wondering.

 

 

None. The last "high-end" notebook purchase I made was pre-TB. I'm clinging desperately to my 17" display, constantly coming up with excuses to put off upgrading a little longer.

 
Why do you ask?

Edited by Lorin Schultz - 5/2/14 at 10:14am

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post #29 of 37
Quote:
Originally Posted by Lorin Schultz View Post
 

 

 

If you are going to make comparisons, they may as well be valid ones which usually wipes out the "I can build a Linux box for less than the cost of an 'overpriced Apple product' without taking into account the entire package.

 

Your statements are out of date and irrelevant.

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post #30 of 37
Quote:
Originally Posted by Johnny Mozzarella View Post

I think a Pro keyboard that is built around iPad technology could be the answer.
I personally don't like the idea of lots of little OLED screens in separate keys.

Haptic touch would be good on iOS devices:



http://www.immersion.com

That would let them see how best to implement a touch keyboard without giving up too much of the tactile feel of the keyboard style people have used for 30 years. OLED is good as it only uses as much power as the illuminated parts. The downside is it would be harder to see in bright light. The thing they have to get right is the distinction between a touch and a press, which is hard to do with purely touch screen. OLED keys could perhaps be a stepping stone to a full touch panel without sacrificing the tactile feedback. In the diagram, the keys wouldn't sink down but rather overlap the metal so they can form a complete surface. This allows them to make a full touch surface and retain the same kind of keyboard people are used to.
post #31 of 37
Quote:
Originally Posted by hill60 View Post
 

If you are going to make comparisons, they may as well be valid ones which usually wipes out the "I can build a Linux box for less than the cost of an 'overpriced Apple product' without taking into account the entire package.

 

Trying to bait me into a fight isn't going to work. Obviously there are people who do that, but I didn't.

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by hill60 View Post
 

Your statements are out of date and irrelevant.

 

Really? How so? What's changed?

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post #32 of 37
Quote:
Originally Posted by GordonPrice67 View Post
 

Mostly a quick calculation to be sure, but...

2 GPUs: $1200 (price between the W5000 that is lower performance than the D300, and the W7000 that is similar performance but double the RAM)

CPU: $400

12 GB ECC: $200

256 GB PCIe SSD: $300

Mobo: $500 (about a $200 premium to account for all the Thunderbolt)

PSU: $200 

 

I meant how did you come up with a price of $200-300 for a keyboard like the one described in the patent application?

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post #33 of 37
Quote:
Originally Posted by Lorin Schultz View Post
 

Really? How so? What's changed?

 

Thunderbolt came along since you made your comparisons, indicating they are at least two years out of date.

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post #34 of 37
Quote:
Originally Posted by hill60 View Post
 

Thunderbolt came along since you made your comparisons, indicating they are at least two years out of date.

 

Uh yeah, I said that. Honestly, I think you're looking to stir up conflict where there just isn't grounds for any. What is it that's bothering you so badly? Surely I can't be the first to have pointed out the rather obvious fact that Apple products tend towards the spendy end of the spectrum. Are you suggesting that the existence of Thunderbolt somehow renders my observations invalid? If so, how?

 

(This is going way off topic. Does anyone else care about this exchange or should we take it private?)

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post #35 of 37
It's an old thread and we couldn't read the exchange if it went private so I'm good with it.

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post #36 of 37
Quote:
Originally Posted by Lorin Schultz View Post

Uh yeah, I said that. Honestly, I think you're looking to stir up conflict where there just isn't grounds for any. What is it that's bothering you so badly? Surely I can't be the first to have pointed out the rather obvious fact that Apple products tend towards the spendy end of the spectrum. Are you suggesting that the existence of Thunderbolt somehow renders my observations invalid? If so, how?

(This is going way off topic. Does anyone else care about this exchange or should we take it private?)

The reason Apple is at "the spendy" end of the spectrum is due to the quality of their components a factor not usually taken into consideration when making price comparisons.
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post #37 of 37
Quote:
Originally Posted by hill60 View Post
 
The reason Apple is at "the spendy" end of the spectrum is due to the quality of their components

 

True, as well as margins twice as deep as anyone else in the industry.

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by hill60 View Post
 
a factor not usually taken into consideration when making price comparisons.

 

Also true, though I did when making my comparisons. I tried to compare as close to feature-for-feature as I could, and you'll note that I accounted for some of the differences in my original remarks.

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