Apple exploring capacitive touch buttons to control a closed MacBook

Posted:
in Future Apple Hardware edited January 2014
Apple could add the ability to control applications like iTunes while a notebook is closed via capacitive touch buttons added to the lid of future MacBooks.



The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office this week disclosed a patent application filed by Apple that shows touch-sensitive, disappearing buttons on the exterior of a MacBook. Discovered by AppleInsider, the application is entitled "Methods and Apparatus for Capacitive Sensing."



In the application, Apple notes that conventional capacitive sensing devices require the use of a non-conductive material, like the glass found on an iPhone or iPad. Apple's implementation would allow capacitive touch buttons on a metal surface, like the exterior of a MacBook Pro.



The external "buttons" could be used to indicate certain status information with the device, such as battery level or Wi-Fi connection strength. The buttons could also disappear by using invisible holes and backlighting to make them selectively visible, much like the indicator light for use of a FaceTime camera on a MacBook Pro.



But in addition to displays, the virtual buttons would also have either a proximity sensor or a capacitive touch sensor, or both, allowing users to control elements of the computer even while its lid is closed. Specifically mentioned in the application are traditional buttons for media playback, like play, pause, and volume increase and decrease.







Apple also notes that the buttons could be used for other functions, like to start up or shut down the computer.



"For example, sensing a touch, such as with a virtual 'button' when a laptop computer is in the closed-lid sleep mode, can wake up an external monitor..., sync an iPod or iPhone... with the laptop computer, or install software to the laptop computer while the lid is closed," the application reads.



Apple could also make the invisible touch buttons contextual, having different functions depending on the operating state of the device. The buttons could also be implemented as a trackpad surface, with a large number of touch-sensing locations.







Similarly, the external controls could be a "slider," allowing users to drag their finger to accomplish a task like adjusting volume or skipping through media. This could allow more precise control than individual button taps.



The application, made public this week, was originally filed in August of 2010. The proposed invention is credited to Aleksandar Pance, Omar S. Leung and David Thomas Amm.

Comments

  • Reply 1 of 18
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by AppleInsider View Post


    The buttons could also be implemented as a trackpad surface, with a large number of touch-sensing locations.



    This is beyond the scope of this patent, but wouldn't it be cool if when you closed the lid of a Macbook, the entire top surface became touch sensitive? Imagine if you had the notebook hooked up to an external monitor and you could use the lid's surface like a giant trackpad.
  • Reply 2 of 18
    nkalunkalu Posts: 315member
    I hope all these new technology make it into the redesigned MacBook Pros for next year.
  • Reply 3 of 18
    This sounds a lot more refined than many of apple's patents, but maybe that's just because I can see an example with the FaceTime camera indicator in front of me. I hope we see signs of this quickly.
  • Reply 4 of 18
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by am8449 View Post


    This is beyond the scope of this patent, but wouldn't it be cool if when you closed the lid of a Macbook, the entire top surface became touch sensitive? Imagine if you had the notebook hooked up to an external monitor and you could use the lid's surface like a giant trackpad.



    Heck, have a whole 'nuther screen on the outside. Like......a tablet...
  • Reply 5 of 18
    Unless you have an external monitor connected, closing the lid of any Apple laptop puts it into sleep mode (and there's no way to disable this that I've found). So how could you control iTunes, or anything else?
  • Reply 6 of 18
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by brianus View Post


    Unless you have an external monitor connected, closing the lid of any Apple laptop puts it into sleep mode (and there's no way to disable this that I've found). So how could you control iTunes, or anything else?



    For a start, by just not putting the whole device into sleep mode. It's all a matter of designing the apropriate firmware that controls the device. Apple will just make it possible, since it' an idea with a lot of potential.
  • Reply 7 of 18
    pxtpxt Posts: 683member
    What was that idea Microsoft had where there was a second small screen on the outside that would show email inbox etc?



    It would be funny if Apple, yet again, showed Microsoft how it should be done.



    Of course, MS would then copy it and claim they invented it years ago.



    My only concern is that Apple would in classic OSX UI tradition, make the buttons:

    (a) completely invisible

    (b) have no obvious way to make them appear

    (c) completely undocumented
  • Reply 8 of 18
    I can't really find any use for this other than starting the computer when it's hooked up to an external monitor, keyboard and mouse with the lid closed.
  • Reply 9 of 18
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Rabbit_Coach View Post


    For a start, by just not putting the whole device into sleep mode. It's all a matter of designing the apropriate firmware that controls the device. Apple will just make it possible, since it' an idea with a lot of potential.



    I do hope they do this. The inclusion of Lion Server in Lion Client, and Apple's new focus on streaming (Apple TV as streaming-only device, rumors of a "cloud iTunes" backed by users' own home libraries) makes me wonder if they're not getting more serious about the idea of personal Macs as always-on media servers.
  • Reply 10 of 18
    modemode Posts: 163member
    The Apple logo becomes an OLED touch screen - when you tap on it, iTunes controller appears.



    That would be very cool indeed.
  • Reply 11 of 18
    pmzpmz Posts: 3,433member
    A few years down the road, I see the closed top of a MacBook, being an iPad.
  • Reply 12 of 18
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Mode View Post


    The Apple logo becomes an OLED touch screen - when you tap on it, iTunes controller appears.



    That would be very cool indeed.



    Great idea!
  • Reply 13 of 18
    What Apple needs to do is add an A4/iOS support to its notebook line.



    I should be able to boot into a frontrow like interface and browse my media without booting the full machine into OSX.



    (Imagine the battery for intercontinental fights)
  • Reply 14 of 18
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by PXT View Post


    What was that idea Microsoft had where there was a second small screen on the outside that would show email inbox etc?



    It would be funny if Apple, yet again, showed Microsoft how it should be done.



    Of course, MS would then copy it and claim they invented it years ago.



    My only concern is that Apple would in classic OSX UI tradition, make the buttons:

    (a) completely invisible

    (b) have no obvious way to make them appear

    (c) completely undocumented



    Cupertino start your photocopiers....target is....SideShow...
  • Reply 15 of 18
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by brianus View Post


    Unless you have an external monitor connected, closing the lid of any Apple laptop puts it into sleep mode (and there's no way to disable this that I've found). So how could you control iTunes, or anything else?



    It's called "new technological development".
  • Reply 16 of 18
    realisticrealistic Posts: 1,139member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by brianus View Post


    Unless you have an external monitor connected, closing the lid of any Apple laptop puts it into sleep mode (and there's no way to disable this that I've found). So how could you control iTunes, or anything else?



    Apple could easily change the firmware to allow this if they so choose.
  • Reply 17 of 18
    richlrichl Posts: 2,213member
    As someone who regularly uses his MBP docked to an external monitor/keyboard/mouse, I would love this feature!
  • Reply 18 of 18
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by brianus View Post


    Unless you have an external monitor connected, closing the lid of any Apple laptop puts it into sleep mode (and there's no way to disable this that I've found). So how could you control iTunes, or anything else?



    I could see Apple doing something similar to the pulsating sleep indicator light?microscopic laser perforations, such that they're invisible ordinarily, tied in with a proximity sensor, so that the controls would only illuminate if you put your hand near them. As for your concern of the MacBook going to sleep, well, as has been stated by others here, that's merely a software/firmware issue, which Apple will obviously modify if they decide to go that route. Also, sleep mode can be disabled by plugging anything into a USB port after the lid has been closed. That's been my experience anyway.
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