Apple investigating advanced keyboards with proximity sensors, tactile feedback

Posted:
in Future Apple Hardware edited January 2014
Apple has shown interest in creating an advanced keyboard that could provide tactile feedback to users through the inclusion of numerous proximity sensors and air vents on individual keys.



The concept was revealed this week in a new patent application published by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and discovered by AppleInsider. The filing, entitled "Input Devices and Methods of Operation," notes that as physical keyboards get smaller and more compact, they may not offer the same typing experience users prefer.



A smaller keyboard might limit the tactile feedback a user feels on their fingertips while typing. This is as a result of keys that do not travel as far when pressed on, say, a much thinner keyboard.



Apple proposes addressing this issue by placing proximity sensors in each key on a keyboard. These sensors could be used to detect when user input on a key is imminent.



The patent filing describes a system that would "flow air from the input device," perhaps through openings in the surface of an individual key on a keyboard. This would provide tactile feedback to the user before they make physical contact with the key surface.







This air pressure could be used to apply air pressure against a user's fingertips, giving tactile feedback even though the key may not move as much as a key on a more traditional keyboard.



In another example, Apple describes a pneumatic system that would be used to "advance the selected key in a direction of actuation in response to detecting user selection." Through this method, the key would be "pulled away from the user."







Apple also proposes combining these two methods in a keyboard that would provide initial air resistance to movement of a user's fingers, and then withdraw a key from the user's touch.



The application, made public this week, was first filed in November of 2009. The proposed invention is credited to Aleksandar Pance, Michael Sinclair, and Brett Bilbrey.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 22
    [greg][greg] Posts: 78member
    I think this is one of those things you have to actually use to understand...
  • Reply 2 of 22
    thebumthebum Posts: 58member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by [Greg] View Post


    I think this is one of those things you have to actually use to understand...



    You have to admit, though, that this is not a trivial invention such as many that get patented, e.g. just about any software patent. This is just the sort of thing the patent system was originally designed to protect.
  • Reply 3 of 22
    takeotakeo Posts: 417member
    I'm confused. So the keys are flush until you hover over one and then it pops up? Or what? I don't get it at all.
  • Reply 4 of 22
    I think we're nearly in Rube Goldberg territory now.
  • Reply 5 of 22
    irelandireland Posts: 17,623member
    Sadly these keyboards are power-hungry monsters and never get produced.
  • Reply 6 of 22
    malaxmalax Posts: 1,598member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Takeo View Post


    I'm confused. So the keys are flush until you hover over one and then it pops up? Or what? I don't get it at all.



    One of the inventions is about making it feel like you're pressing the key before you actually do (by blowing air up at your fingers). The other seems like the exact opposite, in that the key moves away from your finger before you touch it. The former seems hard to believe, and the latter is just plain weird. But hey, keep on trying new things.
  • Reply 7 of 22
    malaxmalax Posts: 1,598member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Ireland View Post


    Sadly these keyboards are power-hungry monsters and never get produced.



    Next up will be a hybrid keyboard that uses the kinetic energy of pressing the keys to generate electricity to power the magic.
  • Reply 8 of 22
    brutus009brutus009 Posts: 356member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by malax View Post


    Next up will be a hybrid keyboard that uses the kinetic energy of pressing the keys to generate electricity to power the magic.



    Better patent that quick.
  • Reply 9 of 22
    ...I wish Apple would bring back the wireless keyboard with numeric keypad.
  • Reply 10 of 22
    nagrommenagromme Posts: 2,834member
    Thousands of cat owners suddenly cried with joy!
  • Reply 11 of 22
    solipsismsolipsism Posts: 25,726member
    This is cool but seems overly complicated. I’m much more concerned with mass produced keys that can change depending on the usage needs. Different country keyboard setups to games and app that require special keys. The possibilities are endless but first lets get me my trackpad that is also a an AMOLED display.
  • Reply 12 of 22
    futuristicfuturistic Posts: 599member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by solipsism View Post


    This is cool but seems overly complicated. I?m much more concerned with mass produced keys that can change depending on the usage needs. Different country keyboard setups to games and app that require special keys. The possibilities are endless but first lets get me my trackpad that is also a an AMOLED display.



    How about this: keyboards with "e-ink" keys. If you wanted a DVORAK keyboard, no worries. Just switch to that keyboard setting, and tada! the key labels change, and stay that way until you want something else. Someone else wants QWERTY? They instantly switch back! Running FCP? Boom! They keyboard switches to a video control interface. Making music? Ding! the keys get all musical! And so on. Being e-ink, the keys wouldn't draw any extra power to "hold" any display configuration, unlike LCD/AMOLED.
  • Reply 13 of 22
    solipsismsolipsism Posts: 25,726member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Futuristic View Post


    How about this: keyboards with "e-ink" keys. If you wanted a DVORAK keyboard, no worries. Just switch to that keyboard setting, and tada! the key labels change, and stay that way until you want something else. Someone else wants QWERTY? They instantly switch back! Running FCP? Boom! They keyboard switches to a video control interface. Making music? Ding! the keys get all musical! And so on. Being e-ink, the keys wouldn't draw any extra power to "hold" any display configuration, unlike LCD/AMOLED.



    I thought of that and it seems like a win over AMOLED in many useful ways, but is the color right for Apple?s needs. A light grey key with a dark grey character that can?t do any color for special keys or inverted colors for when you press Shift or Caps or just the fn key. As much as I try I can?t see Apple going that route. I?d also expect to see others with tiny e-ink keys first.
  • Reply 14 of 22
    dimitrirdimitrir Posts: 11member
    Just reintroduce Apple Extended Keyboard ;-) Meanwhile type M works just fine - these guys actually still make them - www.pckeyboard.com .
  • Reply 15 of 22
    futuristicfuturistic Posts: 599member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by solipsism View Post


    I thought of that and it seems like a win over AMOLED in many useful ways, but is the color right for Apple?s needs. A light grey key with a dark grey character that can?t do any color for special keys or inverted colors for when you press Shift or Caps or just the fn key. As much as I try I can?t see Apple going that route. I?d also expect to see others with tiny e-ink keys first.



    Actually, a while back, I read about color e-ink in development. Basically, about the resolution and depth of newsprint. The whole key wouldn't need to be colored. Just enough of it to serve as a visual indicator of its status/configuration.



    Just thinking out loud.



    Makes me wonder what other crazy ideas and experiments go on in Apple's skunkworks that never even make it to the rumor mill. What would we find in their "rejected" pile? Would be pretty interesting, I think.
  • Reply 16 of 22
    futuristicfuturistic Posts: 599member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by dimitrir View Post


    Just reintroduce Apple Extended Keyboard ;-) Meanwhile type M works just fine - these guys actually still make them - www.pckeyboard.com .



    Agreed. I actually still have mine from 10 years ago. I use it for gaming.
  • Reply 17 of 22
    mrstepmrstep Posts: 446member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by malax View Post


    One of the inventions is about making it feel like you're pressing the key before you actually do (by blowing air up at your fingers). The other seems like the exact opposite, in that the key moves away from your finger before you touch it. The former seems hard to believe, and the latter is just plain weird. But hey, keep on trying new things.



    This is just part of the filing! The rest is about how the keys can slide around on a cushion of air, avoiding your fingertips entirely.



    But yeah, I had the same thought as others - the power used by this would probably more than negatively make up for any space savings or whatever it's trying to accomplish. Unless it's intended to be a self-cleaning mode to get crumbs out.
  • Reply 18 of 22
    majjomajjo Posts: 574member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Futuristic View Post


    How about this: keyboards with "e-ink" keys. If you wanted a DVORAK keyboard, no worries. Just switch to that keyboard setting, and tada! the key labels change, and stay that way until you want something else. Someone else wants QWERTY? They instantly switch back! Running FCP? Boom! They keyboard switches to a video control interface. Making music? Ding! the keys get all musical! And so on. Being e-ink, the keys wouldn't draw any extra power to "hold" any display configuration, unlike LCD/AMOLED.



    They have those, its just too expensive, and doesn't work that well (at least as of a few years ago):

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IJ5rX6WpxTk
  • Reply 19 of 22
    rtm135rtm135 Posts: 310member
    Since Apple hates physical keyboards, I'm surprised they're not making a small screen with soft-keys and tactile feedback.



    Either that or bring back the Optimus Maximus keyboard. That thing was sweet.



    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xWkjtnd367Q
  • Reply 20 of 22
    futuristicfuturistic Posts: 599member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by majjo View Post


    They have those, its just too expensive, and doesn't work that well (at least as of a few years ago):

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IJ5rX6WpxTk



    Quote:
    Originally Posted by rtm135 View Post


    Since Apple hates physical keyboards, I'm surprised they're not making a small screen with soft-keys and tactile feedback.



    Either that or bring back the Optimus Maximus keyboard. That thing was sweet.



    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xWkjtnd367Q



    As per my comment earlier, I think e-ink would be better than OLED, because it would draw power only when switching between modes. An OLED keyboard would require power all the time, making it virtually useless for notebooks. And really, who needs fancy animations on their keys? That's what the display is for! All you'd need is for the keys to be labeled according to the mode/configuration the keyboard is set to.



    As for the cost, well, "concepts" are always expensive. Scale it up to production, and the cost will go down.
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