Apple wants to reinvent keyboards, making them even thinner

in Future Apple Hardware edited January 2014

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 ]



  • Reply 1 of 73
    'polished meteorite'?

    Clark Kent need a durable keyboard imbued with Kryptonite to keep him from breaking it?
  • Reply 2 of 73
    FlexiKeys ....

  • Reply 3 of 73
    Liquid Metal!
  • Reply 4 of 73
    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.
  • Reply 5 of 73
    irelandireland Posts: 17,798member
    Neil Hughes is consistently the best article writer on AI.
  • Reply 6 of 73
    irelandireland Posts: 17,798member
    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.
  • Reply 7 of 73
    ilogicilogic Posts: 298member
    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.
  • Reply 8 of 73
    aizmovaizmov Posts: 989member
    Even thinner laptops. I'm in.
  • Reply 9 of 73
    Ivory keys made from unicorn horns.
  • Reply 10 of 73
    Another example of Apple's attention to detail!
  • Reply 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.
  • Reply 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 ;-)
  • Reply 13 of 73
  • Reply 14 of 73
    melgrossmelgross Posts: 33,585member
    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.
  • Reply 15 of 73
    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 "
  • Reply 16 of 73
    feynmanfeynman Posts: 1,087member
    Wil they add a .com button?
  • Reply 17 of 73
    tjwaltjwal Posts: 404member
    The keyboard is over 100 years old. I keep hoping someone will come up with a completely different input device.
  • Reply 18 of 73
    Originally Posted by KindredMac View Post

    I want Giddings keyboard...

    Transparent? No way.

    I want one of these:

  • Reply 19 of 73
    Originally Posted by Feynman View Post

    Wil they add a .com button?

    I wish they had a button just for my name.
  • Reply 20 of 73
    panupanu Posts: 135member
    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.
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