Apple patents MacBook with illuminated touch controls in chassis, bezel & frame

Posted:
in Future Apple Hardware edited February 2014
A new patent filing reveals Apple's experimentation with a touch-sensitive MacBook chassis, which would offer the ability to sense a user's touch across a notebook's entire bezel, potentially allowing the company to eliminate physical buttons and allow for a more intuitive computing experience.

Patent


Apple's continued interest in taking touch input and extending it beyond the trackpad was disclosed in a newly awarded patent discovered on Tuesday by AppleInsider. Entitled "Housing as an I/O device," U.S. Patent No. 8,654,524 describes a notebook housing intended not only to hold and protect the parts inside, but also serve as an input/output device, allowing users to control the Mac through touching the chassis.

The newly granted patent isn't the first time Apple has shown interest in extending touch controls to a greater surface area on its MacBooks. Just last month, it was awarded a patent for a rear touch input concept for a unique solar-powered MacBook with a two-sided display, while last month the company showed interest in building a trackpad without a traditional "clickable" button, instead providing users with tactile feedback through an actuator, and sensing clicks through four or more force sensors.

In the latest granted patent, Apple describes a notebook housing where the external walls would accept user input and react to where they touch the device. In one example, a user could place their fingertip around a MacBook's USB port, the system could automatically display a window with USB-specific options, or simply say the term "USB" aloud to inform a user of the name of the port.

Touch controls could even be extended to the exterior of the MacBook display, as the invention notes that a user could invoke video conferencing by placing their finger near the notebook's forward facing FaceTime camera located above the screen.

Patent


Apple could also use this feature to add button-less controls for functions like volume, allowing a user to tap near the speaker on a MacBook chassis to adjust the volume. Apple's concept describes intuitive controls that are temporarily hidden from view, only lighting up when invoked, but still simple enough for users to figure out without the need for constant visual cues.

In addition to touch, Apple notes that squeezing would also be a potential input gesture allowed by a MacBook chassis. The patent describes a user squeezing the device between their fingers in order to adjust the volume level while listening to music. It notes that squeezing the left side of the housing could serve one purpose, such as lowering the volume, while squeezing the right side could have the opposite effect and raise the volume.

Apple's advanced MacBook chassis wouldn't just accept input -- it'd also be able to provide users with feedback, based on the patent's description. For example, embedded light emitters near control actuators could clue users in as to where they can touch to adjust the volume or activate certain features.

If Apple were to take this concept all the way, the company notes the system could be used to provide a "virtual keyboard" without physical keys. These controls could be invisible when not in use, and lights embedded in the MacBook frame could then allow the keyboard to be seen when a user wishes to type.

Patent


Apple describes a hypothetical notebook in which the base would be a "single continuous housing surface with no or limited breaks." The touch-sensitive surface could then illuminate the virtual keyboard as needed, but remain dark when it is not in use.

Graphics within the housing could also provide users with limited information while the MacBook is asleep. For example, a battery life indicator or wireless connectivity status could be displayed through lights integrated in the chassis, even while the computer is idle and the main screen is off.

Apple's newly awarded invention was first filed with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in 2009. It's credited to Aleksandar Pance, Nicholas Vincent King, Duncan Kerr, and Brett Bilbrey.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 31
    1) Like Steve said: "touch devices need to be horizontal". Guess the touchscreen laptop manufacturers haven't seen that keynote.

    2) Don't know if swapping a physical keyboard with a virtual one will be embraced by the masses, but Apple usually gets this stuff right.
  • Reply 2 of 31
    palegolaspalegolas Posts: 1,339member
    Horrible for main input, but as a secondary interface it could be great. If all the space from the keyboard and down to the edge was such a surface with a sort of illuminated touch display interface with interchangable graphics it would be awesome.
  • Reply 3 of 31
    Star Trek ! Star Trek ! .. As usual ...
  • Reply 4 of 31
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by PhilBoogie View Post



    1) Like Steve said: "touch devices need to be horizontal". Guess the touchscreen laptop manufacturers haven't seen that keynote.



    2) Don't know if swapping a physical keyboard with a virtual one will be embraced by the masses, but Apple usually gets this stuff right.

    I hear you Phil. It reminds me of how when Apple laptops passed iMacs in sales, Apple introduces the small BT keyboard for the iMac and then the MagicTrackPad. Just like the keyboard and the trackpad found on the Apple laptops. I guess, the theory was if people are using the laptops and iMacs the keyboards should be the same. (I no longer have a mouse for my iMac, only the MagicTrackPad) It took me a week to get used to the new style keyboard, but now I love it.

     

    Maybe they are thinking if people are using iPads their laptops should be touch keyboards, too.

     

    I certainly, did not see this coming, but I think it's brilliant.

     

    Best. 

  • Reply 5 of 31
    Squishy, squeezable computers!
  • Reply 6 of 31
    rogifanrogifan Posts: 10,669member

    Duncan Kerr is one of the inventors listed on this patent. I believe he was the one who first showed off a working prototype of multi touch in the design studio which eventually was demoed to Steve.

  • Reply 7 of 31
    Maybe for the 12.9" iPad Pro?
  • Reply 8 of 31
    I can't get excited about patents given Apples track record for filing tons of them that they then don't use themselves.

    And that someone big like Apple could and would probably request that the USPTO withhold publishing a patent for a new and not yet announced product. Protecting trade secrets or such
  • Reply 9 of 31
    zoetmbzoetmb Posts: 2,614member

    In my opinion, in order to type efficiently, you need tactile feedback.    Compare how fast people type on an iPad to how fast people type on a physical keyboard.   IMO, Apple should not be trying to turn the MacBook Pro line into a Pad - that's what the Pads are for.  Why do I think that this is more about Apple's notion of Zen design than about real usability.    So personally, I hope this never happens for the central part of the keyboard unless they can find a way to provide tactile feedback in a virtual keyboard and even if they can, that might not be enough because a total flat surface won't guide one's fingers to the correct keys.   If they want to put the function keys into such a surface, fine.  

  • Reply 10 of 31
    I look at this and don't see any real uses for a notebook but see many uses for [I]wearables[/I] whose buttons appear and disappear at will.
  • Reply 11 of 31

    Saphire glass for the keyboard...

     

    Samsung cannot copy that.

  • Reply 12 of 31
    Hoboy! Here comes the iOS/OSX hybrid Mac! /s
  • Reply 13 of 31
    MarvinMarvin Posts: 14,739moderator
    philboogie wrote: »
    Don't know if swapping a physical keyboard with a virtual one will be embraced by the masses

    Is that a quote from Blackberry? ;)

    Some people didn't like the move to chiclet keys. I know that moving to touch is a different shift as you don't get the tactile feedback for touch typing but they can add tactile feedback with vibration. People have said it feels just like pressing a button.


    [VIDEO]


    It's a more intuitive set of controls and completely adaptable to different software contexts. Think of when you use a video editing package or Photoshop, you hardly every type but they map the keys so you have 'i' for in-point, 'o' for output, command-x for cut, b for brush etc. These are things people have to learn and they change for every program. When did you last learn a keyboard equivalent in iOS? You don't need them, there's not even a command-key. If you need a brush, you tap on a brush icon.

    The speaker grills can have illumination down the side to indicate volume when you touch them and just slide your finger up and down the grill to adjust volume instead of tapping the volume key one volume step at a time. Every key on a keyboard is digital, touch can be analog. Think of using the brush in Photoshop how you always have to right-click and move the size and softness sliders, these can be visible on the laptop base while the brush is enabled and you can slide the size or pinch zoom the shape with one hand while moving the brush with the mouse or via the trackpad.

    The keyboard area can transform into a musical instrument, strings for guitar, piano keys or a drum kit. Browsers can show bookmarks and history. When iTunes is playing, it can show a small media player.

    For typing, they can add a numpad on demand, they can ship a single design and allow software to set any keyboard layout and any language. If you speak Chinese but live in the US, you can buy a US laptop and set it to a Chinese keyboard. You can have a .com button. Instead of the cumbersome alt-key shortcuts, you can have symbols for trademark, copyright, mathematics, currency in view according to your preference.

    This wouldn't have to be a glass surface because the metal is quite smooth but it depends if they want to avoid dirt accumulating and what tactile feedback they can provide and they have to consider structural strength. I think a laser perforated metal surface would be nice with an even backlight across the whole surface. E-ink could be used either in small patches or as a large sheet to block the backlight in the desired pattern and this has the benefit that the display remains in that pattern without continuous power.

    They'd still have to figure out how to do hardware controls like boot options but say you had one physical power button. When you press it and touch the keyboard area, the keyboard can show actual options like Bootcamp, Recovery Mode, Single User Mode, Target Mode, Safe Boot, PRAM reset, without having to lookup the shortcuts.

    If it takes up the trackpad area too, they can have split zones for left and right-click, even middle-click.

    It also works for gaming because rather than cramp your hand into the key layout, you can set it to anything. Games that have lots of weapon selectors or whatever can show these all at once and you wouldn't have to configure them yourself. This was a problem since Quake. Is number 7 the rocket launcher or the shotgun?

    Some people will still like to have keys they can push down on and there will always be the option to use Bluetooth keyboards.
  • Reply 14 of 31
    Marvin wrote: »
    philboogie wrote: »
    Don't know if swapping a physical keyboard with a virtual one will be embraced by the masses

    Is that a quote from Blackberry? ;)

    Ha! Actually, I was paraphrasing what I read on the Internet. Me, I'd have to use it a bit to give (tactical) feedback.
    ^ post

    All valid points, as usual. And I'm open for change, so that's a good thing.
    They'd still have to figure out how to do hardware controls like boot options but say you had one physical power button. When you press it and touch the keyboard area, the keyboard can show actual options like Bootcamp, Recovery Mode, Single User Mode, Target Mode, Safe Boot, PRAM reset, without having to lookup the shortcuts.

    But how to eject that pesky CD without a proper mouse¿
  • Reply 15 of 31
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by Marvin View Post



    <...>



    They'd still have to figure out how to do hardware controls like boot options but say you had one physical power button. When you press it and touch the keyboard area, the keyboard can show actual options like Bootcamp, Recovery Mode, Single User Mode, Target Mode, Safe Boot, PRAM reset, without having to lookup the shortcuts.



    <...>

     

     

    Microsoft will soon demonstrate its superiority on this matter !!!!!

     

     

     

     

  • Reply 16 of 31
    hydrogen wrote: »

    Lol. Could also be funny if the red and green pixel signals weren't coming through on that touchscreen.
  • Reply 17 of 31
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by PhilBoogie View Post



    1) Like Steve said: "touch devices need to be horizontal". Guess the touchscreen laptop manufacturers haven't seen that keynote.

     

    I don't really understand this statement. Why do touch devices need to be horizontal? Do you never hold your phone or tablet up in front of you, or are they always used in your lap?

     

    The Apple patent seems a pretty neat idea, I have seen a few old PC laptops with similar attempts (touch scroll strips, non clicking activation buttons) but this seems significantly more 'sci-fi', most of these 'tablet laptops' are pretty bad but it depends on what category is aimed at. I think Microsoft's idea of touch covers / type covers is neat but Asus beat them to it with the Transformer a few years ago.

     

    I can believe that convertible tablet/laptop hybrids are coming, the iPad Pro rumour still seems a good plan to me.

  • Reply 18 of 31
    I don't really understand this statement. Why do touch devices need to be horizontal? Do you never hold your phone or tablet up in front of you, or are they always used in your lap?

    He meant this:

    700


    From which the term 'gorilla arm' comes from.

    The iPhone is designed to be used with a single hand, hence their seemingly opposed stance to create a larger iPhone as we won't be able to use it with one hand and using your other to operate it could become tiresome.
    I can believe that convertible tablet/laptop hybrids are coming, the iPad Pro rumour still seems a good plan to me.

    If that comes to fruition I think it's meant to be laid down on a table/desk for continued use.
  • Reply 19 of 31
    malaxmalax Posts: 1,598member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by PhilBoogie View Post

    But how to eject that pesky CD without a proper mouse¿

     Heh.  What's a CD?

  • Reply 20 of 31
    malaxmalax Posts: 1,598member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by charlituna View Post



    I can't get excited about patents given Apples track record for filing tons of them that they then don't use themselves.



    And that someone big like Apple could and would probably request that the USPTO withhold publishing a patent for a new and not yet announced product. Protecting trade secrets or such

    This patent was applied for 5 years ago, so I'm not holding my breath either.  But once a patent is granted there is no reason to keep it secret.  The whole point of patenting something is so that it's protected without having to be kept secret.

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