Apple's new MacBook employs unorthodox keyboard design to achieve maximum thinness

Posted:
in Future Apple Hardware edited October 2015
To pursue its continuing obsession with thinness, Apple has gone to extraordinary lengths with the keyboard on the new 12-inch MacBook, redesigning it in a way that is thoroughly distinct from its Macbook Air and MacBook Pro stablemates.




According to Apple, the the new MacBook's key assembly is about 40 percent thinner than previous designs and was necessary to keep the entire machine under 0.52 inches thick at its deepest point.

Executing such a radical design with traditional scissor-switch keys would have cause keycaps to wobble and bottom out without registering a stroke, so Apple introduced something called the "butterfly" mechanism.

Scissor-switches are composed of two separate, relatively tall hinges, and will often descend in one corner first as a key is depressed. The "wings" of the butterfly mechanism, as seen below, tout comparatively shallow displacement and bend in unison since they're part of a single assembly crafted from stiffer materials.

The butterfly design not only improves typing precision, but importantly reduces thickness. As a trade-off, these types of keys offer very little travel, which could take some getting used to, but probably won't be an obstacle in an era of touchscreens that boast no feedback whatsoever.

On the comfort front, Apple was able to enlarge key surface area by 17 percent, offering users a larger target to strike when typing. Additionally, a new stainless steel dome switch undergirding the butterfly mechanism provides a solid feel and positive feedback.




A further space-saving measure involves the way keyboard backlighting. Many notebooks simply use one set of LEDs routed through a diffuser -- or fiber optics in older Apple laptops -- to light up the entire keyboard, but the new MacBook boasts separate lights under each key. The setup promises energy efficiency and uniform brightness without any light spillage around key edges.

One final change has little to do with space, precision, or other practical matters. Apple has used the same font -- VAG Rounded -- on its keyboards since 1999. The 2015 MacBook is the first computer to employ San Francisco, an Apple-designed font initially introduced to make text on the Apple Watch more legible.

That's unlikely to be an issue on a notebook keyboard, so the more plausible explanation for using the typeset on the MacBook is that San Francisco creates a common aesthetic across Apple's product lines while avoiding licensing fees. VAG Rounded was originally designed for Volkswagen in the late 1970s by GGK Dusseldorf, although the carmaker abandoned it in the early 1990s. It has since been used by companies such as T-Mobile and Adecco, and is now licensed by Adobe.

The new MacBook is due to ship on April 10 at a base cost of $1,299. Beyond its keyboard, it will sport a Retina display, a Force Touch trackpad, and just a single USB-C port for both input/output connections and charging.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 104
    irun262irun262 Posts: 121member
    I can't wait to try mine out!

    I'm very excited about this computer's portability. It is lite and thin yet sports 8G of RAM and a 512G SSD. I will use it as my only computer.

    The keyboard may take some getting used to, but I'm sure it will be fine.
  • Reply 2 of 104
    polymniapolymnia Posts: 939member
    Regarding the typeface used on the key caps: this move is totally motivated by art direction and branding. The designer doesn't need to purchase per unit licenses for a product using renderings of a typeface. They just need licenses for the actual designer's machines. Just like I can print as many books as I like using a typeface I've licensed without paying per book.

    Now if VAG Rounded were installed on every Mac whose key caps were rendered in VAG Rounded, that would be a huge licensing expense.

    Of course, you could just subscribe to Creative Creative Cloud and use VAG Rounded all you want!

    (Ducking Adobe flames)

    Edit: looks like VAG Rounded isn't available through typekit. However, I still feel that the subtle suggestion that apple is cutting ties with adobe by using an in-house typeface is just feeding the anti-adobe trolls. Or maybe I'm reading into that part of the article too deeply?
  • Reply 3 of 104
    Its not how many Ports you have, but what you Do with them ;-) that matters.

    Speaking of counting, I'd argue that the new Macbook has 3 "ports"; 2 Physical and another that is connector-less.
    USB-C (which hosts multiple data formats and POWER) is one, The second port is audio oriented but also does do digital PCM fiber. The third port went connectors-less a while back its the R/F port that provides Bluetooth and WiFi.

    I count (3) ports that all do double duty. Not one. :D
  • Reply 4 of 104
    Will it bend?
  • Reply 5 of 104
    inklinginkling Posts: 731member
    Like I suspect many others, I like to have one keyboard design with the same feel on all my devices. Right now my Mac mini, MacBook, and iPad all use keyboards with the same Apple design.

    If I switch, I'd want to switch them all. Anyone know what are the chances that Apple will bring out a new standalone USB or Bluetooth keyboard with this new design, perhaps in combination with the new trackpad? The latter would be great for those who regularly shift between a desktop and laptop.
  • Reply 6 of 104
    rayzrayz Posts: 814member
    Will it bend?

    That's original.
  • Reply 7 of 104
    Glad to see the font name finally, I'd seen it was "new" but hadn't seen what they'd switched to.
  • Reply 8 of 104
    polymnia wrote: »
    Regarding the typeface used on the key caps: this move is totally motivated by art direction and branding. The designer doesn't need to purchase per unit licenses for a product using renderings of a typeface. They just need licenses for the actual designer's machines. Just like I can print as many books as I like using a typeface I've licensed without paying per book.

    Now if VAG Rounded were installed on every Mac whose key caps were rendered in VAG Rounded, that would be a huge licensing expense.

    Of course, you could just subscribe to Creative Creative Cloud and use VAG Rounded all you want!

    (Ducking Adobe flames)

    Edit: looks like VAG Rounded isn't available through typekit. However, I still feel that the subtle suggestion that apple is cutting ties with adobe by using an in-house typeface is just feeding the anti-adobe trolls. Or maybe I'm reading into that part of the article too deeply?

    You're reading too deeply into it.
  • Reply 9 of 104
    tyler82tyler82 Posts: 884member
    I remember the original "San Francisco" font, and that, sir, is no San Francisco!
  • Reply 10 of 104
    m01etym01ety Posts: 278member
    inkling wrote: »
    If I switch, I'd want to switch them all. Anyone know what are the chances that Apple will bring out a new standalone USB or Bluetooth keyboard with this new design, perhaps in combination with the new trackpad?

    Inevitable. There was no reason for them to offer a separate trackpad to begin with; they simply though the tech there developed was so great, they wanted to make it available stand-alone as well. Since the Watch and iPhone 6S will have force touch this fall, and it is obviously trickling down to the 15" rMBP as well, I have no doubt they will make a standalone Bluetooth version.

    As for the keyboard, an image of a new version with backlight keys (!) briefly appeared on some European Apple Stores this week, so that, too, seems like something we're getting soon. Probably by WWDC at the latest.
  • Reply 11 of 104
    boredumbboredumb Posts: 1,416member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by Benjamin Frost View Post



    Will it bend?

    Apparently, you won't...

  • Reply 12 of 104
    dugbugdugbug Posts: 283member
    When can we preorder these? Or just on Apr 10?
  • Reply 13 of 104
    boredumb wrote: »
    Will it bend?
    Apparently, you won't...

    The Gentleman's not for bending. :lol:
  • Reply 14 of 104
    gtrgtr Posts: 3,231member
    I'd still prefer something smaller and lighter so I'll wait for the next MacBook Air to be released...

    [IMG]http://forums.appleinsider.com/content/type/61/id/57130/width/300/height/700[/IMG]
  • Reply 15 of 104
    gtr wrote: »
    I'd still prefer something smaller and lighter so I'll wait for the next MacBook Air to be released...

    700

    Lol.

    Sandpaper definitely required.
  • Reply 16 of 104
    xixoxixo Posts: 422member
    tyler82 wrote: »
    I remember the original "San Francisco" font, and that, sir, is no San Francisco!
    0eb986d40d77c76110acfdf9c07c72623b1b2018?path=&repo=&url=http%3A%2F%2Fmehallo.com%2FBLOGimages%2FKareSF.gif
  • Reply 17 of 104
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by GTR View Post



    I'd still prefer something smaller and lighter so I'll wait for the next MacBook Air to be released...

    someone is going to complain about the glossy screen.

  • Reply 18 of 104
    flaneurflaneur Posts: 4,518member
    boredumb wrote: »
    Apparently, you won't...

    The growing consensus here is that Benjamin Frost should be banned from the forum. Until the mods do that bit of of housecleaning, others have strongly suggested putting him on your ignore list. I haven't done this myself, I guess out of morbid fascination with psychopathology.

    At minimum, it looks like NOT QUOTING HIM is the next best remedy, even if one thinks one has a devastatingly humiliating reply to him. I am one who has tried this. He is not capable of being humiliated, especially into silence. He is already adapted thoroughly to humiliation. He is swimming in it, breathing it, as part of his act, or I believe, his job, as a professional troll. He gets his reward if he gets quoted or argued with. (He may even get paid by the number of negative responses he gets, in the hypothetical paid-troll scenario.)

    From a psychological point of view, he is the reverse of a normal person. Insult adds to his self-abasement, which is what he lives on, like a toadstool lives on rotting wood.
  • Reply 19 of 104
    xixoxixo Posts: 422member
    Will it bend?

    Will it blend?

    [VIDEO]
  • Reply 20 of 104
    flaneurflaneur Posts: 4,518member
    xixo wrote: »

    Stop being stupid, and stop sucking up to the goat.
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