Apple's multitouch 'fusion keyboard' invention with multitouch keys could replace touchpads

Posted:
in General Discussion edited June 2015
Apple on Tuesday was granted a patent describing a dual-purpose keyboard that sports touch sensors overlaid atop mechanical keys depressible to two more levels, affording users both multitouch gesture control and conventional keystroke entry without having to remove their hands from the device.


Source: USPTO


As published by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, Apple's U.S. Patent No. 9,041,652 for a "Fusion keyboard" details a device outfitted with capacitive touch sensors and depressible mechanical keys featuring multi-stage switches.

With touch sensitive key surfaces, the proposed keyboard can detect finger gestures like taps and swipes in much the same way as a MacBook's touchpad. Applying these multitouch events to a computer's user interface yields cursor input functionality normally assigned to a touchpad device. For example, users can point, click, scroll, drag, select, zoom, and more simply by moving their fingers over an array of touch sensitive keys.

Importantly, input from each of the user's hands is processed individually, meaning one hand can enter text data via key depression, while the other manages cursor control through touch events, or vice versa. Further, the system allows users to simultaneously type and move an onscreen cursor or perform touch gestures.




Unlike existing MacBook or standalone keyboard accessories, which employ one-position dome switch or membrane switch type mechanisms, the fusion keyboard's mechanical keys feature two-position switches that output signals at different depression depths.

In one embodiment, pressing a key down to a first level results in a conventional text output signal, but depressing the same key to a second level generates a different command signal, like a mouse click. On the hardware side, the tactile key press experience is accomplished via a double-dome switch or membrane setup with two or more detents.




The document describes a variety of time-based processing techniques meant to discern intended touch input from physical key depressions. As an example, a touch input may be logged if the system detects a touch event at key "F" without receiving a corresponding keystroke within a predetermined time. If the processor logs a touch event and a key depression, it recognizes the input as a keystroke and outputs text accordingly. Apple goes on to describe other key input determination methods in more detail.

As with any Apple patent, it's unclear whether the fusion keyboard concept will make its way into a shipping product. With ever-shrinking MacBook designs like the 12-inch MacBook with Retina display, however, the company could do well to implement such a solution to cut down on chassis size. Alternatively, the invention would be useful in a form factors reminiscent of early netbook PCs.

Apple's fusion keyboard patent was first filed for in September 2011 and credits John Greer Elias and Steven J. Martisauskas as its inventors.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 28
    relicrelic Posts: 4,735member
    So basically it's the keyboard from the Blackberry Passport, cool, I'm in.

  • Reply 2 of 28
    philboogiephilboogie Posts: 7,387member
    relic wrote: »
    So basically it's the keyboard from the Blackberry Passport, cool, I'm in.


    Hardly the same. This patent describes they discern the left hand from the right. Allowing for a new way of using a touch as input. And the physical keys can be pressed to two levels. I don;t see any of that in that YT video. Actually, the person didn't seem to think much of the unintuitive way it works. He want to swipe in more than one app, like scrolling through photos. That didn't work.

    Besides, I'd think Apple would investigate current patents before applying in order to avoid a lawsuit.
  • Reply 3 of 28
    wizard69wizard69 Posts: 12,468member
    The first thing I thought of is that this would be a horrible device for creative input. Let's say you are typing away and pause for a thought, will that be turned into some sort of touch gesture? Maybe it will work but I have a lot of muscle memory built up around a track pad and keyboard, mixing the two seems odd.
  • Reply 4 of 28
    wizard69wizard69 Posts: 12,468member
    philboogie wrote: »
    Hardly the same. This patent describes they discern the left hand from the right. Allowing for a new way of using a touch as input. And the physical keys can be pressed to two levels. I don;t see any of that in that YT video. Actually, the person didn't seem to think much of the unintuitive way it works. He want to swipe in more than one app, like scrolling through photos. That didn't work.

    Besides, I'd think Apple would investigate current patents before applying in order to avoid a lawsuit.

    Actually companies minimize their search efforts when it comes to patents.
  • Reply 5 of 28
    philboogiephilboogie Posts: 7,387member
    wizard69 wrote: »
    Actually companies minimize their search efforts when it comes to patents.

    Really? Didn't know that. So, they just await the PO findings? i've seen quite a few articles that write about the poor job they are doing on 'prior art'. I sure hope companies can blame the PO for not doing their job when they're hit with a patent claim from a competitor.
  • Reply 6 of 28
    badmonkbadmonk Posts: 684member
    I am beginning to see the immense competitive value of Force Touch. It has the potential to streamline the UI. It allows each individual key to have a "shift up" function for instance.

    I for one would like to potentially ditch the home button (by a deep bottom screen click) on iOS products and make the devices smaller.

    Of course one would have to find a location for Touch ID sensor but this opens up so much for UI.
  • Reply 7 of 28
    philboogiephilboogie Posts: 7,387member
    badmonk wrote: »
    I for one would like to potentially ditch the home button (by a deep bottom screen click) on iOS products and make the devices smaller.

    Of course one would have to find a location for Touch ID sensor but this opens up so much for UI.

    You really think there is nothing else in the chin part of the iPhone besides the home button? Wow.
  • Reply 8 of 28
    frantisekfrantisek Posts: 310member
    I could be interesting external keyboard for iPad.
  • Reply 9 of 28
    lightknightlightknight Posts: 2,312member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by PhilBoogie View Post





    You really think there is nothing else in the chin part of the iPhone besides the home button? Wow.



    I think he means that, currently, whether you like it or not, you need that chin. If you could eliminate the need  for a home button...

  • Reply 10 of 28
    tmaytmay Posts: 2,755member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by BadMonk View Post



    I am beginning to see the immense competitive value of Force Touch. It has the potential to streamline the UI. It allows each individual key to have a "shift up" function for instance.



    I for one would like to potentially ditch the home button (by a deep bottom screen click) on iOS products and make the devices smaller.



    Of course one would have to find a location for Touch ID sensor but this opens up so much for UI.

    If I were Apple, I would position the iPad line as both independent devices and accessories for Macs, or other iPads for that matter. Force Touch really strengthens the accessory status, and the rumors of a stylus coming with the iPad Pro would seem to be a potential disruption for Wacom.

     

    What's missing is a low latency connection between devices. Would USB Type C be that missing connection, since TB will almost certainly never appear in an iOS tablet?

     

    I would be very inclined to use an iPad as a control/input and extended screen device for a Mac, but current implementations tend to have too much latency to be truly useful. Such a USB Type C setup between a Mac Book and an iPad Pro would be a very interesting configuration, more so for a pairing with a Mac Book Pro.

  • Reply 11 of 28
    Excellent controller for the new Apple TV device we think is to be announced June 8. Bluetooth keyboards already work with the Apple TV versions 2 and 3. With this keyboard and a browser added to Apple TV 3, everybody gets an iCloud computing platform thrown in for free. All your iDevice and Mac files available for presentations, and capable of being touched up on the screen. Also has potential to be a force-touch gaming controller if the new TV device is supported by a gaming SDK.
  • Reply 12 of 28
    gatorguygatorguy Posts: 18,732member
    philboogie wrote: »
    Besides, I'd think Apple would investigate current patents before applying in order to avoid a lawsuit.
    I don't think Apple could be sued for applying for a patent on something already patented. The best result would be the patent (or claim) being denied and at the worst being ruled invalid at some later date. It wouldn't be grounds for a lawsuit to apply for one.

    IMO the America Invents Act (AIA) is also going to result in many more patents or their claims ultimately found invalid due to prior art. The definition of it has expanded to include anything worldwide and not just US filings.

    Note too that this particular patent application was originally filed for over 4 years ago. it's a good example of a patentee wanting as broad coverage and as many claims as possible and a patent office trying to be more specific and restrictive than a patentee would prefer. So back and forth it goes, sometimes for several years.
  • Reply 13 of 28
    thewhitefalconthewhitefalcon Posts: 4,453member
    relic wrote: »
    So basically it's the keyboard from the Blackberry Passport, cool, I'm in.


    Sony had that keyboard in 2008, it was a PS3 addon.
  • Reply 14 of 28
    inklinginkling Posts: 731member
    Good for some%u2014probably. But I suspect I'm one of those for whose coordination isn't up to the distinction between a light tap and applying more pressure.

    Of more use might be a keyboard that uses our palms for new meanings. Pressing down the right palm of a pad would trigger uppercase. Pressing down the left palm would enter a command-key mode. My feeble sense of coordination might handle that.

    Even better would be a small, thumb-operated keyboard on an iPhone that isn't just a shrunken keyboard. Applying pressure to the sides, bottom perhaps the top would have key-like meaning as shift and cursor keys. We could operate those keys at the same time we typed letters, which is the same point as the above patent.

    "Think Different" Apple is obviously look for ways to distinguish their products from others, which is good. But I'd like to see them devote some resources to improving existing features. Their spell checker is so awful:

    1. It fails to offer suggestions for misspelled words about a third the time. Even two transposed or one missing letter can leave it clueless. In contrast, that same misspelling pasted into a Google search gets the right spelling about 98% of the time. If Apple isn't going to give us a decent spellchecker, they ought to at least give us an easy way to get the correct spelling from Google.

    2. Hyphenation is grossly inaccurate. It thinks that ANY two legitimate words joined by a hyphen is a legitimate word. That's not so. "Quickly-go" is never right in English. It should be smart enough to not only know hyphenations that are clearly misspellings, but to understand what's accepted practice and what's not, i.e. email not e-mail. In short, it should really spell check hyphenated words, flagging those that are wrong.

    3. GREP is marvelous for editing. Users would not need to know how to code GREP. Building a user-friendly, system-wide version with exchangeable scripts would save us a lot of time. I know, because I save that time with InDesign with GREP built in. I can't do the same with a host of other text apps.

    All things considered, I think Apple forgets just how much people use their computers and mobile devices for text not just glitzy music and pictures. The latter two get continual improvements with each new OS upgrade. I've not seen much change in the built-in text features of OS X since about 10.2.

    In short, as users the benefits we'd get from keyboard tweaks are a fraction of those we'd get if Apple would update text handling in iOS and particularly OS X. Their are virtually no features in OS X that weren't present in Wordstar in the early 1980s, with the absence of character and paragraph styles being an obvious illustration. Microsoft Word in the late 1980s was more powerful than text apps created with 2015 OS X.

    It's pitiful.
  • Reply 15 of 28
    zer0her0zer0her0 Posts: 23member

    Can't help but think this is the continued work of the FingerWorks guys, Elais was one of the original founders. It's good to see their stuff might not only be relegated to the amazing trackpads. I never used any of their products but I heard good things.

  • Reply 16 of 28
    I already came up with this concept four years ago http://iflotech.tumblr.com/post/6480858680/dual-screen-laptop-with-full-physical-keyboard
    I was thinking that the keys could be touch sensitive and thus the entire keyboard is a giant trackpad!
    How about the existing trackpad you may ask, well, in my concept the trackpad is now another display.
    So we have a dual-display laptop with a giant trackpad, all exist in a form factor not so different from our normal laptop!
    I just found out that Samsung came up with a patent that puts a phone onto a laptop to feature as a dual display: http://www.engadget.com/2015/05/26/samsung-laptop-smartphone-dock-with-dual-oses/
    So my concept four years ago already combined these two patents. :))
  • Reply 18 of 28
    am8449am8449 Posts: 341member

    If they could make this work well, it would eliminate the switching back and forth from trackpad to keyboard that we do a million times a day. It would be convenient and ergonomically better, I think.

     

    Over the past year, I have had a mysterious soreness in my left shoulder blade and couldn't understand why. Recently, I realized that it was caused by my starting to use a MacBook as my main computer.

     

    When you use a MacBook, you have to make ergonomic trade-offs. Ideally, you want to have your elbows at 90-degrees while your fingers rest on the keyboard. But in this position, when your dominant hand moves to use the trackpad, your hand ends up being at a diagonal angle to the trackpad; meaning that the natural path of scrolling gestures is diagonal to the trackpad. So I (and I'm guessing other people too) position the MacBook a little further away, to properly orient their mousing hand and maybe to make more room for movement. However, I've found that having my left arm stretched out further than is ergonomically good has been putting strain on my left upper back, and causing that pain in my shoulder blade.

     

    So if this fusion keyboard becomes available, it would eliminate the problem I've been described above.

  • Reply 19 of 28
    MacProMacPro Posts: 17,382member
    Just sitting here with my MBP I can see / feel that even something as small as a single key could easily be used to act as a tiny track pad. If they work in unison it would probably work excellently.
  • Reply 20 of 28
    SpamSandwichSpamSandwich Posts: 29,347member
    inkling wrote: »
    Good for some%u2014probably. But I suspect I'm one of those for whose coordination isn't up to the distinction between a light tap and applying more pressure.

    Of more use might be a keyboard that uses our palms for new meanings. Pressing down the right palm of a pad would trigger uppercase. Pressing down the left palm would enter a command-key mode. My feeble sense of coordination might handle that.

    Even better would be a small, thumb-operated keyboard on an iPhone that isn't just a shrunken keyboard. Applying pressure to the sides, bottom perhaps the top would have key-like meaning as shift and cursor keys. We could operate those keys at the same time we typed letters, which is the same point as the above patent.

    "Think Different" Apple is obviously look for ways to distinguish their products from others, which is good. But I'd like to see them devote some resources to improving existing features. Their spell checker is so awful:

    1. It fails to offer suggestions for misspelled words about a third the time. Even two transposed or one missing letter can leave it clueless. In contrast, that same misspelling pasted into a Google search gets the right spelling about 98% of the time. If Apple isn't going to give us a decent spellchecker, they ought to at least give us an easy way to get the correct spelling from Google.

    2. Hyphenation is grossly inaccurate. It thinks that ANY two legitimate words joined by a hyphen is a legitimate word. That's not so. "Quickly-go" is never right in English. It should be smart enough to not only know hyphenations that are clearly misspellings, but to understand what's accepted practice and what's not, i.e. email not e-mail. In short, it should really spell check hyphenated words, flagging those that are wrong.

    3. GREP is marvelous for editing. Users would not need to know how to code GREP. Building a user-friendly, system-wide version with exchangeable scripts would save us a lot of time. I know, because I save that time with InDesign with GREP built in. I can't do the same with a host of other text apps.

    All things considered, I think Apple forgets just how much people use their computers and mobile devices for text not just glitzy music and pictures. The latter two get continual improvements with each new OS upgrade. I've not seen much change in the built-in text features of OS X since about 10.2.

    In short, as users the benefits we'd get from keyboard tweaks are a fraction of those we'd get if Apple would update text handling in iOS and particularly OS X. Their are virtually no features in OS X that weren't present in Wordstar in the early 1980s, with the absence of character and paragraph styles being an obvious illustration. Microsoft Word in the late 1980s was more powerful than text apps created with 2015 OS X.

    It's pitiful.

    You win the "Most Sour Poster of the Year" award.

    Have you ever posted a single thing about Apple that isn't soaked in bile?

    I'm tired of your petulant whining. Blocked with a vengeance.
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