Apple seeks patent for 'keyless keyboard' concept with haptic feedback

Posted:
in General Discussion edited March 15
An Apple patent application for a "Keyless keyboard" suggests the company may be considering a major change to its peripherals and MacBook hardware, by effectively using a touchscreen to create a keyboard with more versatility than a physical version can ever provide.




The application filing for "Keyless keyboard with force sensing and haptic feedback" was filed with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on August 31 last year, and was published on March 15. The filing effectively describes replacing the physical keys of a keyboard with a glass display equipped with multiple touch sensing systems.

The application claims traditional key-based inputs "lack the flexibility to accommodate expansive features offered by newer devices, operating systems, and software," and are "unable to adapt to different user needs and preferences." While touchscreen inputs have the potential for offering alternative inputs to the user, the "flat, inflexible input surface" provides little or no tactile feedback to the user.

Apple's proposal consists of a top glass layer that includes two force sensing systems for different "input regions," as well as a touch sensing system for determining the location of the user's fingers. Haptic feedback is provided by one or more actuators, to provide a response for each key "press."

Images supplied in the filing depict a keyboard peripheral that uses a long touch panel where the key images appear. There is also a depiction of a notebook that seems to have the entire lower section, typically reserved for the keyboard and the trackpad, replaced by a single large panel.

In both cases, the keyless keyboard changes what is shown depending on the user's need. This can include showing a trackpad area in the middle of the keyboard, and rearranging the layout to one that is more ergonomic for the user's hand positioning.




As a byproduct, the use of a software-defined keyboard layout opens up the possibility of simplifying localization of Apple's hardware, as the same keyboard could be used for any language. The flexibility could also allow for unique inputs for specific apps that are not keyboard related, such as sliders or other types of controls.

Apple has looked into alternative ways for its customers to use future MacBooks without using a physical keyboard. In February it received a patent for "Dual display equipment with enhanced visibility and suppressed reflections," where the second screen is used as a dynamic keyboard.

The concept is also not limited to dual-display devices, as another patent application was discovered in October 2017 detailing "Electronic Devices with Displays" that could be folded in half. A flexible portion in the middle of the display would allow it to fold, effectively allowing an iPad-style device to be shaped similar to a notebook, with the software keyboard residing on one of the two flat sections.

Apple is known for filing large numbers of patent applications for potential products, many of which do not end up being used in consumer products. While it is possible Apple could implement such a keyless keyboard system in a future product, it remains too early to tell if it will happen.

Comments

  • Reply 1 of 12
    Not to nitpick but can I get some damn haptic feedback on my iPhone X keyboard…
    repressthisaylkcornchip
  • Reply 2 of 12
    netroxnetrox Posts: 563member
    I honestly can't imagine it being that good as a mechanical keyboard. I need to feel the edges of buttons in order to type so how would I know which key is the one I am looking for? You know how the F and J have bumps and lets me align where I type.
    aylk
  • Reply 3 of 12
    I  have a feeling that this is the future .
    repressthiscornchipjony0
  • Reply 4 of 12
    SpamSandwichSpamSandwich Posts: 29,075member
    As long as there is a way to navigate “virtual” keys by touch AND it’s possible to rest ones fingers on the keyboard without accidentally inputting, then I’d not be opposed to such a concept.
  • Reply 5 of 12
    avon b7avon b7 Posts: 2,115member
  • Reply 6 of 12
    thttht Posts: 2,739member
    avon b7 said:
    That Lenovo was one strange beast. Basically a screenless capacitive surface with outlines for keyboard keys and trackpad, plus, a stylus copying mode. Maybe the latency was too high to do actual drawing and this copying mode was a stopgap. Strange concept device that made it to actual production.

    Asus had a dual screen clamshell concept laptop before this. Obviously the Nintendo DS. And I’m sure many an OEM, big and small including Apple, has had variants of this idea through the last couple of decades.

    Apple’s got most of the hardware and software available to them though. Taptic engines or force touch haptics, low latency high refresh rate displays, SoCs, stylus, and tens of thousands of apps that could run on it already. The integration for a complete product is a lot of work still. I remain convinced that this type of form factor will be great for students, engineers, and any workflow that requires taking notes or drawing input. So, I think there is a market there. And, I definitely think a virtual keyboard could be designed to be just as productive or more so than a hardware based one.
  • Reply 7 of 12
    avon b7avon b7 Posts: 2,115member
    tht said:
    avon b7 said:
    That Lenovo was one strange beast. Basically a screenless capacitive surface with outlines for keyboard keys and trackpad, plus, a stylus copying mode. Maybe the latency was too high to do actual drawing and this copying mode was a stopgap. Strange concept device that made it to actual production.

    Asus had a dual screen clamshell concept laptop before this. Obviously the Nintendo DS. And I’m sure many an OEM, big and small including Apple, has had variants of this idea through the last couple of decades.

    Apple’s got most of the hardware and software available to them though. Taptic engines or force touch haptics, low latency high refresh rate displays, SoCs, stylus, and tens of thousands of apps that could run on it already. The integration for a complete product is a lot of work still. I remain convinced that this type of form factor will be great for students, engineers, and any workflow that requires taking notes or drawing input. So, I think there is a market there. And, I definitely think a virtual keyboard could be designed to be just as productive or more so than a hardware based one.
    Yes. A very strange beast. There was one at a local store that I played with for a few minutes when they were released but I just didn't like it visually. Store machines take a beating though so perhaps it wasn't the best way to check something out that was so different in keyboard terms. We'll see how this plays out but it was the first thing that came to mind when Apple released the Touch Bar.
    edited March 15
  • Reply 8 of 12
    thttht Posts: 2,739member
    avon b7 said:
    tht said:
    avon b7 said:
    That Lenovo was one strange beast. Basically a screenless capacitive surface with outlines for keyboard keys and trackpad, plus, a stylus copying mode. Maybe the latency was too high to do actual drawing and this copying mode was a stopgap. Strange concept device that made it to actual production.

    Asus had a dual screen clamshell concept laptop before this. Obviously the Nintendo DS. And I’m sure many an OEM, big and small including Apple, has had variants of this idea through the last couple of decades.

    Apple’s got most of the hardware and software available to them though. Taptic engines or force touch haptics, low latency high refresh rate displays, SoCs, stylus, and tens of thousands of apps that could run on it already. The integration for a complete product is a lot of work still. I remain convinced that this type of form factor will be great for students, engineers, and any workflow that requires taking notes or drawing input. So, I think there is a market there. And, I definitely think a virtual keyboard could be designed to be just as productive or more so than a hardware based one.
    Yes. A very strange beast. There was one at a local store that I played with for a few minutes when they were released but I just didn't like it visually. Store machines take a beating though so perhaps it wasn't the best way to check something out that was so different in keyboard terms. We'll see how this plays out but it was the first thing that came to mind when Apple released the Touch at.

    I’m definitely thinking Apple is just going to put an iPad like display - and SoC, iOS - where the keyboard is on a clamshell form factor.  Basically, an iPad sized Touch Bar with a Taptic Engine attached. Whether it is macOS or iOS running the vertical display, who knows, I just hope it has macOS level features. 
  • Reply 9 of 12
    kevin keekevin kee Posts: 822member
    Yes, this idea has been around since TouchBar was introduced. Now we just need to wait until Apple improve the haptic tech so that the keys on flat surface feels more organic and physical-like. At the moment TouchBar does not have taptic feedback on it, so it feels like a little 'flat' to use, but the iPhone TouchID is already going in the right direction.
  • Reply 10 of 12
    Rayz2016Rayz2016 Posts: 3,506member
    netrox said:
    I honestly can't imagine it being that good as a mechanical keyboard. I need to feel the edges of buttons in order to type so how would I know which key is the one I am looking for? You know how the F and J have bumps and lets me align where I type.
    Yes. 

    A “key” would need to know when your finger is resting on it and then generate a “shaped” haptic: shallow near the edges then deeper towards the centre. The F and J keys would need a different shape to identify them. 

    Sounds tricky. 
  • Reply 11 of 12
    So many virtual keyboards on Android have "haptic" (vibration) feedback. Doesn't that count?
  • Reply 12 of 12
    SnappeloffSnappeloff Posts: 1unconfirmed, member
    10 years ahead or more... US 9065893, 9122966, etc...does it all and much more. Also dates way way back. Do not think or believe these are always, every time, the R & D developments of big companies. All they have to do is read the pubs daily, and mimic.
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