Apple considers alternative MacBook keyboards with touch interfaces, improved dust protect...

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Apple is continuing to work on ways to revolutionize the keyboard used in its MacBook ranges, including a virtual keyboard that can change depending on what the user requires at that moment, and a method to make a keyboard practically impervious to dust and debris.




A trio of patent applications published by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on Thursday were filed by Apple on March 28. 2018. All three filings share the same name of "Device having integrated interface system" and a similar list of inventors, along with discussing how to improve the MacBook keyboard experience in connected ways.

Across the board, the filings discuss the use of a main body enclosure for a MacBook that has a transparent top where the keyboard resides, produced from a clear material such as plastic or glass. Underneath the transparent layer are a number of embedded sensors that could detect where a user's fingers are touching the surface, and how much force is applied.

The same section could also include a display that can illuminate the keyboard from below, adding glyphs to keys depending on the selected language, or other symbols based on the user's work. In some cases, such as with a completely flat keyboard surface, this could also be used to produce a virtual keyboard with a user-configurable layout, and even one with unusual software buttons and other controls that would not usually appear on a keyboard, like sliders and dials.




In some cases where a physical keyboard is included, the system could allow for the keys and surrounding areas of the housing to be touch sensitive, so gestures could be performed by lightly swiping the key caps, rather than resorting to the trackpad. The touch sensitive nature of the surrounding housing could be used in a similar way, or even with accessories placed on top of the surface, like a joystick.

Haptic feedback could be provided to the user, offering some level of tactile feeling to a flat surface, advising that a key had been pressed.

For one version with a completely flat surface, Apple envisions a "keyboard" accessory that can be placed on top of the relevant section of the lower housing, providing users with keys and a proper tactile experience, while still relying on the housing to detect key presses.




Another version features a version that is closer to current keyboard mechanisms, with a keyboard section placed in a recess to stay as flat as possible in line with the rest of the housing. A flexible "fabric cover" that could be made of "watertight" or "sealed" materials would be included as a membrane, placed on top of the keyboard mechanism, covering them entirely.

The material would be flexible enough for the key mechanism to actuate the key, without requiring a hole to be made in the membrane at all. The 2018 MacBook Pro models have an added membrane which seems to have been made with reducing debris buildup in mind, but its holes to allow for key actuation means it is not infallible.

One filing suggests the keycap could be affixed to the portion of the cover that overlies the keycap support, or sandwiching the cover between the keycap support and the keycap. By doing so, this would create a "substantially continuous, unbroken cover" that would keep the keyboard sealed and protected.




This is far from the first time Apple has filed patent applications that introduce concepts that could majorly change the way users interact with their notebooks. A March 2018 patent application for a "Keyless keyboard" discussed the idea of using a virtual keyboard, while a patent granted in February 2018 for a dual display notebook proposed using a screen as an input area.

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. An idea's appearance in a USPTO filing is not a guarantee that Apple will continue developing the concept for commercial release.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 38
    tipootipoo Posts: 1,116member
    I don't feel so great about the entire surface being a single glass layer...I like the idea of keeping physical keys, but adding e-ink or transflective displays to them, better. 



    SpamSandwichelectrosoft
  • Reply 2 of 38
    slurpyslurpy Posts: 5,328member
    I'd be very open to a touch keyboard. It would take some getting used to, but not that much, and I'm pretty sure Apple can provide a great experience. Would have a ton of advantages over physical keys.
    tmay
  • Reply 3 of 38
    Rayz2016Rayz2016 Posts: 6,957member
  • Reply 4 of 38
    macxpressmacxpress Posts: 5,186member
    So Apple is trying to develop something like the link below? Maybe not OLED keys, but something similar with programmable keys. 

    http://www.artlebedev.com/optimus/maximus/
  • Reply 5 of 38
    Rayz2016Rayz2016 Posts: 6,957member

    slurpy said:
    I'd be very open to a touch keyboard. It would take some getting used to, but not that much, and I'm pretty sure Apple can provide a great experience. Would have a ton of advantages over physical keys.

    Sealed against water and dust
    Changeable depending on locale
    Specialist functions for video editors, musicians etc.

    The idea of an overlay is an interesting one: physical keys for the folk that need them. 

    Still, I think this is a long way off.
  • Reply 6 of 38
    nunzynunzy Posts: 662member
    It's great when Apple files these extremely broad patents that prevent others from coming out with anything similar. Apple often does not produce the products it patents.  But if anybody else tries to make anything remotely similar, they get Appled.
  • Reply 7 of 38
    Further proof that Apple simply does not listen to users. Such a device would make people who type a great deal howl in anger. No one wants that virtual (iPad-ish) keyboard feel. It will do in a pinch, but it tends to reduce even astounding typists to typing with two index fingers. 

    One constant recurring complaint about the existing keyboard is the lack of travel. The distance the key travels when pressed lets confirms to the typist that the key has been struck. If the key doesn't travel enough, the typist is constantly checking to make sure  it was struck. In fact, that was the main complaint before the keyboards started failing. 

    A glass keyboard is highly undesirable for this reason and if Apple would just look around at what people are saying about the keyboards, they would know this. Anyone who's typed on the iPad keyboard knows that as you type you are constantly looking back to see if that key actually got pressed. 

    This would appear to be related to the quixotic quest to make their damn laptops thinner and thinner. They are thin enough. People don't want any more "thin." People want their laptops to work. It's time to put functionality over form for a while, because the other way is leading to nothing but criticism. The machines are being designed by people who apparently don't test or use them. 

    DAalsethaylkelectrosoftirelandhenrybay
  • Reply 8 of 38
    Rayz2016Rayz2016 Posts: 6,957member
    macxpress said:
    So Apple is trying to develop something like the link below? Maybe not OLED keys, but something similar with programmable keys. 

    http://www.artlebedev.com/optimus/maximus/
     No, I don't think so.

    That is a full keyboard with a screen on each key.

    What Apple appears to be looking at is a touch screen on which they will draw a keyboard. 

    As well as being able to change the layout of the keyboard, Apple would also be able to change its actual shape (like the ergonomic keyboard shown in the original article).

    They can also incorporate a touch pad (of varying sizes) into the same surface.

    Folk round here are going to absolutely HATE it.
    edited August 2018 raoulduke42
  • Reply 9 of 38
    irelandireland Posts: 17,771member
    With all of the talent you’d think Apple could design a keyboard that couldn’t be killed with dust. I also believe it is still a mistake on Apple’s part to not provide a high-end MBP with hardware F-row. An all glass keyboard surface could have its uses, but I think a hardware keyboard absolutely has its place and Apple need to work on improving the keyboard. They need to give it more travel. When you open the lid the keys should pop-up to provide additional travel for typing comfortably and the keyboard should also be spill-proof. We need a much better hardware keyboard, not no hardware keyboard. It should feel delightful!, not something we have to try to adjust to. Sometimes the customer is right.
    edited August 2018 aylkelectrosoft
  • Reply 10 of 38
    Rayz2016Rayz2016 Posts: 6,957member
    ireland said:
    With all of the talent you’d think Apple could design a keyboard that couldn’t be killed with dust. 
    That's what this is.

    I also believe it is still a mistake on Apple’s part to not provide a high-end MBP with hardware F-row.

    Hardly anyone uses function keys anymore. I do, but I'm a developer, and the tool I use most now uses the Touchbar to replace the function keys with actual pictures and words to tell you what the key does. I get different commands for different contexts while I'm working: editing, debugging and version control. It's a huge improvement over static function keys.
    edited August 2018 raoulduke42jony0
  • Reply 11 of 38
    irelandireland Posts: 17,771member
    slurpy said:
    I'd be very open to a touch keyboard. It would take some getting used to, but not that much, and I'm pretty sure Apple can provide a great experience. Would have a ton of advantages over physical keys.
    I think disadvantages would outway it’s advantages. We already have the vertical bitmap display to displaying any interface element we want. We don’t need a second one.
    edited August 2018 aylkelectrosoft
  • Reply 12 of 38
    irelandireland Posts: 17,771member
    tipoo said:
    I don't feel so great about the entire surface being a single glass layer...I like the idea of keeping physical keys, but adding e-ink or transflective displays to them, better.
    I think that’s a better idea than the Touch Bar. And an option to disable it.
    edited August 2018 aylkelectrosoft
  • Reply 13 of 38
    SpamSandwichSpamSandwich Posts: 33,408member
    nunzy said:
    It's great when Apple files these extremely broad patents that prevent others from coming out with anything similar. Apple often does not produce the products it patents.  But if anybody else tries to make anything remotely similar, they get Appled.
    That looks like a comment from someone unfamiliar with the entire history of the US patent system.
    nunzyRayz2016ireland
  • Reply 14 of 38
    Touch keys on a laptop or desktop would suck. Plain and simple. 

    The macbook krys are are my fave ever - because they do provide tactile feel and the physical response is important - but they also eliminate the excessive travel of older keyboards. 

    I revently bought an aftermarket market keyboard for a work machine and was surprised by the availability of so many keyboards with such proud keys that they seemed like skyscrapers. Lame. 

    But typng on a phone is done wjole looking at the screen. Typing on a keyboard is meant to be done looking away from the screen. 

    Theres such a thing as progress. Then there’s such a thing as “the Line”

    thin or lean is good. Anorexic is not. 
    aylk
  • Reply 15 of 38
    racerhomie3racerhomie3 Posts: 1,170member
    I would love it , if Apple did this. People who are ‘I need  movement should get a mechanical keyboard with USB ‘
  • Reply 16 of 38
    wood1208wood1208 Posts: 2,580member
    There is a notion of people liking feeling of physical keys keyboard on laptop or desktop. But. touch keyboard is doing fine on phones/tablets so worth trying on laptop. Question is cost and long term reliability.
  • Reply 17 of 38
    wood1208wood1208 Posts: 2,580member
    Rayz2016 said:
    ireland said:
    With all of the talent you’d think Apple could design a keyboard that couldn’t be killed with dust. 
    That's what this is.

    I also believe it is still a mistake on Apple’s part to not provide a high-end MBP with hardware F-row.

    Hardly anyone uses function keys anymore. I do, but I'm a developer, and the tool I use most now uses the Touchbar to replace the function keys with actual pictures and words to tell you what the key does. I get different commands for different contexts while I'm working: editing, debugging and version control. It's a huge improvement over static function keys.
    If people hardly used Functions Keys than Touchbar is over killed and many don't care to use. With function keys, Macbook Pros price would be $200 cheaper and not to worry fixing expensive touch bar if broken. I still hope Apple release Function Keys 13" Macbook Pro upgrade like it's equivalent 13" touch bar.
    edited August 2018 aylkireland
  • Reply 18 of 38
    Rayz2016Rayz2016 Posts: 6,957member
    wood1208 said:
    Rayz2016 said:
    ireland said:
    With all of the talent you’d think Apple could design a keyboard that couldn’t be killed with dust. 
    That's what this is.

    I also believe it is still a mistake on Apple’s part to not provide a high-end MBP with hardware F-row.

    Hardly anyone uses function keys anymore. I do, but I'm a developer, and the tool I use most now uses the Touchbar to replace the function keys with actual pictures and words to tell you what the key does. I get different commands for different contexts while I'm working: editing, debugging and version control. It's a huge improvement over static function keys.
    If people hardly used Functions Keys than Touchbar is over killed and many don't care to use. 

    That's the whole point: to put something in the space that people will actually use. 
  • Reply 19 of 38
    Rayz2016Rayz2016 Posts: 6,957member

    ireland said:
    slurpy said:
    I'd be very open to a touch keyboard. It would take some getting used to, but not that much, and I'm pretty sure Apple can provide a great experience. Would have a ton of advantages over physical keys.
    I think disadvantages would outway it’s advantages. 

    How do you know? No one's seen it yet.

    We already have the vertical bitmap display to displaying any interface element we want. We don’t need a second one.

    Yes, we do, because the first one is in the wrong position for input.

    Cesar Battistini Maziero
  • Reply 20 of 38
    wizard69wizard69 Posts: 13,377member
    The sad reality here is that Apple needs to do zero research no new keyboards, they just need to go back to what worked well in the past.

    As for people that think a glass keyboard on a laptop would work out well, you really need to learn to type.    A touch typist relies upon keyboard feel for a good man machine interface.   If you hunt and peck no amount of explaining will get this across but keyboards can have an amazing impact on productivity.
    aylkelectrosoftireland
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