Future iPad keyboards could connect to the touchscreen instead of the Smart Connector

Posted:
in Future Apple Hardware
External keyboards for the iPad and iPad Pro may not need to connect over Bluetooth or use the Smart Connector, with Apple considering the possibility of using the capacitive touchscreen as a means to read button presses from the attached hardware.

The Bridge Pro+ for iPad Pro
The Bridge Pro+ for iPad Pro


The iPad and iPad Pro are viewed by some to be a great alternative to owning a notebook computer, with the portable workstations providing practically all of the tools needed to conduct business. To bring it more in line with notebooks, products like the Brydge Pro , Apple's Smart Keyboard, and other keyboard accessories are available, which allows for users to type for longer periods in comfort compared to using an on-screen keyboard.

At the moment, accessories connect either over Bluetooth or a physical connection through Apple's Smart Connector, but both have their issues. Bluetooth-based devices rely on having a battery to power the accessory independently of the iPad, while a physical connection relies on Apple including a Smart Connector in the hardware itself, a design choice that increases the cost of manufacturing for the company.

In a patent application titled "Remote Capacitive Interface" and published by the US Patent and Trademark Office on Thursday, Apple suggests it may be possible for a keyboard accessory to have a physical connection that operates through the display itself.

An example design for the proposed keyboard accessory
An example design for the proposed keyboard accessory


Apple's solution is to create an accessory that makes contact with the display as part of its holstering mechanism for an iPad. A proposal in the filing suggests a sliding clamp that gently brings the edge of the iPad display into proximity with contacts that gently touch the display.

The contacts are all spaced out along the edge of the display, with each contact pair connected to a switch within the keyboard below each of the keys. When the key is pressed, the switch is actuated, enabling a connection to be made and for the contacts touching the display to change their electrical properties, and the capacitive load is detected by the device itself.

As there is a pair of contacts for each key, arranged in a grid along the edge of the iPad display, the iPad can easily determine which key was typed by analyzing the position on the display edge where contacts are detected. In theory, a multitouch display would also be capable of detecting multiple simultaneous presses at the same time, such as the pressing of the shift key along with a letter or number.

The keys are connected to contacts, which in turn touch specific points at the side of the iPad display
The keys are connected to contacts, which in turn touch specific points at the side of the iPad display


The design does offer a few benefits over existing systems, such as the ability for the accessory to function without drawing power itself as all it does is make changes to areas of a capacitive screen using a simple switch and contacts. The mechanics of the device also allows it to be used on practically any tablet or smartphone using capacitive displays, without necessarily needing any extra engineering.

As it affects capacitance, it is also feasible for the keyboard accessory to be attached and not affect the touchscreen's behavior when not actively being used. While typing may interfere with the touchscreen's general usage, it is unlikely for users to need to touch the display with a finger at the same time as typing.

Apple files numerous patent applications on a weekly basis, but while the existence of a filing may indicate areas of interest for Apple's research and development efforts, it does not guarantee the concept will appear in a future product or service. In this particular case, however, the ability to use the accessory with existing iPad designs along with its relatively simple construction makes it quite feasible for Apple to develop further into a final product.

The patent application lists its inventors as Adam T. Garelli, Senem E. Emgin, Terrence L. Van Ausdall, and Antonio Clarke. It was filed on June 18, 2019.

A suggested key mechanism for the keyboard, with the key press influencing contacts touching the display
A suggested key mechanism for the keyboard, with the key press influencing contacts touching the display


Inter-device interactivity has appeared in a few other patent filings over the years, with a fair few relating to the iPhone. In 2015, Apple patented a snap-on iPhone game controller and keyboard accessories, though that relied on an internal connector rather than employing the capacitive touch screen itself.

As a larger accessory, Apple has also proposed using a MacBook-style dock with an iPhone fitted in to the touchpad area. Connecting the iPhone would allow the entire notebook dock to function as a fully-fledged notebook, taking advantage of the iPhone's processing and features.

Comments

  • Reply 1 of 12
    BeatsBeats Posts: 2,525member
    Please get rid of the current smart connector. It's so ugly.
  • Reply 2 of 12
    SpamSandwichSpamSandwich Posts: 33,408member
    Smart Connector has never been used to it’s full potential. When it was announced I was sure musical keyboard and synthesizer manufacturers would’ve jumped all over the ability to leverage the power of the iPad Pro as a brain for their devices.
    OnPartyBusiness
  • Reply 3 of 12
    seanismorrisseanismorris Posts: 1,624member
    This patent has a high likelihood of getting used.
  • Reply 4 of 12
    seanismorrisseanismorris Posts: 1,624member
    Beats said:
    Please get rid of the current smart connector. It's so ugly.
    Maybe the iPad Air will use the new connector and the Pro will use the Smart Connector.  There needs to be more differentiation between the models.
  • Reply 5 of 12
    coolfactorcoolfactor Posts: 1,833member
    Beats said:
    Please get rid of the current smart connector. It's so ugly.

    I wouldn't say ugly, but I don't see it being a sustainable connector because it needs to be in the same relative position on every device. 
    darkvader
  • Reply 6 of 12
    thttht Posts: 4,029member
    This is out of the box thinking. Impressive. 

    However, I would hope Apple puts a capacitive touch layer on the bezel itself so this accessory connection technique doesn’t cover the screen. Not going to work for a trackpad though. 

    I’ve been wanting them to put a touch layer in the bezel for so long. This would be a nice way to unload some of the edge swipe or near edge swipes for going back to the previous in an app, moving a view in an app, and moving to the previous app, or NC or CC. 
  • Reply 7 of 12
    thttht Posts: 4,029member
    Beats said:
    Please get rid of the current smart connector. It's so ugly.

    I wouldn't say ugly, but I don't see it being a sustainable connector because it needs to be in the same relative position on every device. 
    It’s going to be interesting to see if Apple uses the Smart Connector for this rumored Smart Keyboard with trackpad. 

    Being in the same position isn’t problem per se. It’s just that Apple has made it so limited that it really can’t do much other than keyboards or slow charging. They really only see it as a connector for their keyboard covers and nothing else. 

    It is so subservient to the Smart Keyboard that they moved it to the back near the USBC port for the 2018 iPad Pros so that the Smart Keyboard Folio could have 2 incline positions. 

    I think most of us would rather the put another USBC port on the long edge. This would enable more varied accessories. 
  • Reply 8 of 12
    If the display is lit and is bright enough under the part being covered, a light pipe in the keyboard might be used to provide a certain amount of key backlight. Or perhaps some specific visual feedback (like caps lock, audio volume level or other status info not shown at top of screen.)
  • Reply 9 of 12
    MplsPMplsP Posts: 3,250member
    Beats said:
    Please get rid of the current smart connector. It's so ugly.
    huh? how is it any uglier than the camera. or the speaker holes? or the lightning connector.

    I have a Logitech Keyboard that uses the smart connector for my iPad Pro and I love it. It's a snap to connect and disconnect. Never need to charge the battery, and no Lithium waste to worry about. Works better than buy MacBook Pro keyboard. The idea presented here is quite interesting. It would also conceivably allow the keyboard to be 'connected' on any edge of the screen, allowing for portrait and landscape uses. 
  • Reply 10 of 12
    darkvaderdarkvader Posts: 589member
    Wow.  What an incredibly stupid idea.

    I mean, the level of brain-dead thinking that went into "Hey, somebody wants to connect an external keyboard so as not to waste screen real estate with an onscreen keyboard.  Let's force them to waste the screen real estate anyway!" is absolutely astounding. 

    Hopefully this is one of those patents that never makes it into an actual product. 
  • Reply 11 of 12
    darkvader said:
    Wow.  What an incredibly stupid idea.

    I mean, the level of brain-dead thinking that went into "Hey, somebody wants to connect an external keyboard so as not to waste screen real estate with an onscreen keyboard.  Let's force them to waste the screen real estate anyway!" is absolutely astounding. 

    Hopefully this is one of those patents that never makes it into an actual product. 
    The diagrams show an area much smaller than that of an on-screen keyboard being required.
  • Reply 12 of 12
    This patent has a high likelihood of getting used.
    I'm not so sure. It states that the two devices must be brought together gently... I don't see a lot of people following such advice.
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