Future Apple keyboard could have one key that can pop out and be used as a mouse

Posted:
in Future Apple Hardware edited October 2023

Apple is continuing researching on how one key on the MacBook Pro keyboard could be taken out, and used as a precision mouse.

A removable key that doubles as a mouse is not intended to replace the trackpad
A removable key that doubles as a mouse is not intended to replace the trackpad



"Deployable Key Mouse," is a newly-granted patent, yet Apple must be serious about this idea because it was previously granted a near-identical patent for an application filed in 2020.

That granted patent, and this one -- both with the same title -- sound less like Apple's typical futuristic plans, though, and more a throwback to the pre-trackpad days of the 1980s.

Back then, PC users could snap on a mouse to the side of their laptops, and struggle to use these deeply unergonomic devices. The problem was chiefly that they were very awkwardly positioned, but they could also be so small that they were uncomfortable.

Apple does explore every conceivable take on keyboards, but a newly-revealed patent application details one that is simply peculiar. Prolific Apple inventor Paul X. Wang, whose previous work includes plans for a glass keyboard, proposes using a removable mouse.

What this patent application proposes is that a regular keyboard, such as that on a MacBook Pro, might feature one special key that is removable. Take that shift key -- or perhaps the "Global" key from the Magic Keyboard -- and there's your mouse.

There's your very, very small mouse.

"The removable key can have a position sensor," says the patent application, "[so it] is operable as a computer pointing device... The removable key structure can therefore allow comfortable, portable, and precise pointer input for a computer input system."

True, you could move the key/mouse around a desk and get more precision control over your cursor. But going by the patent application's drawings, this would be even smaller and more cumbersome than Apple's infamous hockey puck mouse.

Apple's patent application talks about how the company popularized the mouse in the 1980s.

"In the succeeding years, the computer mouse has undergone a series of innovations including the addition of a right- and left-click button, a scroll wheel, an optical sensor, a track ball sensor, a laser sensor, and wireless communication to the host computer," it continues.

"In some cases, portable computing devices such as laptop and tablet computers benefit from using a peripheral mouse input device," says Apple. "However, the user is then burdened with carrying the separate mouse with the computer, and the separate device can be redundant when the computer already has built-in pointing devices."

So the aim here is not to replace the trackpad, but rather to give an optional mouse when finer control is needed more than finger control. While the application does not go into more detail about uses and benefits, you can imagine a Photoshop user having occasional need for real precision in their image editing.

Detail from the patent showing two different ways such a key could be easily removed to be used as a mouse
Detail from the patent showing two different ways such a key could be easily removed to be used as a mouse



The patent is concerned with how a physical key could work both in and out of the keyboard. In it, the key must react and respond like any other on the keyboard.

And then when it has been removed, it must have this position-sensing capability. Plus being removed from the MacBook Pro, or other device, it must have its own circuitry and battery.

It's got to do that while being a very, very small mouse.

"A mouse typically incorporates an ergonomic shape to fit comfortably into the hand," says the application as it describes how pointing devices have evolved over the years. "Which is one factor that has kept its size relatively stable."

Read on AppleInsider

Comments

  • Reply 1 of 18
    DAalsethDAalseth Posts: 2,811member
    A mouse the size of a postage stamp? A removable, and losable, key? I don't say this very often when it comes to Apple patents, but what a stupid concept.
    williamlondonwatto_cobramwhitemacplusplusdarkvaderdewme
  • Reply 2 of 18
    What is this a Mouse for ants!!
    cornchipwilliamlondonwatto_cobramwhitedarkvadermichelb76
  • Reply 3 of 18
    applguyapplguy Posts: 235member
    I hope this is one of those patents that never sees the light of day. 
    xyzzy-xxxwilliamlondonwatto_cobradarkvader
  • Reply 4 of 18
    MacProMacPro Posts: 19,758member
    applguy said:
    I hope this is one of those patents that never sees the light of day. 
    If it does, let's hope it has a miniature air tag inside!
    watto_cobrabeowulfschmidtdarkvaderdewmemichelb76
  • Reply 5 of 18
    GeorgeBMacGeorgeBMac Posts: 11,421member
    IBM Thinkpads had this over a decade ago:   a little red button squeezed between the G-H-B keys that could manipulate the cursor.
    I think they call it a "TrackPoint" or something like that.   I never use it.  The trackpad or mouse is much easier.
    darkvader
  • Reply 6 of 18
    thttht Posts: 5,510member
    IBM Thinkpads had this over a decade ago:   a little red button squeezed between the G-H-B keys that could manipulate the cursor.
    I think they call it a "TrackPoint" or something like that.   I never use it.  The trackpad or mouse is much easier.
    The "nipple" as it were is at least 2 decades old.

    Someone also owns the popup keyboard key as joystick patent too. Maybe Apple? RIM? Who knows. You can probably split the space bar in half and put a 0.7x0.7 inch trackpad there too. Also already patented.

    Anyways, it's the way the game is played. Every entity must apply for and hope to be grant patents for every idea possible. It's a way to protect themselves. Unfortunately, it seems the vast majority of patents are merely ideas and not real inventions, inventions where actual work transpired to implement it for real. It seems politicians and by indirection, voters, want it this way.
    GeorgeBMacwatto_cobradarkvader
  • Reply 7 of 18
    It should work as emergency mouse. I pretended using my Apple Watch's charger as a mouse and it's workable.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 8 of 18
    If they ever did do this, imagine the hundreds of non-practicing patent trolls that would claim it was their idea first.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 9 of 18
    entropysentropys Posts: 4,199member
    Love Apple trackpads. Best on the market and an ocean between Apple and the rest.

    But the mouse has never been Apple’s strong point, except maybe the first Mac. Because back then competitors didn’t have one. This won’t change that generalisation. Ergonomics, risk of loss, appearance. The list of bad things to do with this idea goes on.  

    Apple’s great trackpad makes it even more unnecessary.
    edited August 2021 watto_cobra
  • Reply 10 of 18
    thttht Posts: 5,510member
    tommikele said:
    If they ever did do this, imagine the hundreds of non-practicing patent trolls that would claim it was their idea first.
    Yup. Ideas are basically free. A successful innovation costs tens of thousands of hours hard work, year on year, building upon itself. The patent system is premised on the idea that there is a unicorn inventor that can create stuff ex nihilo without help and they should be protected from monied entities. This situation probably has never been true, and is only getting more and more impossible as time goes on.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 11 of 18
    IBM Thinkpads had this over a decade ago:   a little red button squeezed between the G-H-B keys that could manipulate the cursor.
    I think they call it a "TrackPoint" or something like that.   I never use it.  The trackpad or mouse is much easier.
    I've used the tracepoint, but always found its position to be wrong. The idea was great for touch typists. You have your resting index fingers on the F (left) and J (right) keys (it's also why many keyboards have a little nub on those two keys so you can re-position your resting fingers. The tracepoint would have been perfect if it were moved to either the left or right spots (between FGV or JHN) so that you can touch type and immediately have mouse control without taking your eyes off the screen.
  • Reply 12 of 18
    JinTechJinTech Posts: 1,034member
    And it will still charge via Thunderbolt.
  • Reply 13 of 18
    I prefer to use an Atari Trak-Ball because I can do my work and play Missile Command at the same time.
    darkvader
  • Reply 14 of 18
    crowleycrowley Posts: 10,453member
    This seems dumb as all hell.

    If you need finer control then just have a modifier key that puts the trackpad or mouse into a precision mode.  No need for a whole other finger-pad.  And a removable key?  Come on, this will never ship on an Apple device.  It's some dork in engineering having a what-if fun day.
    darkvaderdewme
  • Reply 15 of 18
    dewmedewme Posts: 5,425member
    Absolutely hilarious nano mouse.

    Following Apple's typical "difficulties" with logical mouse design - this little critter will have a rechargeable battery and a USB-C charging port on the bottom of the mouse/key. However, if Apple uses its Digital Crown as a scroll wheel they can save some time and effort and avoid having to produce a miniature touch surface for scrolling.

    This will be a perfect mouse for people (?) whose hands are about the size of a spider monkey's hand. Hmm, maybe Apple is looking to beef up its software developer staff by having monkeys writing software, you know, Code Monkeys. 
  • Reply 16 of 18
    Really wondering what this patent will actually be for.
  • Reply 17 of 18
    thttht Posts: 5,510member
    michelb76 said:
    Really wondering what this patent will actually be for.
    The idea, designing a multifunction mouse+key that is sized like a set of keyboard keys, and could slot into a keyboard and act as a set of keys, is probably over 20 years old now. I say 20yrs ago because that would be before the Fingerworks purchase and the advent of Apple's multi-touch trackpads. Once those trackpads came out, it made this keyboard keys as mouse idea irrelevant as the Apple's trackpads are really really good.

    You often see people with Windows laptops also carrying a mouse around. That's because trackpads on Windows laptops suck, and were even worse 20 years ago. So, it seems this idea really stems from that time. Laptops were also thicker with thicker keys at the time. My dual USB iBook was 34mm thick. That's 3x, not 30%, but three times thicker than an MBA.

    You could have a 25mm (1") thick mouse slot into the keyboard of those old laptops from 2000. Now? No point. Apple trackpads are ridiculous good, and laptops are too thin to have a viable mouse stowed into it.

    Looking forward to hand and eye tracking as inputs methods in the future. Seems like they will be the next great things for input on computers.
  • Reply 18 of 18
    fastasleepfastasleep Posts: 6,426member
    What's the point of recycling these old articles?
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