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

Posted:
in Future Apple Hardware edited May 19
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-revealed patent application, yet Apple must be serious about this idea because it was previously granted a near-identical patent in March 2022.

That granted patent, with the same title, and this application 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.

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 newer "Global" key from the iPad 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 14
    DAalsethDAalseth Posts: 2,047member
    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_cobramwhitemacplusplusdarkvader
  • Reply 2 of 14
    What is this a Mouse for ants!!
    cornchipwilliamlondonwatto_cobramwhitedarkvader
  • Reply 3 of 14
    applguyapplguy Posts: 218member
    I hope this is one of those patents that never sees the light of day. 
    xyzzy-xxxwilliamlondonwatto_cobradarkvader
  • Reply 4 of 14
    MacProMacPro Posts: 19,483member
    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_cobrabeowulfschmidtdarkvader
  • Reply 5 of 14
    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 14
    thttht Posts: 4,390member
    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 14
    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 14
    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 14
    entropysentropys Posts: 3,458member
    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 14
    thttht Posts: 4,390member
    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 14
    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 14
    JinTechJinTech Posts: 875member
    And it will still charge via Thunderbolt.
  • Reply 13 of 14
    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 14
    crowleycrowley Posts: 10,156member
    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.
    darkvader
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