Apple exploring 'invisible,' disappearing buttons for future MacBooks

Posted:
in Future Apple Hardware edited January 2014
Apple's crusade against the physical button continues, with a new patent application describing a disappearing input space that could be featured anywhere on the aluminum shell of a MacBook Pro.



The application discovered by AppleInsider this week, entitled "Disappearing Button or Slider," describes a capacitive touch input on the metal frame of a device. The input appears invisible to the user because it would be made of the same material as the housing it is contained in. The use of "invisible" backlit holes could make the input selectively visible or invisible for the user.



One illustration included with the application shows an iPod-like control wheel located to the left of the notebook's trackpad. Such controls could be displayed with the touch of a finger, and then disappear when they are not in use -- such as when a user's wrist is resting in that area for typing on the keyboard.



It also suggests that the invention could be used as an external button or simply a display for a MacBook Pro when its lid is closed. The application describes an external shell that could indicate battery strength or Wi-Fi signal.



The technology could even be used to replace the trackpad on a notebook, instead allowing the onscreen cursor to be controlled from a touch panel that is flush with the body of the aluminum MacBook Pro.



The application notes that while the iPhone has a flat, touchscreen surface using capacitive sensing, its glass display would not allow for a seamless look on the aluminum casing of a MacBook Pro. In addition, most capacitive touch inputs have either plastic, rubber or glass tracking surfaces. A glass surface in particular may not be ideal for a notebook as it could be too fragile.







"Taken to its extreme, seamless design would have an invisible input," the application reads. "Since a metal housing is advantageous for aesthetic, environmental, and manufacturing reasons, this presents a particular challenge. One method to overcome this challenge is to include a plastic input painted to look like metal. However, this will not match the metal look and finish exactly, so the truly seamless design is not realized."



Apple's described solution would have a capacitor underneath an aluminum surface with invisible holes. A light could shine through those holes when the input device has been activated, allowing users to see the controls as they touch them.







The light would travel through micro-perforated holes, referred to as "invisible holes" in the application, which are invisible to the naked eye, but allow light to travel through. But when the light is off, the interface is not visible.



The input could be automatically enabled whenever the electronic device is on, as a function of the device's operating state (such as opening a media player like iTunes), in low-lighting conditions, or when motion is detected near the device.







External invisible could allow users to accomplish tasks without opening their MacBook Pro. The application describes buttons that could wake up an external monitor, sync an iPod or iPhone with the computer, install software, or shut down the computer, all while the lid is closed.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 32
    When was this published? Given the pre-unibody photos, perhaps they just decided to scale back to an invisible sleep light.
  • Reply 2 of 32
    solipsismsolipsism Posts: 25,726member
    I'd rather see the capacitance trackpad light up for visual controls, but I'd rather have colours and more interactive options, like a Calculator app, EQ sliders for iTunes, etc.
  • Reply 3 of 32
    thespazthespaz Posts: 71member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by acslater017 View Post


    When was this published? Given the pre-unibody photos, perhaps they just decided to scale back to an invisible sleep light.



    Yeah. They're already using an invisible sleep indicator. I believe it's just like they describe as an invisible hole that light can pass through.
  • Reply 4 of 32
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by thespaz View Post


    Yeah. They're already using an invisible sleep indicator. I believe it's just like they describe as an invisible hole that light can pass through.



    Anyone else think it's pointless next to the completely visible IR receiver?
  • Reply 5 of 32
    solipsismsolipsism Posts: 25,726member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by trevorlsciact View Post


    Anyone else think it's pointless next to the completely visible IR receiver?



    Unfortunately there isn't much you can do. At least it's one thin hole instead of two holes with the other being bigger.



    Does anyone even use a remote with their Macs? They already dropped it from the unibody plastic MacBooks.



    PS: Speaking of IR, I hope they add it to the next iPhone. Would make a great remote control.
  • Reply 6 of 32
    asciiascii Posts: 5,941member
    My shirts seem to have disappearing buttons lately. It's very distressing. One day I will find them all having a board meeting in the corner of the clothes dryer.
  • Reply 7 of 32
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by ascii View Post


    My shirts seem to have disappearing buttons lately. It's very distressing. One day I will find them all having a board meeting in the corner of the clothes dryer.



    They should have put IR on the iPad. Still mad about that. As far as the patent goes, this is probably one for things already out now but it does cover one of my favorite things about my macbook
  • Reply 8 of 32
    SpamSandwichSpamSandwich Posts: 33,407member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by ascii View Post


    My shirts seem to have disappearing buttons lately. It's very distressing. One day I will find them all having a board meeting in the corner of the clothes dryer.



    I nominate this for Post of the Week.
  • Reply 9 of 32
    mariomario Posts: 348member
    I'd prefer if they just made the current buttons glass coated (like the trackpad) so the buttons don't show wear after one month of use.
  • Reply 10 of 32
    This sounds very promising.
  • Reply 11 of 32
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by SpamSandwich View Post


    I nominate this for Post of the Week.



    Seconded.
  • Reply 12 of 32
    gmcalpingmcalpin Posts: 266member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by solipsism View Post


    Does anyone even use a remote with their Macs? They already dropped it from the unibody plastic MacBooks.



    I do, almost entirely to pause movies/TV I'm streaming on my Mac through to the TV. Although I mostly used that for Netflix and now that Wii has Netflix streaming, too, I rarely do even that anymore.



    It wouldn't make me cry if they switched to Bluetooth remotes or something instead and dropped the IR receiver.
  • Reply 13 of 32
    macinthe408macinthe408 Posts: 1,050member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by bigdaddyp View Post


    Seconded.



    Thirded.



    Of all the patent-related stories, which have us salivating at things that'll never see the light of day, this one has the most promise, IMHO.



    Rather than just the default backlight color, it would be even cooler if they could use colors.
  • Reply 14 of 32
    jamiecjamiec Posts: 42member
    I'm thinking a capacitive-touch top cover to the MB or MBP. An unlock gesture to turn it on (make a circle around the apple logo)? then it would simply use light from the LCD panel, shining through microperforated holes on the back of the computer (the way the apple icon does) to create the interface, since the LCD is already there and able to create any pattern or colors they want.



    The amount of simplicity or complexity in the interface would depend on the amount that microperfs, when lit unevenly from behind, affect the onscreen image during normal use.
  • Reply 15 of 32
    jeffdmjeffdm Posts: 12,951member
    Article: "A glass surface in particular may not be ideal for a notebook as it could be too fragile."



    Really? I don't know what brought that up. People seem to deal with a glass-covered screen, standard on most Macs. iPhone & iPad do just fine with the same for something you're expected to touch.



    Quote:
    Originally Posted by solipsism View Post


    Unfortunately there isn't much you can do. At least it's one thin hole instead of two holes with the other being bigger.



    Does anyone even use a remote with their Macs? They already dropped it from the unibody plastic MacBooks.



    PS: Speaking of IR, I hope they add it to the next iPhone. Would make a great remote control.



    An IR sender would be pretty nice.
  • Reply 16 of 32
    The camera indicator on the aluminum MBP's even used micro-perferations to hide the tally lamp. It would be cool to see this built in, and hopefully available to developers
  • Reply 18 of 32
    solipsismsolipsism Posts: 25,726member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by JeffDM View Post


    Article: "A glass surface in particular may not be ideal for a notebook as it could be too fragile."



    Really? I don't know what brought that up. People seem to deal with a glass-covered screen, standard on most Macs. iPhone & iPad do just fine with the same for something you're expected to touch.



    This is obviously an older patent.



    I wonder if it would be feasible to make the backlight keyboard aluminum instead of plastic.





    Quote:

    An IR sender would be pretty nice.



    After the first G4 iPhone pics landed I thought the odd placement of the top edge "style line" might be an IR Tx. After seeing the internals it doesn't look like that is the case.
  • Reply 19 of 32
    nagrommenagromme Posts: 2,834member
    Apple?s invisible sleep lights?in metal laptops!?are pretty cool. I can see doing more with it maybe.



    It always makes me think of that Star Trek movie with the whales, where Scotty invented ?transparent aluminum.?
  • Reply 20 of 32
    STOP with invisible everything! Input areas should be visible. Apple's own 'software discoverability' concepts needs to apply to hardware. Apple's hardware could use a few more buttons and actual human interaction items. Not every input device should be invisible or only on a screen/flat surface. Humans interact with buttons more accurately than a flat piece of glass. Just ask a blind person how well they can text on an iPhone. Buttons are good for doing something on a device without having to look at it, like while running, walking, biking, dare I say driving (don't text and drive!!) or even being in the dark. If there is a button you can feel, you can use it without looking at the device. If you've not used the device before, you can surmise that it's a control. If you don't see the control then you might not even know it's there.

    Ever try to control The Obelisk? See no buttons, no one knew how to turn it on.
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