MacBook Pro keyboards could get data overlays and adjustable key mechanisms

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in General Discussion
Apple is continuing to work on ways to improve the experience of typing on a keyboard, including data overlays either on the key, or by harnessing augmented reality and virtual reality to overlay symbols on a physical keyboard, and a system that could allow users to adjust the resistance when pressing a key to their personal preference.

A current MacBook Pro keyboard
A current MacBook Pro keyboard


Typing has been a major way people interact with computer systems for some time, and while there have been some improvements over the years like backlighting, relatively few breakthrough changes have been made to the system. Though some have shown promise, such as OLED panels and e-ink displays for keycaps, not many ideas get adopted by the rest of the industry or by users for a variety of reasons.

In a pair of patents granted by the US Patent and Trademark Office on Tuesday, Apple has come up with two ways that it hopes could be used with keyboards to improve them for everyone.

The first patent, "Systems with keyboards and head-mounted displays," suggests that, when using a physical keyboard as part of an augmented or virtual reality system, the technology could be employed to enhance the options available to users when typing.

While it can cover virtual keyboards and software keyboards, the meat of the patent actually relates to physical versions. In short, the user's AR view of a keyboard could display an overlay on top of the keyboard itself, showing different symbols than what is actually on the keyboard.

An example of how an augmented reality overlay could change the layout of a real-world keyboard
An example of how an augmented reality overlay could change the layout of a real-world keyboard


The same could also be used in VR, with the seen representation of the keyboard lining up with where the user perceives it to be in the real world, allowing for a level of tactile feedback.

While the system could easily provide alternative languages on a keyboard for input, such as by changing the layout from US English to German, it could also show completely different symbols altogether on the overlay. For example, media playback controls or actions specific to an application could be displayed instead of characters, as shortcuts for app actions.

The second patent, "Variable response key and keyboard," revolves around resistance and how users physically press the keys. Apple argues that current mechanical mechanisms are generally uniform across the keyboard, which could cause fatigue if users are typing for a long period of time using their weaker fingers.

It is also suggested some users would prefer a keyboard to require more or less weight to perform an actuation, depending on finger strength and typing speed. The mechanisms themselves are also an issue as they may change properties over time or with excessive wear, with those used by often-typed keys pressed by stronger fingers likely to see wear quicker.

An illustration of how the smart key's magnetic properties could be set, to give variable resistance
An illustration of how the smart key's magnetic properties could be set, to give variable resistance


Apple's suggestion is to use a variable response material, like a "magneto-rheological elastomer," that can have its properties changed by a nearby magnetic source. This could feasibly be used to adjust a number of factors, like travel distance, stiffness, and dampening.

Rather than relying on a switch or contacts as confirmation of a keypress, Apple suggests there could be a proximity sensor that could be used to detect the distance the key has travelled.

Apple files numerous patent applications to the USPTO on a weekly basis, and while they can be used to indicate areas of interest for the company, they are not guaranteed to make an appearance in a future product or service.

Apple has considered alternative ways for keyboards to be used for a while, including the use of glass panels as keyboard replacements in a MacBook, as well as touch-sensitive versions. A few patents also suggest the use of a secondary display as the keyboard itself, enabling for quick customization depending on the user's needs.

Keys are not the only way Apple intends to revolutionize computer inputs. Some recent patent applications advise on the use of force-sensing gloves for gesture controls, and another form of glove that can provide an experience of gradual resistance on pressing a physical key, but to a software-based display keyboard.

Comments

  • Reply 1 of 9
    foljsfoljs Posts: 330member
    Apple is continuing to work on ways to improve the experience of typing on a keyboard

    Until now they've worked on ways to destroy the experience of typing...
    SpamSandwichbeowulfschmidtavon b7
  • Reply 2 of 9
     I sometimes see different symbols on my keyboards after a few too many cold ones. I just hope they come up with a way to give them at least a little key travel. 
  • Reply 3 of 9
    StrangeDaysStrangeDays Posts: 7,319member
    foljs said:
    > Apple is continuing to work on ways to improve the experience of typing on a keyboard

    Until now they've worked on ways to destroy the experience of typing...
    Disagree, I love my new Magic Keyboard. And despite the hater narrative (usually from those who don't even own one), users like Rene Richie of iMore love the new MBP keyboard. (Tho likely not as much as the online haters love to complain about it, I grant you that.)
  • Reply 4 of 9
    SpamSandwichSpamSandwich Posts: 31,012member
    An ability to adjust the sensitivity to keystrokes, the amount of travel and the volume of the key clickiness would be miraculous for people who yearn for different typing experiences with their keyboards.
  • Reply 5 of 9
    GeorgeBMacGeorgeBMac Posts: 4,302member
    I just want a keyboard that is as easy to type on as the 6 year old one on my Lenovo Thinkpad T410.   The feel and the travel are outstanding -- the reliability and dependability are there.  And it has all the keys I need - even a backspace key and left/center/right buttons on the trackpad.

    Apple needs to stop being fancy with keyboards and make sure that the basics are taken care of first.
  • Reply 6 of 9
    MplsPMplsP Posts: 1,296member
    foljs said:
    > Apple is continuing to work on ways to improve the experience of typing on a keyboard

    Until now they've worked on ways to destroy the experience of typing...
    Disagree, I love my new Magic Keyboard. And despite the hater narrative (usually from those who don't even own one), users like Rene Richie of iMore love the new MBP keyboard. (Tho likely not as much as the online haters love to complain about it, I grant you that.)
    I replaced my 2011 MacBook Air with a 2017 MacBook Pro. I’ve used it and I can definitively say that the Pro’s keyboard sucks. The feel is worse and the issue with crumbs getting in is very real. Within a few months of getting my pro I began having keys stick. I ended up getting a silicone cover to protect the keyboard which preserves its funciton but makes the experience even worse. The Air was at the end of it’s life, but I still miss MagSafe charging and the better keyboard.
    GeorgeBMacavon b7
  • Reply 7 of 9
    GeorgeBMacGeorgeBMac Posts: 4,302member
    MplsP said:
    foljs said:
    > Apple is continuing to work on ways to improve the experience of typing on a keyboard

    Until now they've worked on ways to destroy the experience of typing...
    Disagree, I love my new Magic Keyboard. And despite the hater narrative (usually from those who don't even own one), users like Rene Richie of iMore love the new MBP keyboard. (Tho likely not as much as the online haters love to complain about it, I grant you that.)
    I replaced my 2011 MacBook Air with a 2017 MacBook Pro. I’ve used it and I can definitively say that the Pro’s keyboard sucks. The feel is worse and the issue with crumbs getting in is very real. Within a few months of getting my pro I began having keys stick. I ended up getting a silicone cover to protect the keyboard which preserves its funciton but makes the experience even worse. The Air was at the end of it’s life, but I still miss MagSafe charging and the better keyboard.
    Yeh, that is one of the great mysteries of today's Apple:   they have doubled down and now tripled down on a bad design.  The weird part is:  there is no positive to this keyboard.   Those who accept it would be happy with a more traditional keyboard with travel and feel (and without the breadcrumb problem) but the opposite is not:  Those who rely on touch typing hate it.

    This is one of those things where the Steve'ism would have been appropriate:  "This is crap!  Fix It!"  But instead, Apple seems fixated on this design.  Strange.   Most strange.
  • Reply 8 of 9
    Yep I thank my lucky stars that I bought (and fully loaded) the last MacBook Pro with a real keyboard. I've experimented with each iteration of the butterfly keyboard and hate it so much that I would seriously consider buying a PC as my next laptop rather than having to type on it. Of course I pray that my current MacBook Pro lasts until Apple comes to its senses so that I don't have to go down that road...
    GeorgeBMac
  • Reply 9 of 9
    sphericspheric Posts: 1,739member
    foljs said:
    > Apple is continuing to work on ways to improve the experience of typing on a keyboard

    Until now they've worked on ways to destroy the experience of typing…
    After two years on my late 2016 15" MBP, I really hate the feeling of typing on my fiancée's 2013 MBP.

    Mushy, imprecise, way too much travel for fingers that have become accustomed to the smart, tight action of the newer keyboards. 

    And as a professional keyboardist and piano player, I can tell you that I'm pretty sensitive to keyboard feel. 


    Also, I've had no more issues with crumbs on this machine than I had on my 2011 MacBook Pro — that is to say, about twice, something lodged under a key, and a quick blast of air (just blow at the key with a plosive "puh" sound) fixed it immediately. Same as with the old keyboard.
    edited March 20
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