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New Apple Patent Provides Hints About Future Mac Keyboards

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Apple just refreshed its MacBook Air and, once again, the company that popularized touch-screen tablets, released a laptop without a touch-screen. But if Apple’s latest patent application is a clue to the future, perhaps instead of future touch-screen PCs, Apple could instead add enhanced touch sensitivity to its keyboards. The story was first reported by AppleInsider.

patent application for “Multifunctional Keyboard Assemblies,” filed on May 1st, hints at a new type of keyboard that “can improve the functionality of keyboard keys in a variety of ways.” The application said that, in addition to its primary function, “a multi-functional keystack can include a second independent input component that can provide a second distinct input to the electronic device and/or an independent output component that can provide an independent visual feedback to the user. ”

Schematic cross-sectional view of a keystack

Key function and display may vary

In other words, depending on pressure or type of movement across the keys, a key press could have more than one function. And, what each key displays could also change, according to the patent: “The display may be operably coupled to a top side of a flex such that a user can view information presented on the display through a transparent section of the keycap.”

Keycaps could be made of glass or another “rigid and durable material that may be made thinner than typical keyboard keycaps.”  Apple wrote that “the rigid and durable keycap can be thinner and stronger than traditional keycaps while also providing desired transparency characteristics.”

In addition to providng visual feedback, keys could also provide ” haptic feedback to the user, such as, for example, by providing an increased resistance, a click, or a vibration when compressed,” according to the patent application.


What it might replace

A multifunctional keyboard such as the one envisioned in the patent could replace the PC’s trackpad or could even be used on devices designed to enhance performance of future iPads.

Nothing could come of this

Of course, the fact that Apple has filed a patent, doesn’t mean that it will actually build such a keyboard. It’s common for companies to file patents on technologies that they never actually include in future products