Apple might soon work on a reconfigurable solid-state keyboard for the MacBooks
Apple is proposing a three-fold approach that will make the screen-based keyboard feel like a physical one.
Apple has been granted a patent that describes a MacBook with a solid-state keyboard that uses an all-touch surface that can be reconfigured as the user wants. So, if you work with numbers and want a large numeric keyboard or as an artist you might want a larger area for drawing, you should be able to reconfigure the keyboard accordingly.
According to reports, there is plenty of evidence that suggests that Apple's long-term goals with the MacBook is to replace the mechanical keyboards with touch-sensitive surfaces.
These plans obviously come with their own limitations. An iPad-type keyboard does not allow touch-typing and typing for extended periods on a glass keyboard is not comfortable. However, Apple also has patents that are designed to specifically address these issues.
Apple is proposing a three-fold approach that will make the screen-based keyboard feel like a physical one. The first will allow a flexible screen to change form when a virtual key is pressed, a haptic feedback will be used to simulate the click of real keys and finally, an electrostatic charge can be used to simulate the feeling of the edge of a key so as it feels like a real keyboard when you place your fingers on it.
Apple has already taken its first step in this direction back in 2015 when they replaced a moving trackpad surface with a Force Touch one where the clicks are simulated, as 9to5Mac points out.
The latest patent that deals with the solid-state keyboard does come with significant challenges when it comes to making a virtual keyboard feel like a real one, but Apple has argued that there are substantial benefits if this was to become a reality.
According to Apple, mechanical keyboards are prone to failure and facing issues with debris getting trapped in them (like it was with the butterfly keyboard that Apple is currently dealing with a class action lawsuit for).
Conventional input devices, like keyboards and trackpads, on laptops are susceptible to damage and damage to internal components due to collected debris can render the device inoperable if it gets very bad. Mechanical structures are also vulnerable to drop and mechanical shock.
And then, a solid-state approach offers the option to tailor the keyboard and trackpad layout to suit what the user is doing at that current point in time. In some cases, opening a particular app may automatically change the keyboard to suit its input requirements.
A configurable, force-sensitive input structure can be adapted as a variety of input devices for gadgets and it is not just limited to being a keyboard, a number pad or a trackpad. The gadget in question may utilise a single input structure to create a number of distinct input devices or it may include a number of input structures for forming distinct input devices.
Positioning input devices on the force sensitive input structure can be customisable and input devices can be moved to distinct locations on the casing based on user preference. “Similarly, one or more of such input devices may be resized or reshaped by user input, operation of an associated electronic device, software, firmware, other hardware, and so on”. Configurable inputs, as planned, could also allow things like symbol or emoji keyboards separate from the alphanumeric keyboards.
To be honest, most people are and will be wary of replacing their proper keyboards and Apple is aware of that and may eventually adopt a hybrid approach that has spaces on the keyboard that are reconfigurable.
“The electronic device may include a contact portion formed from a flexible (or partially-flexible) material that may bend or deform into and/or to contact a portion of an input stack-up. For example, the contact portion may be a metal sheet or part of a metal housing of an electronic device. The input stack-up may capacitively sense the deformation of the contact portion due to application of an input force on a corresponding contact portion of the electronic device,” the patent explains.
Like it is with ALL patents, Apple is not going to create this or take a call overnight.