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A new patent demonstrates Apple's interest in truly customizable keyboards

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Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

Apple is having an event on October 27 where it will most likely be showing off the next generation of MacOS hardware. Companies like Apple are never satisfied with this generation of products, however — on October 28, Apple employees will be back to working on what is coming in the future. One way to get a glimpse of what is on their minds is to keep an eye out for new patent applications.

On Thursday, a new Apple patent was discovered that would create customizable key travel and feel in future MacBook keyboards, as Patently Apple reports. Apple arguably makes some of the best keyboards in the PC world, at least on their MacBook Air and Pro lines, but at the same time, their MacBook keyboard has been far less appreciated. The problem with the MacBook’s keyboard is that it offers very short travel and a relatively harsh feel for someone who is used to a springier touch.

Related: Apple applies for “force touch” keyboard patent

That is where the new patent would come in. Basically, Apple envisions a keyboard mechanism that would use electromechanical concepts to allow variation in keyboard travel based on user preference. Like softer keyboards with a shorter throw? Go into settings and make an adjustment. Prefer longer travel and a more mechanical feel? Then tell the machine and it will oblige.

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The patent introduces a few new keyboard components, including electromechanical actuators to allow for real-time tactile and mechanical adjustments. The patent also considers the need to create a new way to register keyboard presses that can decouple the physical press of a key from the electrical contact that registers input with today’s keyboards.

At the same time, the new mechanism would also allow for application-specific keyboard response. Special function keys relevant to, say, a word-processing application, could provide a different feel in response to an available action. Font-specific key combinations, for example, could become easier or harder to press when a word is highlighted.

Ultimately, as with all patent applications, this one may never see the light of day. Or, we could be looking forward to 2018’s MacBook Pro lineup with a fully customizable keyboard that anticipates our needs and responds with just the right tactile feedback. In any case, it is clear Apple intends to continue innovating in the MacOS hardware space and that is a good thing for every PC user.