If a recent Apple patent filing is anything to go by, some of the technology behind the Apple Watch and new MacBook could someday move to keyboards. An application published by the USPTO earlier this week describes virtual keys that simulate feedback when touched but do not actually move.
Apple’s method of haptic feedback, which it calls “Taptics,” uses sensors and electromagnetic motors to fool your brain into perceiving mounted surfaces as clickable. The MacBook’s Taptic-equipped Force Touch trackpad, for example, never moves but feels like it’s responding mechanically when pressed. The Apple Watch’s touchscreen, which uses the same Taptics principles, works similarly.
The possibilities of Taptics are exciting. The Force Touch trackpad can perform distinct actions depending on the amount of force exerted, like speeding up the fast forward of a video or pulling up the definition of a selected word on a harder click. But the implications go beyond software interactions.
A Taptics keyboard could pave the way for slimmer and more durable computers. The sensors and actuators in haptics take up much less space than the membranes of conventional keyboards, and the lack of mechanical parts could help increase longevity or result in water-resistant systems.
Certain smartphones may be the first to gain from the technology – rumors suggest the next iPhones will contain the same Force Touch found in the Apple Watch. But Apple seems to be going all in with Taptics, calling it the “most significant new sensing capability since Multi-Touch.” We eagerly await the inevitably thinner and lighter MacBooks to come.