Apple patents an all-touch haptic keyboard that could kill real keys

apple patent touchpad configurable touch surface v2
This Digital Trends rendering shows what future MacBooks could look like, based on Apple’s patent.
One of the great things about a laptop’s built-in keyboard is the tactile feedback: the physical feeling that you’re accomplishing the input of a letter into the system. But what if there was no tactile feedback? What if the entire keyboard, touchpad, and palm rest were replaced with a single touch-based surface? That’s what Apple intends to implement in a patent.

This patent, titled “Configurable Force-Sensitive Input Structure for Electronic Devices,” was filed in September 2015 and was recently made available to the public on April 7. It states that this all-in-one input interface consists of a metal contact layer, and a sense layer combined with a drive layer mounted underneath. Other ingredients may include a rigid base layer under the drive layer, and a set of supports.

According to the patent, the sense and drive layers detect a force exerted on the metal contact layer. This is accomplished by using an array of pixels on the sense and drive layers that determine an input location when active pixels are aligned on both layers. The user then gets a response to his or her action thanks to a haptic feedback module and a light guide layer that lights up the “keys” through extremely tiny holes in the metal surface.

The components of the force-input sensitive “structure” are enclosed within the device’s chassis; thus the only exposed portion is the contact surface itself. For example, in a MacBook, that means you can open the device and see the touch surface that replaces the physical keyboard, touchpad, and palm rest. It sits flush with the base of the laptop, providing one entirely smooth, flat surface.

Apple touch surface patent
Apple wants to add an all-in-one input interface to its notebooks, at the expense of a physical keyboard. United States Patent and Trademark Office

Related Offer: Now in two sizes, see the iPad Pro here.

In a provided drawing, the illustrated notebook shows four distinct input areas on the surface. However, the patent states that the device can have any number of input areas defined on the contact portion. For example, there could be one single input area spanning across the entire surface, or the touch input area could be divided up into two equally sized regions.

However, this touch-based input device isn’t limited to a MacBook.

“Although electronic device 100 is shown as a laptop computer, it is understood that electronic device 100 may be configured as any suitable electronic device that may utilize input structure 200,” the patent states. “In non-limiting examples, other embodiments can implement electronic device 100 differently, such as, for example, a desktop computer, a tablet computing device, a smartphone, a gaming device, a display, a digital music player, a wearable computing device or display, a health monitoring device, and so on.”

The patent is indeed interesting. In a MacBook scenario, owners could have a virtual keyboard positioned at the base of the screen, a virtual touchpad centered underneath in its usual location, and a virtual number pad programmed to the right. The keys would be “drawn” thanks to the super tiny holes (aka “micro-perforations”) in the surface that are illuminated by the LED layer underneath. The layout could thus change depending on the application the MacBook owner is currently using.

As this is a patent application, we may never see the resulting product. Again, using a touch surface spanning the entire base of a laptop may be awkward for customers who are used to pecking their fingers on physical keys. And while this solution will provide haptic feedback, it just may not feel the same as the real thing.

Computing

Genius uses 19th-century tech to prove Google copied its song lyrics

Song lyrics website Genius says that it proved that Google has been copying its lyrics and posting them on its own search results page. And Genius says it was able to do it by using a decidedly old-school form communications tech.
Computing

Apple's Mac Mini and MacBook Air are both great, but which is better?

Torn between the portability of a laptop and the power of a desktop? You aren't the only one. Apple offers great examples of both, with great unique and shared features for each. If we pit the Mac Mini vs. MacBook Air, which do you think…
Computing

HP's Spectre x360 is a better 2-in-1 than Microsoft's Surface Laptop 2 is a clamshell

The Microsoft Surface Laptop 2 is a refresh of Microsoft's clamshell option, an oddity given Microsoft's creation of the modern 2-in-1. The HP Spectre x360 13 is, therefore, an interesting comparison.
Computing

A dual-screen device from Microsoft is in the works. Here's what we know so far

Would you be interested in a dual-screen Surface computer? The Surface Centaurus is a Microsoft project working on just that -- and Microsoft already has a prototype. Here's all the important information on Centaurus!
Computing

Our best laptop deals for June 2019, including the discounted Dell XPS 13

Whether you need a new laptop for school or work or you're just doing some post-holiday shopping, we have you covered: These are the best laptop deals going right now, from discounted MacBooks to on-the-go gaming PCs.
Deals

Walmart cuts $300 off Dell Inspiron 5680 gaming desktop for gamers on a budget

If you're stashing money but want an upgradeable rig that will go a long way, then this solid deal on the Dell Inspiron Gaming Desktop 5680 with Intel Core i5-8400 is for you. It is now available for only $700 at Walmart.
Computing

Facebook’s crypto isn’t a new Bitcoin, it’s Disney Dollars for a new world order

Facebook has already secured tens of millions in investments for its new cryptocurrency for Facebook known as Libra. The platform is still being developed, but has already brought in backing from Visa, Mastercard and PayPal.
Deals

Check out Walmart’s steep discounts on Dell and LG gaming monitors

If you're a gamer looking for high-quality computer displays, you definitely need to take advantage of this deals from Dell and LG. These gaming monitors will fit your budget and your GPU.
Computing

A Surface Pen with an OLED touchscreen would actually be awesome

Microsoft patented another Surface Pen hardware feature, this time registering a patent for an OLED touch bar strip on the Surface accessory. This could enable dynamic setting change functionality in the next generation of Surface Pens.
Deals

Save $220 on a 2019 MacBook Pro with the latest Intel processor on Amazon

Interested customers can now grab a 2019 MacBook Pro with the latest Intel Core processor at a $220 discount on Amazon. This discounted MacBook Pro also features 512GB of SSD storage, a 15-inch Retina display, and a Touch bar.
Deals

You can grab the 2017 12-inch MacBook for $300 off right now, but act quickly

Despite the growing market for Windows ultrabooks, a MacBook is still what you need if you love the sleek interface of MacOS. The 2017 MacBook is on sale right now, too, but stock is limited, so act quickly before it's gone.
Computing

PowerPoint is easier than ever with Microsoft’s new A.I. tools

Microsoft's new A.I. tools for Office 365 users make mastering PowerPoint presentations easier than ever. The tools help you create stunning layouts, deliver data with impact, and brush up your delivery skills with smart coaching.
Computing

Google Calendar is back online. Here’s the latest on the outage

Google Calendar is down, and that means that instead of a day packed with back-to-back meetings and timely reminders, users are instead being treated to an error message. Here's the latest on the worldwide outage.
Computing

Five months later, the HP Spectre Folio is still one of my favorite laptops

After five months of use, we take a look back at the HP Spectre Folio, a laptop with leather construction and unique take on the 2-in-1. What did we find? It really is far more than just a gimmick.