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Apple just found a bizarre way to make virtual keyboards less annoying

Rumors have swirled for years that Apple is working on a MacBook with a virtual, touchscreen keyboard, but that has often seemed like a downright terrible idea due to the uncomfortable typing experience it’ll likely produce. Well, Apple has an idea on how to make it better — but it’s pretty bizarre.

A patent recently granted to Apple describes how a small, thimble-like device worn on your fingers could squeeze and shunt your digits to create various sensations when tapping on a surface. In other words, the idea is to make constantly thumping your fingers onto a piece of glass less fatiguing and more pleasing.

An image from an Apple patent shows a thimble-like device that would squeeze a user's finger to help soften the impact of the finger when it hits a touchscreen surface.

The way Apple could go about achieving that is strange, to say the least. In the patent, Apple explains that users would wear a small device on the ends of their fingers. This device would contain actuators that could squeeze your fingers as they approach the typing surface.

The result of the squishing is that your skin would move towards the touchscreen, softening the impact and creating contact without you needing to slam your finger all the way down. Over time, that would reduce fatigue.

This finger finagler could work in other ways, too. The patent explains how the digit-worn device could contain ways to repel or attract your finger away from or towards the surface, for example through the use of magnets. By adjusting this force, Apple would be able to create “peak” and “valley” sensations, which could produce the feeling of a button clicking after being physically pressed.

Ditching the physical keyboard

An image from an Apple patent shows a thimble-like device that would squeeze a user's finger to help soften the impact of the finger when it hits a touchscreen surface.

It’s just the latest example of Apple trying to find ways to make virtual keyboards less, well, horrible to type on. Among the company’s other off-the-wall ideas is a glass keyboard that could deform itself to create raised or lowered sections, actually creating shallow physical keys where there were none before.

As well as that, Apple’s top-secret Reality Pro mixed-reality headset has been rumored to incorporate similar thimble-like devices to be worn on your fingers, so it’s clearly a form factor Apple has its eyes on.

Evidently, the idea of a comfortable virtual keyboard is not something Apple has given up on. It could be that a MacBook completely lacking a physical keyboard sees the light of day in a few years’ time.

That said, this is merely a patent, and Apple might just be idly exploring ideas. This finger manipulator may never come to market, and the same goes for a MacBook with a virtual keyboard. But it’s interesting to see how Apple imagines it could make simulated keyboards a little less awkward to use in the future.

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