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Apple has received a patent for a “keyless keyboard,” which shows that the company is at least considering switching to solid-state technology for the MacBook. A professional keyboard with more versatility than the physical version.
The recently issued patent “Keyless Keyboard with Force Sensor and Tactile Feedback” was originally filed with the US Patent and Trademark Office in 2017. It actually describes replacing the physical keys of a keyboard with a multi-touch glass display. sensory systems.
Apple's app claims that traditional key-based inputs “lack the flexibility to take advantage of the advanced features offered by newer devices, operating systems and software” and are “incapable of adapting to different user needs and preferences “. While touchscreen input may offer alternative input methods to the user, a “flat, inflexible input surface” provides little to no tactile feedback to the user.
Apple's offering consists of a top glass layer that includes two force measurement systems for different “input areas “, as well as a sensor system for determining the location of the user's fingers. Haptic feedback is provided by one or more actuators to provide a response to every keystroke.
The images provided in the application depict a keyboard peripheral that uses a long touchpad that displays key images. There's also an image of a laptop that has replaced the entire bottom portion normally reserved for the keyboard and trackpad with one large panel.
In both cases, the keyless keyboard changes what is displayed depending on the user's needs. This may include displaying the trackpad area in the middle of the keyboard and changing the layout to a more ergonomic layout to position the user's hand.
As a by-product, the use of a software-defined keyboard layout opens up the possibility of making it easier to localize Apple hardware because the same keyboard can be used for any language. Flexibility can also provide unique inputs for certain non-keyboard applications, such as sliders or other types of controls.
Apple has explored other ways to use future MacBooks without a physical keyboard. For example, in 2018, the company received a patent for “Dual display equipment with improved visibility and reflection suppression”, where the second screen is used as a dynamic keyboard.
This concept is also not limited to dual display devices as another patent application was discovered in October 2017 detailing “Electronic devices with displays” that could be folded in half. A flexible section in the middle of the display will allow it to fold, effectively allowing an iPad-style device to be shaped like a laptop, with the software keyboard nestled on one of the two flat sections.
Apple is known for filing a large number of patent applications for potential products, many of which are not used in consumer products. While it's entirely possible that Apple could implement such a keyless keyboard system in a future product, it's still too early to tell if that will happen.