Apple patents key-free touch sensitive keyboard design

By on July 28, 2011
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Apple plans to bring touch screen keyboards to non-mobile devices with slight sense of touch.

A new Apple patent application has surfaced revealing an entirely flat, touch-sensitive keyboard that may  come in future MacBooks. We’ve already seen similar touchscreen keyboards on real world products including the Acer Iconia 6102 and the Toshiba Libretto W100, but the Apple patent application details several different ways of building the flat surface keyboard. Apple explains that the flat keyboard would detect inputs using a combination of piezo-electric sensors and capactive sensors. It also describes versions of the design with seisometers and accelerometers added into the mix to better detect the way the user is interacting with the surface.

One method suggests it could be constructed from a solid material such as metal or plastic with keys machined, stamped or micro-perforated onto it to allow the user to press or tap a flat key. The more radical approach though would be to use a piece of glass with the interface provided as graphics on a display screen beneath the surface. The keyboard would have LED backlighting for lowlight situations.

There is no announcement that when a product based on this will be see light of the day. But for now they have lots of work to do, as the biggest problem with touchscreen keys is the lack of sense of touch. You can tap around your keyboard all day long with looking at the keys but you can never do that with a touch screen keyboard. Plus the instant key registration by just touch is another reason for lots of typing errors rather than the thinking time spent in pressing a mechanical key. Apple does plan a haptic feedback mechanism would be included to let you know you’d actually hit a key but how that will work is not known in detail. I see this as a long shot from actual commercial product for now. The touch keyboards may have become dominant on mobile phones due to lack of space and aim to provide larger view area, but same is not true for laptops or desktops. Lets see if Apple can really come up with an innovative design that really changes how we use keyboard today.


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Dad in the day, Gamer by night. Loves everything Geek. By profession an Engineer but my hobby has been Video gaming on PC since 1989.

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