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Apple's New Patent Reveals Huge Customisable Touch Panel in Place of Physical Keyboard on MacBook

Apple keyboard patent (Image: USPTO)

Apple keyboard patent (Image: USPTO)

Apple claims that the benefits of a touch-enabled keyboard include the ability to configure keys and even customise the "force-sensitive input structure."

Apple is experimenting with a new MacBook model that essentially features a solid touch surface instead of a physical keyboard that can be reconfigured as per users’ preferences. According to a patent design that was spotted by Patently Apple, the prototype Apple Macbook seemingly has a large touch surface instead of the touchpad and keyboard, where users can even add a number-pad that does not exist on any Apple laptop yet. Notably, if the company goes ahead with the design, the touch area may also enable users to draw with Apple Pencil, which could finally kill its iPad models. It is not the first time that a patent highlighting touch-keyboard like on iPad or smartphones has surfaced. Back in March 2018, Apple’s separate patent talked about adding haptic feedback to the touch keyboard to provide a more authentic experience. The new patent was approved by the United States Patent and Trademark Office on March 30.

Apple claims that the benefits of a touch-enabled keyboard include the ability to configure keys and even customise the “force-sensitive input structure.” As a result, the input devices can “be moved to a specific location of the casing based on user preference. Similarly, one or more of such input devices may be resized or reshaped by user input, operation of an associated electronic device, software, firmware, other hardware, and so on. Thus, the input structure may be said to be dimensionally configurable insofar as input devices (or regions) on its surface may be moved and/or resized and/or reshaped,” the patent notes.

Image credits: Patently Apple

It may also allow users to add frequently used emojis instead of keys that are of the least importance. Instead of highlighting challenges, the company says that traditional mechanical keyboards are prone to failure as debris trapped inside can compromise the system. Back in 2018, the company was forced to offer an extended keyboard service programme to rectify problems with the butterfly keyboards available on then-MacBook and MacBook Pro laptops.

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Therefore, the latest patent proposes that the input structure (keyboard replacement) will have a metal contact layer, a sense-layer positioned below the metal contact layer, and a drive layer capacitively coupled to the sense layer. It adds, “The input structure may also have a compliant layer positioned between and coupled to the sense layer and the drive layer, a rigid base layer positioned below the drive layer, and a set of supports positioned between the metal contact layer and the rigid base layer.”

As always, readers must note Apple has only secured a patent filing and the current design is limited for experimental purposes. The final product may or may not release, depending on the company’s findings.