No, Apple is not going to remove the keyboard from its laptops anytime soon but a new patent application suggests that someday they may wish to do just that, or at least have the option to do so.
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Apple’s new patent application lays out “force-sensitive input structure for electronic devices”
The next time you’re working on your laptop, take a look down and mentally remove all the keys of the keyboard and replace that with a flat metal surface. This could, essentially, become you keyboard some day given the presence of sensors beneath that simple surface. Those sensors would then detect what you’re pressing and the force you’re using to do so.
Now, combine that with “micro-perforations” that would allow light to shined through in order to delineate where the physical keys used to be housed. This is the jist of a new patent that became public on Thursday. While it might take some getting used to, this could be the future, and the future doesn’t necessarily wait for you to become comfortable with it.
Personally, I remember the Atari 400 which was released in 1979, beyond the fact that it was an 8 bit machine with 4 KB of RAM, what I hated about it was the removal of the keys in lieu of this horrible pressure sensitive pad thingy that was horrible. At the same time, Atari released the Atari 800, also a 8 bit machine, but it had a whopping 8 KB of RAM and a real keyboard.
Withing a year of their releases in 1979, RAM prices at dropped so that both machines shipped with 8 KB, but only one had a keyboard, and that made the world of difference.
Changeable keyboard configuration
After 35 years, I think Apple probably something a little better than the Atari 400 in mind with its patent. With the “micro-perforations” lighting up your “keyboard” users could pull up a full keyboard for typing documents, a gaming specific setup or a keyboard configured for optimal coding.
Beyond this, less moving parts would mean less parts that could break. A motor would also be employed under the flat metal panel to provide vibrations that would let the user know that their keystrokes were being recorded.
In February, Apple also filed a patent for “proximity multi-touch sensors” that would allow users hand motions to be sensed above a keyboard. Now, envision the two employed together and you have something between typing on a non-existent keyboard and moving things around like a conductor over the same lack of keyboard. Minority report here we come.