Patent report: fabric keyboard, a travel keyboard, multi-button mouse, more

Apple files for — and is granted — lots of patents by the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office. Many are for inventions that never see the light of day. However, you never can tell which ones will materialize in a real product, so here are this week’s patent highlights: 

Apple has filed for a patent (number 20160049266) for a fabric keyboard. It sounds like a follow-up to the Smart Keyboard and would be a natural for use with an iPad Pro. However, it could also work with other iPads and even Macs. Apple says on e advantage of such a keyboard is that it works noiselessly. It would also prevent dust, food, other particles, water, and/or other liquids from entering around the edges of keycaps, as can happen with traditional keyboards.

Here’s the summary of the patent: “A first region of the fabric is bonded to the keycap and a second region of the fabric is bonded to the frame. The first region may be an embossed region and the second region may be an unembossed region. The fabric may dampen sound from within the keyboard, such as noise related to movement of the keycap, activation of the switch, and so on. The fabric may also form a barrier that restricts passage of contaminants into the aperture and/or other portions of the input device.”

Speaking of keyboards, Apple has also filed for a patent (number 20160049265) for an ultra-low travel keyboard for use with Macs. Because a conventional keyboard key typically travels a substantial distance, the space required to accommodate this travel may prevent thinner keyboards from being manufactured with conventional technology. 

Apple thinks it would be “desirable” to have a keyboard key that doesn’t travel a substantial distance so thinner keyboards could be made. In another respect, it may be desirable to have a keyboard key that can accommodate more than one response in a single key.

Here’s Apple’s summary of the invention: “A keyboard or keyboard key that has a force sensor that measures the force imparted to the key when a user presses the key or rests a finger on a key. Key embodiments may also include an actuator that excites the in order to provide feedback to the user in accordance with various feedback methods disclosed herein.”

Mac mice don’t have any visible buttons, but Apple has been granted a patent (number 9,261,984) for a multi-button mouse. In the patent filing, the company says a computer mouse “conventionally” includes one or more buttons, which are located on the top side of the mouse housing. These buttons, when selected, initiate a GUI [graphical user interface] action such as menu or object selections. The one or more buttons are typically provided by one or more button caps that move relative to the mouse housing.  

Apple says that, although mice designs such as these work well, there are continuing efforts to improve their form, feel and functionality. The patent mentions multiple buttons located on the top side of the mouse housing, whose functions are typically provided by one or more button caps that move relative to the housing. 

A second, recently granted Apple patent (number 9,264,862) is for “determining exit from a vehicle.” The invention would allow your iPhone or another mobile device to tell when you step out of your car. 

This would allow your iOS device to, among other things, make a “note” of where you’re parked, and switch from a “driving mode” (perhaps involving Maps) to a “talking mode” for making a phone call.