Apple has been granted a patent (number 10,901,559) that hints at future Mac laptops with “disappearing” buttons and sliders that would appear and vanish from the portable’s frame based on haptic (touch) input.
Basically, what Apple envisions is a touchpad and other controls that you could touch-summon when needed. A virtual keyboard on a Mac laptop is also possible.
Such input systems and displays would become visible when illuminated from behind through invisible holes.
Apple says this would help fulfill a need for enhanced consumer product appearance, functionality, and aesthetics. Such input might also replace the controversial Touch Bar if the tech giant decides to ditch it on future laptops, as is rumored.
Apple says that one challenge with input devices such as buttons, keyboards, click wheels, scrolls wheels, touchpads, etc., is that they may detract from the aesthetics of the device by interrupting the continuity of the device housing. To illustrate, compare a mobile phone having a traditional key pad with the iPhone.
The smartphone has a flat touch-sensitive screen that Apple immodestly says “presents a striking, seamless design, while the traditional mobile phone presents a cluttered array of keys and buttons.” Besides the obvious aesthetic advantages of having a seamless design, a seamless design may have improved functionality and/or durability.
For example, a traditional mechanical key pad can wear out over time and/or be ruined by dirt or moisture entering into the openings in the device housing. Apple’s idea is for Macs with capacitive sensing features akin to the iPhone and iPad.
Here’s the summary of the invention: “An input device is operable to detect input. The input device is a deflection based capacitive sensing input device. Deflection of a metal frame of the input device causes a change in capacitance that is used to control a function of an electrical device. The input device appears invisible because it is made of the same material as the housing it is contained in. Invisible backlit holes may make the input selectively visible or invisible to the user.