Patent report: movable, illuminated Mac laptop trackpads

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: 

A new Apple patent (number 20160103496) for a “dynamic input surface for electronic devices” hints at future Mac laptops with movable, illuminated trackpads. In the filing, Apple notes that conventional input devices, such as keyboards or track pads for a laptop, are susceptible to damage. For example, debris and other contaminants may enter the casing of the electronic device through the keycap apertures and may damage the internal components of the input device. Also, such devices are vulnerable to a drop or mechanical shock. 

What’s more, the way that conventional track pads are made only allow them to be static and/or fixed within a Mac laptop. This means they can’t be “positioned in a desired and/or optimal position during certain uses of the electronic device.” What’s more, the conventional track pad “may have a fixed dimension, which may be cumbersome when electronic device is being utilized to perform actions that involve a large amount of scrolling or other track pad functions.”

Apple wants to improve on this. I’m not sure that I’d prefer a “virtual track pad” to a “real” one, so we’ll see what future Mac laptops bring.

The invention is for a dynamic input surface for an electronic device and a method for reconfiguring it. The input surface has a partially-flexible metal contact portion defining an input area, and a group of indicators. The indicators may be group of holes extending through the contact portion. The group of holes may be selectively illuminated based on a gesture performed on the contact portion. A size of the input area may be dynamically varied based on the gesture. Additionally, the group of indicators indicates a boundary of the input area.