Apple patent filing involves a Mac laptop with a semi-virtual keyboard

Apple has filed for a patent (number 20190033923) for a Mac laptop with what can be be described as a semi-virtual keyboard.

In the patent filing, Apple notes that conventional keyboards include movable keys that are actuated by a user striking them with their fingers or another object. Some devices include touchscreens on which virtual keyboards may be displayed. 

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Users may select individual keys of virtual keyboards by pressing on the part of the surface of the touchscreen that corresponds to a desired letter, character, or function. The surface of the touchscreen may be flat and featureless, and may thus occupy less space than a mechanical keyboard but may require users to identify the location of the keys by sight rather than by feel. 

Apple thinks it can improve upon the current crop of virtual keyboards. How? By making the keyboard of think glass that’s flexible enough to respond to applications of force (in other words, when you press on it). 

In another iteration, Apple’s invention could involve a glass keyboard with include protrusions, contours, recesses, and/or other shapes or features that define distinct key regions of the keyboard. For example, the glass cover may be thermoformed or otherwise processed to form an array of raised key regions (e.g., protrusions, contoured key regions, etc.) that define the key regions of a keyboard. 

Raised key regions may provide a more familiar-feeling keyboard surface to users, as the individual key regions may have a similar shape and feel to conventional movable keys. In other words, a slightly more conventional keyboard.

By the way, check out this MacBook Pro 2018 concept that explores the integration of a full-size touchpad in place of the traditional keyboard. It relies on Apple’s own Taptic Engine system to give the user the feel of physical buttons or even emulate a scroll wheel or sliders. It retains the touch bar for shortcuts and function keys but the entire surface is touch enabled.

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Here’s the summary of the invention: “A device may include a display portion that includes a display housing and a display at least partially within the display housing. The device may also include a base portion pivotally coupled to the display portion and including a bottom case, a top case coupled to the bottom case and defining an array of raised key regions, and a sensing system below the top case and configured to detect an input applied to a raised key region of the array of raised key regions.”

Of course, 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.