Apple's key-less keyboard

Is key-less keyboard the future of keyboard?

Yes this is already stale news for most of you, I guess, but here it is: Apple registered a patent for a key-less keyboard.

Apple’s Force touch

I imagine you know of Apple’s force touch technology, right? Well, I do know the name but had no experience of it yet. To quote the basics from their website:

The Force Touch trackpad lets you Force click. You Force click by pressing on the trackpad and then applying more pressure. This allows you to take advantage of added functionality in many apps and system features on your Mac.

Basically, the trackpad (or smartphone, since I think this has also been implemented on iPhones and iPads) detects not only that you tap or touch it, but also the force you apply when you touch it.

The patent

A key-less keyboard

The idea is simple: if you can already do a trackpad using the same technology as you use for a smartphone keyboard, then you can extend that trackpad to the whole keyboard and then detects the taps as keys being pressed. That way, no mechanical movement, less noise, no switch being dead or key getting stuck…

This is also called a “zero-travel” keyboard: pressing a key does not mean the key moves.

Apple's patent, Fig. 10
Apple’s patent, Fig. 10

The above figure also seems to depict areas with micro-perforations that could be backlit to display the borders of the keys and the trackpad, for instance.

The main benefit: flexibility

A plane surface? Hell, let’s change it!

Do you ever type in different languages on your smartphone? Then you know you can change the layout according to the language. That would be the same with this!

You could add a number pad if you’re a number cruncher.

Apple's patent, Fig. 11
Apple’s patent, Fig. 11

Or, if you’re only web browsing and don’t need the keyboard, hell! Let’s have only a trackpad!

Apple's patent, Fig. 15B
Apple’s patent, Fig. 15B

That’s the future beyond Optimus.

My take on this

Have you already tried typing for long on an iPad ? I personally don’t find it comfortable.

On a computer, you can type without looking at your keyboard, just sensing the edges of the keys. A layout changing key-less keyboard is basically a flat surface: you often have to check the keyboard to make sure your fingers are on the correct spot. Tactile keyboards were already an idea, for instance in hospitals, where cleaning is important (you don’t want germs to hide between the keys), but this inconvenient already popped into my mind back then. OK for short bursts, a pain for long texts.

One minor modification could be a game changer: instead of (or in addition to) backlighting the keys, make some very little rods stick out, just so that you can sense where the limits for each key are.

Anyway, another question is to be answered before speculating further: will the patent become more than a registration?

Source: Apple’s patent

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Cyrille Chopelet

Programming addict, UX philosopher, casual gamer, sci-fi enthusiast, hi-tech dilettante, ... Some people even call me a geek.

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