One of the delights in looking at a company’s patent claims is to see where it sees the future. That’s certainly the case with Apple’s latest patent around the MacBook. Are you ready to lose the keyboard?
The new details come in a patent titled “Device Having integrated Interface System”. In this continuation patent, Apple describes a laptop that uses a touch based lower surface for input rather than a physical keyboard. Jack Purcher takes a closer look for Patently Apple:
“With this next-gen MacBook having a glass input surface also means that the MacBook could take on completely new interfaces beyond a keyboard and trackpad… It could theoretically present users with a game controlling interface when playing a video game. It could provide DJ’s with a touch-based turntable and audio controls. It may offer video editors with an interface that could take advantage of touch instead of a keyboard. It could be a clean canvas to allow artists to use their Apple Pencil.”
All of these are attractive, but what about good old fashioned typing? Putting aside the idea of a completely touchscreen based keyboard (even though there are countless consumes used to typing only on a tablet or smartphone screen, the patent suggest that a thin physical keyboard could be laid over the touch enabled surface. This would physically translate the typing movements onto the touchscreen underneath; a technique that Purcher notes will be used in the upcoming Surface Neo, but one that can be seen going back through the history of touchscreen devices (2000’s Ericsson R380 being an early example).
Curiously, the upcoming iPhone 12 family will be equipped with a ring of magnets on the rear case; the assumption being that this will help guide the smartphone onto a wireless charger. Perhaps someone at Apple has a certain attraction to magnets?
As well as the touch interface, the patent also notes the use of reverse wireless charging, with the area where your wrists would normally rest able to charge suitably equipped devices, such as the Apple Watch or the iPhone, presumably when the laptop is not in use.
Of course no patented technology can be guaranteed to reach the public, and even if it does it’s unlikely to be seen in the very next release. That’s certainly the case with this ‘keyboardless’ MacBook. What patents do show is what a company is working on and developing. In Apple’s case a fully touch sensitive area is not out of the question. After all it has already replaced the function keys with the touch bar on the MacBook Pro machines, so why not go all the way?
What’s more likely is a MacBook where the entire area below the keyboard is taken up by this touch sensitive surface; potentially with a display underneath, wireless reverse charging, or both.