The MacBook of the future might forego the keyboard for a haptic screen-based keyboard.
According to the patent application, titled “Static Pattern Electrostatic Haptic Electrodes,” the idea is to replace the keyboard with a simulated screen, using a mix of haptic motors and electrostatic charge to create a realistic simulation of key edges as well as centre the fingers on the keys. The language is dense, but the idea is intriguing:
A vibration actuator may be configured to provide haptic feedback when an input is received via a virtual keyboard presented on a touch display. Feedback for such components may enhance user experience as this may simulate physical responses users have come to expect from traditionally three-dimensional and mechanical apparatuses that have been more contemporaneously implemented using non-traditional mechanisms, such as flat surfaces that do not use moving parts.
Some electronic devices may provide feedback or other output using electrostatics. Electrostatics may use an electrical field to attract and/or repel conductive objects, such as a user’s finger. Changing the normal force between a surface and a conductive object directly affects the friction between the two, and the resulting forces may be perceived as texture when the object moves […]
In some examples, the friction between the conductive object and the insulating material decreases as the conductive object moves across the insulating material towards a center of the static pattern electrostatic haptic electrode. In various examples, the friction between the conductive object and the insulating material increases as the conductive object moves across the insulating material towards a center of the static pattern electrostatic haptic electrode.
The patent is similar to a filing by Apple in March 2018 for a “keyless keyboard with force sensing and haptic feedback” that hints at Mac laptops with virtual keyboards instead of physical ones. In other words, the laptops would sport two screens instead of one — with one display doubling as a keyboard.
In the 2018 patent filing, Apple says that traditional computing input devices — such as mice, keyboards, and trackpads, tend to operate using dedicated keys or buttons — lack the flexibility to accommodate expansive features offered by newer devices, operating systems, and software. As a further drawback, the dedicated keys or buttons of traditional input devices are unable to adapt to different user needs and preferences.
It’s important to keep in mind that Apple patents all sorts of things that never see the light of day, so it’s important to take today’s report with the proverbial grain of salt. It’s certainly an interesting idea, however.