Confirmed: Apple held talks with Sonder on using e-ink for a dynamic Magic Keyboard

Sonder Keyboard animation

An exciting story yesterday, based on a sketchy Reddit report, alleged Apple could use dynamic keyboard technology from Australian startup Sonder, part of Foxconn’s International Holding’s Incubator program. It would presumably permit the Cupertino company to engineer a keyboard with a tiny e-ink display on each key so that the layout could change depending on the app being used.

British newspaper The Guardian confirmed that discussions between members of Apple’s boss Tim Cook and representatives from Sonder Keyboard indeed took place.

“Apple is reportedly closing in on a Australian startup that has pioneered dynamic, customisable Magic keyboards,” reads the report. Apple’s boss Tim Cook reportedly met with Sonder CEO Francisco Serra-Martins.

The paper wrote:

The Guardian can confirm the Apple CEO, Tim Cook, met with Serra-Martins in China on Wednesday. Foxconn and E Ink Holdings, both strategic partners of Sonder, were assisting in the discussions with Apple. The company is partly owned by third-party companies and is in the middle of raising an investment round.

Apple is also rumored to be working on a next-generation MacBook Pro with an OLED strip replacing the row of function keys that would change dynamically depending on the app being used.

A full-on keyboard based on keys that with an e-ink display would be awesome, in my personal opinion. Theoretically speaking, switching apps would dynamically change the layout so you would have, for instance, one set of shortcuts for Twitter, another set of keys in a photo editing application and so forth.

Simply changing your regional settings would instantly adapt the keyboard layout to different languages, including—why not?—emoji input.

Here’s a video showing Sonder’s current e-ink keyboard in action.

That $199 keyboard is currently available for preorder on the Sonder website.

It uses the same e-ink display technology as Amazon’s Kindle e-reader and can be customized to accommodate any language, shortcut or custom icon. E-ink technology is very power-efficient and allows for unmatched readability.

Redditor “Foxconninsider” yesterday said that a keyboard prototype utilizing Sonder technology was shown off at the Incubator Innoconn event at Tsinghua University in Beijing, where she worked.

She allegedly spent some hands-on time with the prototype Magic keyboard that she claimed used an adaptive interface developed by Sonder. She said the main differences between Apple’s prototype and the Sonder keyboard shown in the above video was all the keys had a screen and lighting panel, and the display updated instantly with no slow transition from black to white.

Here’s an excerpt form her post on Reddit:

I work on Tsinghua university campus, it is like the Chinese MIT. It hosted a Foxconn event where I saw the new Macbook keyboard module design and Apple’s 2018 E Ink Magic Keyboard that’s a DFT model. (DFT is design for testing).

The startup Sonder makes a smart keyboard module, it has a new magnetic mechanical mechanism and a lit E Ink display which allows for swapping shortcuts and languages etc. I saw it swap between a few programs and languages (English, Japanese, Taiwanese layouts etc).

The Foxconn Innoconn Executive said Apple’s PBO (Procurement board office) was closing an acquisition for the startup company that is now registered in Hong Kong for a big return of investment for Foxconn International Holdings and E Ink Holdings.

The event was organized by Apple’s favorite manufacturer Foxconn International Holdings. Reddit moderators were able to confirm the report and vouch for the woman’s identity.

According to her, Apple will release the keyboard sometime in 2018.

Image top of post: Sonder’s $199 Bluetooth e-ink keyboard, due later this year.
Source: The Guardian