Future MacBooks could feature alternative keyboards with touch interfaces

Three new patent applications published on Thursday by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office suggest Apple could be rethinking MacBook keyboards for future devices. The patents, which share the name “Device having integrated interface system,” discuss ways to improve the MacBook typing experience in connected ways. 

The patents offer various solutions, with some still including a physical keyboard, while others point to a virtual input device. Regardless, each application discusses a main body enclosure for a MacBook that consists of a transparent top where the keyboard sits that’s made from a material such as plastic or glass. Embedded sensors are used to detect when a user’s fingers touch the surface.

For example, one portable computer comprises:

A display portion comprising a display; a base portion pivotally coupled to the display portion and comprising a glass top case defining: an exterior surface; and a keyboard opening through the glass top case from the exterior surface to an interior surface; and a keyboard positioned at least partially within the keyboard opening and comprising: a substrate; a key configured to move relative to the substrate; and a fabric cover disposed over the key and defining a user interface surface of the key.

Another, meanwhile, offers:

A base portion flexibly coupled to the display portion and comprising: a keyboard comprising keys and having a flexible sheet covering a gap between adjacent keys; and a continuous glass frame extending around a periphery of the keyboard and defining: a first touch-sensitive input region adjacent a first side of the keyboard; and a second touch-sensitive input region adjacent a second side of the keyboard; and a touch sensing system configured to determine a location of touch inputs applied to the first and second touch-sensitive input regions.

Solutions for the removal of dust, liquid, and other debris or contaminants are often mentioned in the patents.

For example, the text includes language such as, “the membrane 1338 may also help prevent ingress of contaminants (e.g., dust, liquid, etc.) into the area below the keycaps.”

Apple is notorious for submitting patents for products that never go beyond the planning stage. And if even one of these inventions becomes a reality, it could be years before we see it released as a final product.

Regardless, it’s nice to see Apple that remains committed to making better keyboards for its devices. You might recall that many have been unhappy with the so-called “butterfly switch” type keyboard that’s found in current-generation MacBook and MacBook Pro devices, including the recently released 2018 MacBook Pro lineup. Perhaps, this type of keyboard will be retired sooner or later.

All three patents announced today, Aug. 2, were filed on March 28.

Would you like to see all-glass keyboards on future MacBooks? Let us know your thoughts below.

Drawings courtesy of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office