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Apple Patent Filing Points To a Keyboard With No Keys ( 107

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Digital Trends: Apple's patent, titled "Configurable Force-Sensitive Input Structure for Electronic Devices," was filed in September 2015 and was recently made available to the public on April 7th. It states that this all-in-one input interface consists of a metal contact layer, and a sense layer combined with a drive layer mounted underneath. According to the patent, the sense and drive layers detect a force exerted on the metal contact layer. This is accomplished by using an array of pixels on the sense and drive layers that determine an input location when active pixels are aligned on both layers. The user then gets a response to his or her action thanks to a haptic feedback module and a light guide layer that lights up the "keys" through extremely tiny holes in the metal surface. The components of the force-input sensitive "structure" are enclosed within the device's chassis; thus the only exposed portion is the contact surface itself. In a provided drawing, the illustrated notebook shows four distinct input areas on the surface. However, the patent states that the device can have any number of input areas defined on the contact portion.
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Apple Patent Filing Points To a Keyboard With No Keys

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  • by Fwipp ( 1473271 ) on Monday April 11, 2016 @05:59PM (#51887531)

    Even more amazingly, the mockup shows that the new Macbooks will come with Windows keys! []

    Finally, Apple has done away with the last advantage Microsoft had left.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      Oh man Windows keys on a mac?

      How genius! Only apple could have come up with such an innovative feature.

      Steve must be smiling down upon Cupertino right now.

    • Those are not Windows keys, but an updated version of the Command key.

      BUT: if you do plug in a Microsoft keyboard, the Window key automatically gets used as the Command key.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      with Windows keys!

      Nope. That's the Towel key. In X11 and other more powerful input APIs the towel key is referred to as "super". Towels are indeed super. Never leave home without your towel.

      P.S. Don't you find it strange that the biggest and most important key on the board is blank? It used to have a name which indicated its historic function, but we removed all such labeling when you humans were mind wiped after being quarantined here, so that you'd never escape and infest the galaxy again. Some vestigial memory must

      • Let's just hope humans never figure out the Alternate way to Enter...

        They won't - we control 'em.

    • Even more amazingly, the mockup shows that the new Macbooks will come with Windows keys! []

      Finally, Apple has done away with the last advantage Microsoft had left.

      You completely ignored that it finally also has a "Prt Scr/Sys Req"-key - how could Mac users live without it. More importantly: how could the people installing Linux on their MacBooks do?

  • by Anonymous Coward

    ... sort of . Why would anyone think a buttonless keyboard would be a good idea?

    • by mrbester ( 200927 ) on Monday April 11, 2016 @06:29PM (#51887685) Homepage

      If it was good enough for the ZX81, it can certainly be upgraded and cost ten times as much.

      • Yes, it only took 37 years to reinvent the Atari 400.
        • What is funny to me is that a touchscreen and a raspberry pi can do this already, minus the haptic feedback; and I strongly suspect that if you're not actually trying to read braille, that's not going to be very much of an advantage, whereas pushing on a flat surface will very quickly become annoying, followed by actual sore fingertips.

          As with the chiclet and membrane keyboards of yore, this thing shows no signs at all of actually being comfortable to type on.

          For people who don't type much, I'm sure it'll b

    • Why would anyone think a buttonless keyboard would be a good idea?

      Less moving parts => less parts that could break down => less warranty repairs or replacement costs for Apple.
      (Specially at a time where some territories like EU are going to put up more stringent and customer-oriented law regarding to warranty,
      and thus every maintenance cost that Apple can lower is a win against such future laws).

      Compare with touch screen:
      how often did someone get a dead key on a virtual on-screen keyboard on a smartphone?
      breaking the whole screen is the only failure mode.

      Compare to

      • by Megol ( 3135005 )

        My oldest notebook computer is from 2000 - well used and have no faulty keys nor any other mechanical failures. So that's 100% bull droppings.
        Most computer keyboards are fully functional when thrown away, the few that aren't are mostly mechanically fine and killed by spilled liquids.

        I've seen notebook computers and desktop keyboards that failed mechanically - often because a kid found out that the keys can be removed with a screwdriver or knife, in some other cases when (after spilling some liquid) an adult

        • My oldest notebook computer is from 2000

          Let me guess, IBM ThinkPad T-serie ?

          More seriously, this laptop comes from a different era.
          Its keyboard was designed for more durability.
          (And older laptops even more so).

          Nowadays, more laptops are designed more for shiny factor to attract customers.
          They tend to be less durable.

          The laptops that take a lot of abuse tend to get broken keys and malfunctioning keyboard overtime.

          Sample: Not some 25-year old IBM Thinkpad, that I have still lying around.

          Sample instead is all the various laptops that I've seen at fe

        • I just had to replace a keyboard on a brand new Dell Business laptop a couple weeks ago because it had keys that kept sticking. Don't give me this bullshit about keyboards never failing, because they do. Hell, I had to get a brand new mechanical keyboard replaced recently as well because it was defective when I got it.
          • by Megol ( 3135005 )

            Maybe you shouldn't drink soda when working on your computer? That's the main reason keys are sticky...

            That stuff fails to work even when new is well known and is the same for software, hardware and people. And that isn't relevant as we were talking about keyboards failing mechanically, implying that the (normal) use of keyboards will commonly kill them. Which isn't true in my experience, not even for bargain-basement crap.

            Sure if one uses _any_ mechanical component long enough it will fail, fact of life. E

      • by dkman ( 863999 )
        In addition, you can easily change language and get that language's keyboard.
        No area to catch crumbs when you're eating over it (and we know you do).
        It is probably better at resisting a spill/splash.

        I had a similar idea years ago, though I essentially called for a toughscreen (a-la ipad) with a clear keyboard over it. So you could have any image projected up to the key's surface but you'd have a physical tactile surface to touch type on. That way you can tell what key you're on by touch, yet you could
  • by guruevi ( 827432 ) <> on Monday April 11, 2016 @06:02PM (#51887551) Homepage

    A configurable braille keyboard and perhaps even a braille screen (by turning on/off the haptic feedback of a key) at the cost of a "standard" keyboard.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 11, 2016 @06:06PM (#51887567)

    There is prior art. []

    • by sycodon ( 149926 )

      Ya...Star Trek

  • Only problem... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    ... this is really only good for hunt-and-peckers. I already have serious trouble using laptops with touchpad since my hovering thumb too often gets mistaken for a touch. Combine with focus-follows-pointer and soonish I'm ready to throw the entire thing out the nearest window. So I really do prefer keys and a trackpoint, thanks. Now if you turn the entire surface into a touch-sensitive deal, a touch-typist will have ten fingers hovering over it, which'll likely cause all sorts of noise, distracting from get

    • IDK about that had a coder who loved a 2 panel keyboard mouse combo pretty much 2 multi point touchpads. I think apple bought the company and the patents back in 2004 ish.

  • by neghvar1 ( 1705616 ) on Monday April 11, 2016 @06:14PM (#51887605)
    Keyless keyboard has been around for a while. This article was posted 2/11/2007. []
    • I already hate the idea.

      No tactile feed back. typos will abound.

      • I already hate the idea.

        No tactile feed back. typos will abound.

        And drumming your fingers on a hard surface with no give gets old fast.

        • Re:Hate it (Score:5, Interesting)

          by alvinrod ( 889928 ) on Monday April 11, 2016 @06:50PM (#51887799)
          I think it's even worse than that and the lack of give contributes to RSI injuries. I absolutely hate typing on the current crop of Apple keyboards and find that doing so for extended periods isn't good for my hands. I switched to using mechanical keyboards some years ago which are worlds better than anything else you can find in terms of how comfortable they are to use for prolonged periods. I don't know if there's been any significant study to verify that, but personally for me I've found that they're great. Strangely enough, Apple used to make a really good mechanical keyboard [], but they quit doing so some time ago in order to make everything thinner, needlessly so in the case of their desktop products.
      • I second your hate.

        The really thin keyboard of the current Macbook laptop, which has reduced vertical play, is already one step too far for me in the lack of adequate feedback.
        The Macbook keys actually feel wobbly to the point you're not sure you got a successful press or just wiggled it a bit.

        And this idea is going much further in the "lack of vertical movement" movement.

        I find goofy minimalist keyboards and smartphone virtual keyboards are fine for banging out a short text or very short email, but not for

        • Form over Function (Score:2, Interesting)

          by fyngyrz ( 762201 )

          The really thin keyboard of the current Macbook laptop, which has reduced vertical play, is already one step too far for me in the lack of adequate feedback.

          I can't even use my not-very-new macbook without an external keyboard. The provided surface is not designed for people to actually type on. Just to poke a key now and then, or input 140 characters of (cough) insight. Extended use is incredibly annoying. Hence... external keyboard.

          But you know, it has to be thinner. Form takes priority over function ever

        • by Lumpy ( 12016 )

          All laptops made have shot for keyboards. I am really tired of how all the laptop makers keep making them thinner and thinner and crappier and crappier to the point that at my desk the laptop sits on a stand and I use a freaking real keyboard.

          Some day I will win a few hundred million lotto and I will tour the world kicking laptop keyboard and trackpad engineers in the nuts over and over again.

      • by jez9999 ( 618189 )

        How else are they going to get it as thin as a credit card?

        I'm not even joking. Apple seem to have decided they must get their appliances as thin as a credit card. It's their hipster fashion or something.

        Looney if you ask my. I have a 1cm think LG phone and I don't want thinner. I have a normal thickness Cherry keyboard and I don't want thinner.

        Buy Apple, and you're basically supporting anorexia in the tech community.

      • by jfengel ( 409917 )

        It does have a tactile feedback. It's done with vibration rather than depressing the keys. I don't know if it's any good; I'd need to try it. I suspect that one would learn a rather new typing style.

  • Well, they were very successful with the phone that can't make calls (Ipod touch) so anything is possible.
  • Sounds like an innovative invention to me.
  • So, functionally speaking, it's basically a cross between these two products with haptic feedback? [] []

    Okay, good luck with that.

  • I've kinda gone in the other direction. Right now I'm typing on one of these... []

    • That's pretty badass. I have an Ultra Classic.

    • by spauldo ( 118058 )

      I had one of those (the original from IBM, not the Unicomp version). The plug wasn't compatible with anything I had, though, so I ended up tossing it.

      I've thought about picking up one from Unicomp (I use their 101 key type-M remakes exclusively), but there's a few things that would drive me nuts, like where the backslash/pipe key is.

      Have you set up actions for all the extra keys? Is that as useful as it seems it should be?

      • I don't have enough stuff to do to use all the extra keys ha ha, but use AutoHotkey (Windows) for one button press for access to the control panel, device manager, mouse control panel, and volume up/down/mute. AutoHotkey & this 122 keyboard is really a great setup with powerful capabilities far beyond the simple stuff I do.

        On OSX, Karabiner would give you the same type of keyboard mapping ability.

        • by spauldo ( 118058 )

          I've got a few Sun keyboards around here with the extra keys on the left, and never did use them for anything (other than Stop-A to drop to the firmware). I've always been curious how useful those would be, but never used a Sun workstation for anything other than sysadmin stuff. I don't like the keyboards much, though, so I never seriously considered getting the adapter to use them on PCs.

          I thought it'd be cool to get a 104-key and have custom caps printed with Super and Hyper (for the Windows and Propert

          • I thought it'd be cool to get a 104-key and have custom caps printed with Super and Hyper (for the Windows and Properties keys), but Unicomp don't offer that sort of thing for meta keys.

            Did you look here []?

  • Why would you want to use a keyboard that gives no actual feedback? I guess people don't care to type fast without making mistakes and not having to look at the keyboard like an idiot. It's a really frustrating experience on mobile or foldable keyboards.
  • by Gravis Zero ( 934156 ) on Monday April 11, 2016 @06:29PM (#51887683)

    They are obviously trying to trick Steve Jobs (who openly loathed physical buttons) into coming back to life. The joke's on Apple because Steve already had himself reincarnated as a cow in India.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Makes sense. Cows are almost entirely made of rounded rectangles.

  • They will invent a laptop that has no screen.

  • Laser projection virtual keyboards have been around for years. Apple is simply removing the cool projection part and then complicating the design. No thanks.
    • The cool projection part turns out to make for a pretty awful keyboard. There's no possibility of tactile feedback, nor of seeing what's under one's fingers and it needs a flat surface if the keys are going to look right.

      Front projection is cool, no doubt, but utterly impractical. This is why making laser keyboards has been possible for such a long time but they've never been brought to market; rear projection can also be cool []. What the patent describes isn't projection, but it might still give us a keyboar

  • ... because I had no keys until I met a man who had no fingers.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Just like normal Repetitive Strain Injury, but somehow better!

  • I swear, Apple needs to be banned from making peripherals. Their keyboards, up until the most recent aluminum ones, required the user to take piano lessons to build up the finger strength necessary to push the damn keys. They couldn't make an even remotely ergonomic mouse to save their lives.

    And now they're making keyboards with no keys? Do they not care how jarring it will be to people's fingers, when they are hammering away on a solid surface?

    It's one thing to use a touchpad where you are alternating b

  • Basically a keyboard with no feedback whatsoever. You're essentially whacking your fingers on a solid surface with no relief.
    It's like projected keyboards and touchscreens.

    RSI, thy name is Crappy Keyboard!

  • by Anubis IV ( 1279820 ) on Monday April 11, 2016 @06:48PM (#51887787)

    While this is interesting, you can find Apple patents for plenty of ideas that never came to be.

    The most interesting one I recall seeing was back in '08 or '09 (pre-iPad) for a presumably OS X tablet device that would act as the brains/screen of a desktop or laptop setup. More or less, your "computer" would go with you anywhere as this tablet, but your experience using it would vary, depending on what chassis you plugged it into. I recall they had one that was an iMac chassis with a slot on the side to plug the tablet in, and another that was like a laptop with an empty frame for the screen, into which the tablet would slide. The different chassis could provide I/O hubs, battery, additional computing/graphics horsepower, or whatever else a user might want in a specialized scenario.

    Obviously, that patent never came into being.

    Apple's patents show one possible solution to a problem they're trying to solve, but it's rarely the actual solution Apple settles on for solving those problems. In the case of the tablet, maybe they were trying to solve the problem of being able to take your experience with you anywhere, and maybe they realized that a tablet simply lacked the horsepower at the time, so a better solution would be to work on better syncing between devices, which is exactly what they've done with iCloud Drive, Continuity, Handoff, and a number of other software approaches to making the experience between OS X and iOS more seamless. After the backlash Apple got over the feel of the new MacBook's low-profile "butterfly" keyswitches, I doubt they'd actually go with no-profile keys without having some sort of other development (e.g. using electric shock/air pockets/liquid bubbles to provide tactile feedback) to back it up.

    • by swb ( 14022 )

      Sounds vaguely like a new and improved PowerBook Duo or the SurfaceBook Pro.

      • More or less. Similar ideas appeared in other forms and other product, both from Apple and otherwise. Things like the Surface or iPad Pro do some of that stuff. There are (were?) laptops on the market that can be plugged into hubs to add off-board GPUs via Thunderbolt and whatnot.

        Honestly, at this point, I expect we'll eventually see something like this show up in some form, but it'll be around the time that smartphones catch up with the computing power of a typical PC. Once that happens, it'll become pract

    • I've been waiting for a device like this for years. Right now the way to have our data with us is either to dump it in the cloud or replicate it across devices. Really a phone with a docking station that supplies a faster CPU is a great solution.
  • We had these in the 1970s. Haptic feedback was provided by a speaker underneath which clicked every time a key was successfully pressed. They did pretty horribly in the market [].

    They're still around in a few places where their waterproof nature is useful (e.g. the fill buttons on soda dispensers). But they failed pretty miserably as keyboards because of the lack of tactile feedback - you couldn't tell by feel that your fingers were actually resting on the correct keys. The lack of movement when pressin
  • And didn't they really really suck to type on? The only winners from something like this are the manufacturers, who save a bunch of money on actual decent keyboards. Thanks, but no thanks.
  • A keyboard without keys is just a board.
    I believe there is prior art there.

  • Keyboard with no keys. Can I claim, prior art [] on this?
  • Would it technically be called a "keyboard" if it has no keys?

  • I will happily continue to use my Keytronic USB replica of the good old IBM 104 keyboard.
  • I recall a "keyboard" from 5 or 10 years ago that projected the keys on a flat surface and tracked your fingers to register key presses. Wasn't one of the conclusions that typing on a hard, unyielding surface is a good way to end up with sore and strained fingers?

    Does this patent address that issue in any way?

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