Apple continues to work on their Possible Future MacBook with a unique Reconfigurable Force-Sensitive Surface
Apple has been working on a MacBook with a reconfigurable surface for over a decade. Patently Apple covered Apple's first patent on this back in 2011. The filing was actually made in December 2010. A major new patent application on this concept was covered by us in May 2020. Today, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office published a patent from Apple that reveals their ongoing work and refinement of the reconfigurable MacBook that basically eliminates the physical keyboard and rigidly set trackpad.
According to the patent, the user would be free to configure the interface of their MacBook to work for them, be it adding a numeric pad or a giant gamepad and place them anywhere on the MacBook surface grid as noted in our cover graphic.
This possible future MacBook has the power to reinvent the notebook, just as Apple did by killing the traditional mobile phone that was riddled with physical buttons and replaced with a multitouch display.
According to Apple, the electronic device (MacBook) may utilize a single input structure for forming a number of distinct input devices, or, conversely, may include a number of input structures for forming distinct input devices.
As a result, the input devices can be moved to a specific location of the casing based on user preference. Similarly, one or more of such input devices may be resized or reshaped by user input, operation of an associated electronic device, software, firmware, other hardware, and so on.
Apple's patent FIG. 1A noted below shows a reconfigurable MacBook with configurable, force-sensitive input structures; In FIG. 11 we see a standard MacBook configuration with a non-standard numeric keypad added by a user in a position they so choose; FIG. 15B shows a top view of an electronic device including a configurable, force-sensitive input structure in a second operational mode including a track pad and the mode key.
Considering that this is a continuation patent, Apple's key focus was adding 20 new patent claims to further protect their invention. Below are a few of the new patent claims:
Apple's new Patent Claim #1 titled "An input structure" simplifies its original description this way: "a metal contact layer defining a dimensionally-configurable input region; a sense layer positioned below the metal contact layer; a drive layer capacitively coupled to the sense layer; a compliant layer positioned between the sense layer and the drive layer; and a rigid base layer positioned below the drive layer; wherein the sense layer and drive layer cooperate to sense a force exerted on the metal contact layer."
Patent Claim #5: "The input structure of claim 1, further comprising substantially rigid supports extending from the rigid base layer to the metal contact layer."
Patent Claim #6: "The input structure of claim 5, wherein the substantially rigid supports resist deformation of the metal contact layer."
Patent Claim #9: "The input structure of claim 1, wherein the compliant layer comprises an array of deformable components."
Patent Claim #10: "An electronic device comprising: a metal casing comprising: a contact portion; and a base portion positioned below and coupled to the contact portion; a group of holes formed through the contact portion of the casing; an input structure positioned within the casing and below the group of holes, the input structure comprising: a sense layer positioned below the contact portion of the metal casing; a drive layer positioned beneath the sense layer; a compliant layer positioned between and coupled to the sense layer and the drive layer; and a set of supports positioned within the compliant layer; wherein the input structure is operative to capacitively detect a force and a location of a force exerted on the contact portion of the metal casing."
Patent Claim #18: "An electronic device comprising: a metal casing comprising a contact portion; and an input structure positioned below and secured to the contact portion of the casing, the input structure comprising: at least one input area formed on a portion of the contact portion; wherein the input structure is configured to provide a group of interchangeable input devices within the at least one input area formed on at least the portion of the contact portion."
To review all 20 added patent claims, check out Apple's continuation patent 20210200385. Considering that this is a continuation patent, the timing of such a product to market is unknown at this time.