Today the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office officially granted Apple a patent that relates to computer systems and computer input devices. More particularly, the present embodiments relate to a new kind of compact keyboard design that provides either a removable key (or set of keys) that is usable as a separate input device like a mouse, pointing stick or joystick.
According to Apple, trackpads, pointing sticks, and trackballs take up valuable space in portable electronic devices that have constantly dwindling size and thicknesses. A sliding handheld mouse is generally more comfortable for fine pointer operations or extended use, but handheld mice are also large, are of limited portability, or require particular work environments (e.g., ones with a proper mouse tracking surface) to be used effectively.
Accordingly, aspects of the granted patent relate to input devices where a keyboard is provided with at least one deployable and removable input device that is specialized for input similar to a handheld mouse, stylus, wand, or other remote, handheld input to a computing device when the deployable input device is separated from the keyboard.
For example, the specialized key can be removable from the keyboard and can comprise input and sensor features configured to receive a "click" input from a user and to track the position or movement of the deployed key as it moved across a tracking surface.
The removable key can comprise features and elements that enable the key to operate as a mouse or other remote input device, such as an optical tracking sensor configured to face and sense the position or movement of a surface below the optical tracking sensor.
The key can also have a button, touch sensor, or similar structure for sensing a click input from a user.
Apple's patent FIG. 1 below illustrates a keyboard with removable keys that could act as a mouse or pointing device. The keyboard could be a compact or full-sized keyboard. The keyboard could be a desktop computer keyboard or a MacBook keyboard; In FIGS. 1A and 1B a user could use a set of keys to use as a remote input device. The user would press a button to release the keys. the set of keys acting as a remote input device (#106) can have multiple different buttons that provide different operations or functions.
In FIG. 2A above, the housing (#202) can comprise a side surface (#222) that can include a retractable body portion (#224) that can be extendable from the side surface to increase the size of the housing. The body portion can alternatively be referred to as an expandable side feature of the housing.
In some embodiments, the top surface can be convex, as shown by surface (#336) in FIG. 3 above. A convex top surface can be positioned on a rectangular key housing or on an elliptical or cylindrical housing. A concave or convex top surface can beneficially have increased surface area as compared to a flat, planar top surface and can therefore provide additional surface area against which a user can provide touch or sliding input to the removable input device as indicated by the bidirectional arrows (#300). The central feature can also act as a fingerprint scanner.
Apple's patent FIG. 16 below shows a simplified view of another embodiment of an input device #1600. In some embodiments, the central feature #1606 is an optical or touch sensor configured to detect the presence, surface features, or movement of a user object external to the outer surface #1604. In one example, the central feature can be a fingerprint scanner.
In Apple's patent FIG. 17 above, the central feature can pop up when the user provides sufficient force. This could provide the user with a joystick-like feature.
For more details, review Apple's granted patent 11,275,451.