Apple wins a MacBook patent that eliminates the physical keyboard & trackpad and allows the user to reconfigure its working surface
Today the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office officially granted Apple a second patent that relates to a possible future MacBook that eliminates the physical keyboard and trackpad with a reconfigurable and customizable surface. 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 as Apple did by killing the traditional mobile phone with their multitouch iPhone.
The electronic device 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 on 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.
Apple’s second granted patent has added an additional 20 patent claims. Below are just four of the new claims:
Added, Patent Claim #8: “An input structure comprising: a contact layer defining a set of input regions areas and a group of holes extending through the contact layer; a light guide layer positioned below the contact layer and configured to: in a first mode of operation, illuminate a first set of holes of the group of holes to define, at a first region of a first input area of the set of input areas, a keyboard; in a second mode of operation, illuminate a second set of holes of the group of holes to define, at a second region of the first input area, an input element having a shape different from the keyboard; and illuminate a third set of holes of the group of holes to define a second input area of the set of input areas, the second input area configured as a track pad; a sense layer positioned below the light guide layer; a drive layer positioned below the light guide layer and the sense layer, the drive layer configured to detect an input force applied to the contact layer; and a compliant layer positioned between the sense layer and the drive layer, the compliant layer formed from an at least partially elastic material.
Added, Patent Claim #14: “The input structure of claim 8, further configured to: detect a gesture applied to the contact layer; and in response to the detected gesture, change at least one of a size or a shape of a displayed boundary of the second input area.”
Added, Patent Claim #16: “The electronic device of claim 15, wherein: the first set of keys defines a keyboard; the second set of keys defines a number pad; and each respective key of the first set of keys and the second set of keys includes a respective illuminated glyph.”
Added, Patent Claim #17: “The electronic device of claim 16, wherein: the illuminated third set of holes defines a boundary of the track pad region; and in response to a gesture input on a contact portion and detected by the input stack-up, the boundary of the track pad region varies in accordance with the gesture input.”
To view more patent figures and full details including the remaining 16 new patent claims, review Apple's granted patent 11,360,631.
While the latest MacBook Air design and MacBook Pro with the new M2 chip is a nice update, a reconfigurable MacBook would be revolutionary and one that I hope to see come to market in the coming years.
Apple has been working on this concept since 2011. More recent patents on this theme were covered in the reports presented below:
01: Apple Talks Up Smart Bezels + Live & Reconfigurable MacBooks
02: Apple has won a MacBook Patent that introduces new Finger Sensing Keys, a built-in iPhone Charger and more