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Apple reveals work on a Future MacBook with unique Aluminum Keys with Special Features

1 cover - Apple patent for aluminum keys with microperforations ... - Patently Apple IP report Dec 15  2022

Today the US Patent & Trademark Office published a patent application from Apple that relates to keyboards and key mechanisms for an electronic device. More particularly, the present embodiments relate to keycaps having illuminable glyphs that are selectively visible or invisible to an unaided human eye. The keys are partially made of an aluminum material offering unique advantages.

In Apple's patent background they note that keyboard keys often include legends or glyphs used to identify the functions of each key. Also, to improve ease of use of a keyboard in low light conditions, many keyboards provide backlighting that illuminates the keys or glyphs. In many instances, the keycaps are designed to be thin and inexpensive, thereby leading them to be made of plastic and with painted-on or top-coated glyph material. Painted or coated keycaps tend to have low durability due to their repeated contact with fingers, especially when the user has oily or dirty hands, thereby causing the glyphs to rub off or to become unreadable over time. Additionally, because the keycaps are made of plastic, they tend to have a lower quality feel and timbre as compared to other materials.

Apple is constantly seeking improvements to these technologies to better serve the needs of its users, with emphasis on function and esthetics.

Apple's patent relates to a key mechanism, including a keycap including a top surface, a bottom surface, and an array of perforations through the top and bottom surfaces, an array of lights attached to the bottom surface of the keycap, wherein each single light of the array of lights illuminates a single respective perforation of the array of perforations, a base plate positioned below the keycap and the array of lights, and a switch to detect movement of the keycap relative to the base plate.

In some embodiments, the array of perforations is arranged in a rectangular grid. The array of perforations can be invisible to an unaided human eye. The array of perforations can include at least one perforation having a tapering diameter. The keycap can further include an at least partially transparent material at least partially filling at least some of the perforations of the array of perforations. The array of lights can be controllable to selectively display a first glyph or a second glyph through the array of perforations. The keycap can include an opaque side wall preventing light from the array of lights from passing below the keycap.

Interestingly, Apple notes that the keycaps of the keyboard can be made with materials not typically used in keycaps for conventional keyboards, such as metals including aluminum.

Accordingly, the keycaps of the keyboard can have top surfaces that match the appearance of the housing surfaces of the keyboard surrounding the keycaps that may also have metal surfaces.

This can contribute to an overall clean appearance of the keyboard resting in its housing and can further enhance the "floating" effect of the lighted glyphs by making the boundaries between the keycaps and their housing (e.g., including a web extending between keys) less prominent.

In another innovation, Apple notes that the light sources or displays can include an array of LEDs such as a display using micro-LED or OLED pixels. The perforations in the keycaps can correspond in number to the pixels of the display so that, for example, each single pixel of the display can provide light to one single perforation. In this manner, the displays/light sources can be controlled to generate glyphs that are changeable or adjustable between different shapes, letters, colors, symbols, animations, languages, and other features.

For instance, a controller of the keyboard can be used to control the displays to change between different keyboard layouts (e.g., QWERTY, QWERTZ, Colemak, etc.), different keyboard standards or languages (e.g., ANSI, ISO, JIS, Korean, Chinese, etc.), and different symbols or customizable glyphs (e.g., emoji, icons, system controls like power, volume, or brightness, application-specific function indicators, etc.).

In some embodiments, the key displays can be controlled to show animations, video, or other changing information over time in one key or a group of keys. In this way, these keycaps can enable interactivity with the keyboard in engaging and pleasing ways for users, while also having a subdued, refined, and uniform appearance when not being used. 

Apple's patent FIG. 1 below illustrates that target device and keyboard to accommodate this advanced keyboard invention; FIG. 2A illustrates the keyboard when no activity is taking place. It takes on the look of the MacBook's aluminum finish without distraction; FIG. 2B illustrates how the glyphs and lettering are turned on by the user when ready to type.

2. Apple Keyboard patent Dec 15  2022 - Patently Apple IP Report

Apple's patent FIG. 3B above shows a view a key with an array of perforations through the top surface #300 simplified and visibly enlarged for the purposes of explanation in the present disclosure. In other words, the keycap would appear to have a blank uniform appearance to an unaided human eye.  as it appears in Apple's patent FIG. 3B is provided to illustrate where microperforations could be formed in the keycap and how they could appear if they were visible to an unaided human eye; FIG. 3C illustrates wherein the microperforations are partially illuminated to present a letter or glyph

Apple's patent FIG. 6 below is a side section view of a keycap with the various features explained.

3. Apple patent FIG. 6  Side view of keycap - Patently Apple IP report

For more details, review Apple's patent application number US 20220399172 A1. Apple's patent inventor is from 12 year veteran Shravan Bharadwaj, Director of manufacturing design who is in charge of new product operations.

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