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1. Apple advances work on virtual keyboards for iMac & MacBook
On September 6, 2012, the US Patent & Trademark Office published a patent application from Apple that reveals their continuing work on virtual keyboards for both the iMac and MacBook. For the MacBook, such work could lead to a future hybrid notebook/eBook iDevice. 


Apple Advances their Work on Virtual Keyboards


Computer systems having configurable inputs that may be configured at least in part based on a relative position of a user's hand are provided. Additionally, the computer systems may be configured for displaying an image of the input device with a user's hand/digits overlaying the input device. The overlaying image of the user's hand/digits is shown when the user's hands are proximately located to an input device or surface. Further, the user's hand position may be used to configure the input device. Discrete sensors for sensing contact and/or input may be programmable in software so that input received from a particular member is interpreted as a specific input by the computer system based on the configuration of the input device.


As the computer system provides a virtual image of the input device, ergonomics may be improved. That is, a user may simply view the display screen to see the relative location of their hands to the input device and its virtual buttons.


In some embodiments, the input device may include a surface with which a user interacts. The surface may have sensors associated with it to sense proximity and location of a user's hand/digits relative to the surface. Additionally, the sensors may be configured to sense contact and/or input by a user. In some embodiments, contact by a user may be determined to be input based on the amount of pressure applied and/or a change in pressure being applied, among other things.


Moreover, when used as a keyboard, all keys are programmable, allowing for function keys, international keyboards, capitals, numerics, and so forth. Further, fewer keys may be provided in some embodiments and each key may be programmable for multiple functions (e.g., more than two functions per key).


Virtual Keyboard: The Configurable Input Device (iMac)


The first round of patent figures relate specifically to Apple's iMac desktop computer.


2. virtual keyboard - the configurable input device - iMac

Patent Figures Noted Above: Apple's patent FIG. 1 illustrates a computer system including a configurable input device and providing an image of the configured input device on its display; patent FIG. 2 illustrates an array of sensors in the configurable input device of FIG. 1; patent FIG. 4 illustrates a user's hands located proximately to the input device of FIG. 1 and an image of the user's hands being shown on the display of the computer system; FIG. 5 illustrates the display of the computer system of FIG. 4 showing the location of the user's fingertips as ovals; patent FIG. 6 illustrates a displayed virtual image device being altered to show a relative positioning of a user's digits and the inputs underlying the user's digits.


In some embodiments, the input device (noted as patent point #102 above) may take the form of a generally planar surface 110. Sensors 106 and 108 may be configured to sense proximity and/or location objects relative to the surface. For example, the noted sensors may sense a user's hands/digits when they are near the input device. In some embodiments, the noted sensors may take the form of a light sensor (e.g., a camera), a proximity sensor (e.g., ultrasonic sensor), or the like. Additionally, in some embodiments, sensors may be located adjacent to and/or under the surface of the input device to sense proximity, pressure or contact. .


Additionally, or alternatively, the user's digits may be shown in positions illustrating what input their digits overlay. That is, the illustrated digits may be shown as being over particular characters, icons, etc., that the discrete input devices will be interpreted as by the computing system.


Apple's first patent application relating to a virtual keyboard for a future iMac was covered in our January 2011 patent report titled "Apple Gets Closer to a Virtual Keyboard for the iMac +."


Virtual Keyboard: The Configurable Input Device (MacBook)


The second round of patent figures relate specifically to Apple's MacBook. In patent FIG. 7 shown below we see a possible future MacBook with a flat surface that could accommodate a virtual keyboard. The MacBook's display (156) is included and may show a virtual image of the virtual keyboard. A camera 158 may be utilized to determine contact, proximity and/or position of a user's hand. Generally, the camera may be utilized to determine the position of the user's hand relative to the virtual keyboard. The positional information may be utilized in assignment/interpretation of the sensor input and to configure the virtual image of the displayed input device (160).


3. virtual keyboard - the configurable input device - macbook

Apple's patent FIG. 8 illustrates the MacBook having an array 161 of input devices (or squares in a grid 163). In this embodiment, the input devices (squares on a grid) may take the form of switches or keys which may sense the user's input. The input devices (squares on a grid) may not have a legend. That is, they may not be labeled or have indicators on them. Rather, a virtual image 165 on the display 156 will show an interpretation of the input of the input devices 163.


4. Workflow Chart - Configurable Input Device


Should this future MacBook Pro configuration with a virtual keyboard ever surface, there's a chance that this version of Apple's MacBook could technically double as a foldable eBook as a recent Toshiba patent has illustrated.


In February 2011, we posted a report covering Apple's Live & Reconfigurable MacBooks patent and we believe that today's patent application builds on that foundation.

Apple's patent application was originally filed in Q1 2011 and published today by the US Patent and Trademark Office.


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