Back in 2011 Patently Apple posted a report titled "Apple Talks-Up Smart Bezels + Live & Reconfigurable MacBooks." The invention was basically a master overview of reconfigurable hardware interfaces for MacBooks, the iPad and into future devices like a television or home appliances. One of the main thrusts of the invention was the reconfigurable or 'Live' MacBook Surface. Today, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office published a patent application from Apple that reveals their ongoing work and refinement of the reconfigurable MacBook that basically eliminates the physical keyboard and rigidly set trackpad. 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. While some PC OEMs think that innovation is simply about making a device thin, Apple thinks differently and seeks to deliver that which is game changing.
The Reconfigurable MacBook Surface
Apple's invention relates to a configurable, force-sensitive input structure for an electronic device such as a MacBook. In some embodiments, the force-sensitive input structure may be a zero travel or low travel structure.
The term "zero travel," as used herein, may not require the absence of movement, but rather may be defined as imperceptible or unrecognizable movement of components of the input structure by a user of the electronic device and/or a flexing or bending of a structure as opposed to travel of one component with respect to another.
Apple notes that components of the electronic device and/or the input structure may deform in response to a user force providing an input to the electronic device (e.g., an "input force"). However, the deformation of these components may not be perceived, felt or detected by the user when interacting with the electronic device and/or the input structure, or may be relatively negligible.
In a particular embodiment, the configurable, force-sensitive input structure may be configured as a variety of input devices for the electronic device including, but not limited to, a keyboard, a number pad or a track pad.
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 force-sensitive input structure can provide unique/configurable input devices or components to a user; such devices/components may not be typically associated with the electronic device and/or may not be usually integrated with the electronic device. Think of a gamepad, as one example.
Furthermore, positioning of the input devices of the force-sensitive input structure may be customizable. That is, the input devices can be moved to distinct locations on the casing, within the force-sensitive input structure.
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.
The Reconfigurable MacBook
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.
In Apple's patent FIG. 12 noted below we're able to see an enlarged portion #12 of a portion of FIG. 11 above regarding the keyboard.
Apple notes that in FIG. 12, select holes or micro-perforations in the MacBook may also be illuminated to provide a key glyph (#246). As shown in the non-limiting example of FIG. 12, each illuminated input key (#244) may have an illuminated key glyph corresponding to the respective input key of the QWERTY keyboard.
Apple notes that the haptic feedback module via haptic actuator(s) may provide haptic signals to contact portions of the casing. The haptic signals mimic the tactile feel of depressing a button on a conventional keyboard, or a click on a conventional track pad.
Apple further notes that the micro-perforations or holes on the surface of the reconfigurable MacBook may be sealed with an optically clear sealant (or any other suitable sealant) to reduce ingress of debris and/or liquid from entering while allowing light to pass through to form keys, a keyboard, trackpad or other structure.
And lastly, Apple clarifies that although the focus of the invention has been on a MacBook, the concept could be applied to other future devices such as an iMac, an iPad, iPhone, iPod, gaming device, a display, a digital music player, a wearable computing device or display, a health monitoring device, and so on.
Apple's patent application was originally filed in Q3 2015. Considering that this is a patent application, the timing of such a product to market is unknown at this time.
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