Apple Patent Confirms Future Support for Unique Trackpad-Like Functionality for the iPad Pro's Smart Keyboard & more
On November 7th Patently Apple posted a report titled "Two-Thirds of People in a recent Survey think that the iPad Pro isn't good enough to use as their Primary Computer." One of the noted reasons for not using the iPad Pro in certain businesses was that it didn't support the use of a mouse or trackpad.
Yesterday Patently Apple posted a report titled "While Apple's iPad remains the King of Tablets, its Spiraling downward Trend makes it clear that the Party is Over." In that report I had noted that "If Apple could figure out a way to get the Smart Keyboard or Folio to offer a built in trackpad or provide mouse support, consumers in general and Apple fans specifically might be more willing to make the leap to the iPad Pro from the MacBook permanent."
Today the US Patent & Trademark Office published a continuation patent application from Apple that has added key new patent claims. The claims protect a feature Apple had discussed back in a 2014 patent application but didn't protect in their patent claims. The feature is adding a trackpad mode that allows users to make gestures as they would on a trackpad by directing their finger over the keys of the Smart Keyboard. In this mode a cursor would be seen on the iPad Pro's display.
While critics have said that Apple couldn't provide trackpad or mouse support for an iOS device such as the iPad Pro, Apple has stated that such a feature is in fact possible.
Apple's original 20 patent claims focused on the mechanics of the Smart Keyboard and its connectivity to an iPad have been "cancelled." Apple has provided all-new patent claims for their invention that now includes protection for the iPad Pro's Smart Keyboard accepting touch commands similar to a trackpad. The key new patent claims are listed below. With older claims 1-20 cancelled, the first new claims in the current filing begins at number 21.
Patent Claim #21: An input device for an electronic device, the input device comprising: a first cover section, the first section comprising a keyboard, the keyboard being electrically connectable to an electronic device, the keyboard comprising a set of keys and a layer overlaying the set of keys, the layer having an external surface, the keyboard being configured to receive touch input based on capacitive touches or near touches, the capacitive touches or near touches occurring over the external surface of the layer; a second cover section configured to attach to the electronic device; a hinge linked to the first and second cover sections, the hinge being movable between a first position and a second position, wherein when the hinge is in the first position the first cover section is configured to cover a front portion of the electronic device, wherein when the hinge is in the second position the first cover section extends away from the front portion of the electronic device.
Patent Claim #25: The input device of claim 21, wherein the keyboard is configured to receive touch input from a finger of a user on the external surface of the layer.
Patent Claim #27: The input device of claim 25, wherein the touch input is a gesture movement along the layer overlaying the set of keys.
Patent Claim #39: The electronic device cover of claim 35, wherein the disabled mode of the keyboard prevents touch input from being detected by the keyboard.
Apple's patent FIG. 2A presented above is a perspective illustration of a user striking a key on the keyboard shown in FIG. 1; FIG. 2B is a perspective illustration of a user entering touch input on the keyboard shown in FIG. 1. To clarify, Apple notes that "a user may provide input to the tablet computer (iPad Pro) by using sliding gestures or other movements along the smooth surface that overlays the keys.
Apple further note that touch input entered through the surface of the keyboard by a user may enter gestures in conjunction with a displayed cursor. For instance, by operating the keyboard as a trackpad, a cursor (or pointer) may be displayed on a display screen or touch screen and the cursor may be controlled via touch input on the surface 110 of the keyboard 106 to interact with graphical objects on the display screen.
As for a mouse working with the iPad Pro in the future, Apple's Smart Keyboard patent states the following in patent point #40: "In addition to the touchscreen, the tablet computer may receive input from other sources such as a keyboard, mouse, or possibly other devices."
Apple's continuation patent application 20180329453 was filed in May 2018. Considering that this is a patent application, the timing of such a product to market is unknown at this time.
For more information about the original invention, see our 2014 patent report titled "Apple Reveals a New iPad Smart Cover that Includes a Unique Multi-Touch Gesture Keyboard," here.