Apple Invents a new Keyboard Illumination System and Simplifies their Force Touch Trackpad Mechanics
Today the US Patent & Trademark Office published two MacBook related patent applications from Apple that relate to a new keyboard design with an emphasis on delivering a new illumination key mechanism and a simplification of their Force Touch trackpad to save bulk, power and more.
New MacBook Keyboard Illumination System
It's unknown whether the new key construction described in this patent filing will cure all of the ills of the MacBook Pro keyboard because most of the focus of this filing is on a new illumination system that includes a new sensing membrane.
Apple notes that the sensing membrane #136 shown in the patent figures below may also include one or more elements of a capacitive-based sensor, magnetic-based sensor, optical sensor, and/or other sensors.
In patent FIG. 7A above depicts a light guide panel (LGP) across multiple keys. Apple's light source may use micro-LED, LED, OLED to light up the keys brightly.
Apple's patent application 20190056794 is a very technical patent and for those wanting to dive further into the details could do so here.
Some of the Inventors
Zheng Gao: Sr. Product Design Manager. Gao manages multiple product design teams to develop all input devices for Apple, including keyboards and trackpads for all Mac portables, standalone keyboards, mice, trackpads, remotes and many other undisclosed products. In recently released MacBook, two key breakthroughs: the force-sensing trackpad and the super thin keyboard were developed by this team.
Kate Bergeron: VP Hardware Engineering – who came to Apple via MIT where she was an instructor in D-Lab. Bergeron has worked on AirPods, HomePod and more.
Alex Lehmann: Product Design Engineer - Finite Element Analyst
Apple Refines the MacBook Pro Touch Trackpad
Apple notes in their patent filing that in conventional configurations, touch input sensors, force input sensors, and haptic actuators are separately controlled and operated, and independently contribute to undesirable increases in thickness, weight, power consumption, and manufacturing complexity of an electronic device.
Apple's invention brings forth a new "Unified Input/Output Interface" to reduce bulk, save power and be more responsive.
Further, Apple's new unified interface could be applied beyond MacBooks to CarPlay, aeronautical vehicles, home automation devices, implanted devices, eyeglass devices and more.
Apple notes that it is understood that a controller of a unified input/output interface can be configured to transition between one or more modes (e.g., a touch sense mode, a force sense mode, a haptic output mode, a hybrid mode, and so on) in any number of ways. FIG. 4 depicts one example of a finite state diagram.
Apple's patent application 20190056837 was filed in Augusty 2018 and published today by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
Some of the Inventors
Supratik Datta: Hardware Engineering Manager; Touch Sensor Architecture & Modeling
Asif Hussain: Sr. Engineering Manager; Architecture/definition, hardware design & development of display & keyboard backlight (Buck or boost converter based) for cinema displays.
Karan Jain: Hardware Manager; Leading a team which is responsible for designing novel core technologies for consumer devices enabling human interfaces and bringing them to world, for use.
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