Apple Invents new Keyboard and Accessory for MacBooks, Desktops and iPad Pro that locks out Debris and Liquids
Two weeks ago, the US Patent & Trademark Office published a patent application from Apple that related to a possible future keyboard with a new design. It also covered a keyboard accessory that could flexibly fit over Apple's conventional keyboards for a MacBook, an iPad Pro keyboard or a desktop keyboard that protects the keyboard from debris and spilled liquids.
While traditional keyboards on the market today range from cheap to expensive, the one common thing that they have in common is their weakness to debris and spills from beverages which end up gumming up the keyboard and at times rendering them useless with either stuck or non-functioning keys.
Apple's patent filing states that "Liquid ingress around the keys into the keyboard can damage electronics. Residues from such liquids, such as sugar, may corrode or block electrical contacts, prevent key movement by bonding moving parts, and so on. Solid contaminants (such as dust, dirt, food crumbs, and the like) may lodge under keys, blocking electrical contacts, getting in the way of key movement, and so on.
The keys on a conventional keyboard are spaced apart to provide key definition which is a property of a keyboard that describes how easily a user can tell where a key is located by sight or touch. Typically, strong key definition correlates with large gaps or grooves between the keycaps since those gaps or grooves help orient the user's fingers on the keyboard. These large gaps pose a problem for collecting debris and so forth." Apple's invention addresses these issues.
Apple's invention relates to keyboards and/or other input devices that include keycaps and at least one flexible structure attached to the keycaps. The flexible structure, such as, for example, a flexible membrane or woven layer, can provide flexible bridges or interkey supports between the keycaps that, in combination with the keycaps, make a substantially continuous and smoothed top surface for the input device.
Apple adds that "The top surface can therefore more easily be used as a touch-sensitive interface since it more easily allows the user to slide their finger across the keyboard."
This is a concept that Patently Apple first covered in a 2014 patent report titled "Apple Reveals a New iPad Smart Cover that Includes a Unique Multi-Touch Gesture Keyboard." A few of the patent figures from report are presented below to provide a clearer understanding of what Apple is describing in this latest patent.
Apple further notes in this patent filing that the flexible structure and keycaps are designed to limit ingress of unwanted material into the keyboard by providing a substantially continuous top surface for the keyboard.
The flexible structure can have a fluid-tight and/or unbroken top surface so that any contaminants are held by the flexible structure spaced away from the inside of the keyboard.
A membrane can be positioned between outer keycaps and inner portions of the keyboard such as inner keycaps, collapsible domes, stabilizers (e.g., a butterfly or scissor hinge mechanism), and base components (e.g., a substrate, base layer, housing, etc.).
Fluid and debris that falls between the keycaps can be blocked and held by the membrane at a location where it can be more easily cleaned off or otherwise removed from the keyboard. The fluid and debris can also thereby be prevented from coming into contact with electrically charged portions of the keyboard or interfering with the function of domes, stabilizers, and other moving parts of the keyboard.
A Keyboard Accessory
Beyond future keyboards using this new design, Apple also is thinking about making a keyboard accessory that will follow the principles of the new design that could fit over keyboards you currently have.
Apple notes that "In some embodiments, a keyboard accessory is provided that can overlay and cover keys on a keyboard in order to enhance its resistance to penetration by unwanted materials, to better configure the keyboard as a smooth touch interface, and to provide different key definition and feel than would otherwise be provided by the keyboard. The keyboard accessory can include a set of rigid keycaps and a flexible layer that holds the rigid keycaps together.
The accessory can be overlaid on a keyboard (e.g., a keyboard of a laptop computer) to provide touch interface and smooth sliding surface functionality that would otherwise not be possible using the keyboard alone."
In patent FIG. 31 below we're able see a schematic view of a keyboard accessory #3100 and a MacBook (#3102) having a keyboard a built-in keyboard (#3104). The accessory can overlay the keycaps of the device's keyboard with corresponding keys. Pressing on one of the keys of the accessory can cause the corresponding key of the device's keyboard to move underneath.
The accessory can be retained to the computer using magnets, clips, or interlocking parts on the accessory and the computer.
In some cases, the accessory and computer are capable of electrical communication with each other. The accessory can comprise a touch-sensitive layer (e.g., a capacitive touch interface layer or a pressure-sensitive touch interface layer) configured to detect contact between a user instrument and the accessory.
The accessory can therefore provide electrical signals to the computer via a wired or wireless communication interface that links them to each other. Accordingly, the accessory can be used to provide touch- or pressure-based input to the computer.
Apple's patent FIG. 2 above illustrates an iPad Pro keyboard that could possibly take on this future keyboard design.
Overall Apple's engineers are shown to be considering a wide variety of designs to accomplish their goal as presented below.
In the last image presented above we're able to see patent FIG. 26. Apple notes that the keyboard assembly (#2600) can comprise a set of resilient supports (#2610) positioned on the web structure (#310). The resilient supports can comprise an elastically compressible material such as a foam rubber or a compressible polymer.
With Apple's MacBook Pro and MacBook Air keyboards recently being reverting back to the Magic Keyboard mechanical design, it's difficult to say when this newly designed keyboard could come to market.
Yet with that being said, Apple engineers can walk and chew gum at the same time and so it's a future design that many Apple fans would like to see come to market to finally end the problem of keyboards failing due to debris and liquid spills.
Secondly, the touch sensitive gesture aspect of the invention has been an ongoing project with Apple engineers going back to at least 2014. When this aspect of the keyboard design is figured out, we'll likely see this something like the "Magic Gesture Keyboard" come to market.
Apple's patent application was published two weeks ago and was originally filed in Q1 2019. Considering that this is a patent application, the timing of such a product to market is unknown at this time.
Apple inventors of this patent are listed as: Wang; Paul X.; (Cupertino, CA); Mathew; Dinesh C.; (San Francisco, CA); Hendren; Keith J.; (San Francisco, CA).
About our Cover Graphic: Our cover graphic covers Apple's patent FIG. 28 in-part which is an isometric view of a top surface of a new keyboard design.