Apple Invents Transparent Glass Keycaps that are more durable, provide textured edges with Superior Day and Night Lighting
Today the US Patent & Trademark Office published a patent application from Apple that relates to future MacBook and desktop keyboard keycaps that could be partially transparent or translucent, that provide edge textures to improve the typing experience. The keycaps could also provide superior lighting for day and night typing.
More specifically, Apple's patent relates to keycaps for keyboards, buttons, and other input devices. These keyboards can benefit from being thin, light, and durable. Glasses, transparent ceramics (e.g., sapphire), transparent polymers, and similar materials can be desirable to use on a surface of keycaps to achieve these objectives.
When used as typing surfaces or other touch interfaces, these materials can be durable and difficult to blemish or scratch, even when subjected to millions of use cycles.
They can be made thin while still having high rigidity and stiffness, so keycaps with these materials can be made thin while still being resistant to bending and flexing when pressed.
Their transparency or translucency can also be advantageous in keyboards with keys that are backlit or side-lit since they can transfer, reflect, or distribute light. Their surfaces can be smoothed and polished and can resist scratching or other blemishes.
Apple's patent FIG. 5. Below illustrates keycap #500 that can comprise a transparent body #502 having a substantially flat central top surface 508 that is recessed relative to its four edges (#'s 514, 516, 518, 520). The ridges or raised sections can be rounded (e.g., radiused) or beveled (e.g., chamfered) around their top edges. The ridges or raised sections can improve key definition around all four edges, particularly when they are positioned adjacent to raised edges of a neighboring keycap.
In patent FIG. 8 we're shown key definition is improved by incorporating different surface textures on the top surface #908 of the transparent body 902. For example, the outer edge areas of #'s 914, 916, 918 & 920 of the top surface can comprise a different (e.g., rougher or smoother) texture than a central area of the top surface.
In various embodiments, the outer edge areas can be sanded, sandblasted, bead blasted, etched, or otherwise roughened in texture relative to the central area #930. As a user moves a finger or other instrument across the top surface 908, the texture of the surface can affect the friction between the surface and the finger or instrument.
In Apple's patent FIG. 10 above we see an isometric view of another keycap #1000. In this case, the glyph #1022 in the middle layer #1004 can comprise a material that is opaquer than the rest of the middle layer. This configuration can beneficially improve visibility of the glyph in bright ambient light conditions.
Additionally, the keycap can more dramatically change color if the backlight illumination changes color. For example, dual-color or RGB LEDs used for backlighting can change the color of a larger proportion of the keycap.
Apple's patent application 20200211795 that was published today by the U.S. Patent Office was filed back in Q2 2019. Considering that this is a patent application, the timing of such a product to market is unknown at this time.