Yesterday the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office officially published a series of 73 newly granted patents for Apple Inc. In this particular report we cover two MacBook patents that place heavy emphasis of including a glass cover where the keyboard/trackpad area reside. The second granted patent is a little more radical in that the engineers envision the use of complete glass base to even including raised glass keys. Both patents present the position that virtual keys will also include touch sensors beyond key mechanisms. Glass enclosures are definitely on the minds of various Apple design teams. Beyond the two granted patents for glass MacBooks issued yesterday, Apple surprised us back in January 2020 with a wickedly hot glass desktop.
MacBook with Locally-Flexible Regions
In this first newly granted MacBook patent Apple reveals a new MacBook design that could include a glass surface at least in the area of the keyboard and traditional trackpad reside.
As noted in patent FIG. 3 below we're able to see that with a glass design, the new force input/haptic output actuators could be spread out over the width of a future MacBook that would reduce the thickness of the MacBook while eliminating the traditional cutout region for a dedicated trackpad.
Considering that Apple gives a "glass" enclosure priority in claim #1, we have to take it that this is a serious consideration for a future MacBook design. The glass enclosure could also double as a secondary display area or be restricted to the current MacBook Touch Bar.
In another example, the enclosure is formed from glass and the user interface surface is formed from a ceramic material. In other examples, the user interface surface may be integrated into the enclosure. In many examples, the user interface surface is associated with another interface or input system of the electronic device 100, such as a touch input system.
Apple further notes that "an aluminum frame may result in a different haptic output than a copper frame, a plastic frame, or a glass frame."
Apple's granted patent 10,775,889 was filed for in July 2017 and published yesterday by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
Glass MacBook with Glass Keyboard
Apple's second granted patent issued yesterday covers a future MacBook or MacBook-like device that may include a display portion that includes a display housing and a display at least partially within the display housing. The device may also include a base portion pivotally coupled to the display portion and including a bottom case, a glass top case coupled to the bottom case and defining an array of raised key regions, and a sensing system below the glass top case and configured to detect an input applied to a raised key region of the array of raised key regions.
The array of raised key regions may form a keyboard of the device. The glass top case may further define a touch-input region along a side of the keyboard. The input may include a force applied to the raised key region of the array of raised key regions, and the raised key region may be configured to locally deflect in response to the applied force. The sensing system may be configured to detect the local deflection of the raised key region and detect touch inputs applied to the touch-input region.
For example, the glass sheet may be a strengthened glass having a thickness of about 40 microns or less. Due to the thinness and flexibility of the glass, when a typical typing force is applied to the thin glass sheet (e.g., via a finger), the glass may be primarily deformed directly under the force (e.g., under the finger) while other areas of the glass sheet remain substantially undeformed or less deformed.
The local deformation of the thin glass may provide a more satisfying typing experience than thicker or less flexible glass, as the user may actually feel a deformation or depression that is similar to or suggestive of a conventional movable-key keyboard.
Moreover, the local deformation may produce a softer typing feel (e.g., a less jarring impact) than striking a less compliant surface, such as a conventional touchscreen.
In some cases, the glass cover of a keyboard may include protrusions, contours, recesses, and/or other shapes or features that define distinct key regions of the keyboard. For example, the glass cover may be thermoformed or otherwise processed to form an array of raised key regions (e.g., protrusions, contoured key regions, etc.) that define the key regions of a keyboard.
Raised key regions may provide a more familiar-feeling keyboard surface to users, as the individual key regions may have a similar shape and feel to conventional movable keys. Moreover, a user may be able to type faster and with fewer errors because they can feel the borders and boundaries of each key region and do not need to look at the keyboard to align their fingers with the keys. The ability to feel distinct key regions may also help prevent a user's hands from unintentionally drifting out of position during typing.
Glass members for keyboard surfaces may be coupled to an electronic device in various ways. For example, as shown in FIG. 1, a glass top case 112 may define substantially all of a top surface of a computing device, and may be coupled directly to a bottom case 110. FIGS. 18A-18D illustrate other example techniques for coupling a glass member for a keyboard surface to a computing device.
Apple's patent FIG. 1 below depicts a computing device 100 (or simply "device 100") that may include a glass cover. In particular, a base portion 104 of the device 100 may include a top case 112 (also referred to as a cover) that is formed at least partially from glass and that defines a keyboard and optionally other input regions (e.g., a trackpad or touch-input region) of the device; FIG. 18A depicts a computing device 1800 (or simply "device 1800") that may include a glass member defining a keyboard surface; FIG. 9A depicts another example configuration of a glass top case; FIGS. 10A-10C depict example cross-sectional views of a dual-layer glass top case with raised glass keys.
Apple's granted patent 10,775,850 was originally filed for in Q3 2018 and published yesterday by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.