Apple wins 3 MacBook patents covering a Retractable Keys System, the use of Magnetic Sensors & Selective Keyboard Backlighting
Today the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office officially granted Apple 3 MacBook patents. One covers the MacBook keyboard having retractable keys that could further slimline the MacBook when the lid is closed. The second covers a new magnetic system that is designed to put the display into sleep mode when it reaches a certain angle as presented in our cover graphic. The third patent covers new selective keyboard backlighting system allowing users to selectively make certain keys brighter than others which is good for gaming and beyond.
Bistable Retractable Keys on a MacBook
Apple's granted patent covers a future MacBook. While a MacBook may include a built-in keyboard with multiple individual movable keys, the height requirements of the movable keys lead to a larger overall device size. Accordingly, the patent covers a key retraction system and methods by which the keys may be retracted when the device is being stored (or in other modes).
For example, the keys of the keyboard may include a magnetizable material that can be selectively magnetized to either attract or not attract (or repel) a keycap. When the selectively magnetizable material is magnetized to attract the keycap, the keycap may be held in a retracted state, thus reducing the overall size and/or height of the keyboard.
Otherwise, the keycap may occupy an extended position. Further, because the selectively magnetizable material may maintain a persistent magnetic field without continuous electrical input, the keys may be maintained in the retracted state without a continuous application of electricity, which may be especially helpful in devices that are configured to operate on batteries and thus have limited onboard power supplies.
Accordingly, the key may be considered bistable--it may occupy an extended or retracted state without continuous application of electricity or an external force.
Apple's patent FIG. 1 below is that of a MacBook using the newly designed magnetic keyboard; FIG. 3A depicts a partial cross-sectional view of a retractable key mechanism in a first mode of operation; FIG. 3B depicts a partial cross-sectional view of the retractable key mechanism of FIG. 3A in a second mode of operation; FIGS. 5A-5B depict first and second examples, respectively, of selectively magnetizable magnets.
The magnetizable material (#318) may be any suitable material that can be magnetized by the coil to produce a persistent magnetic field. For example, the magnetizable material may be an aluminum nickel cobalt iron (AlNiCo) magnet, an iron chrome cobalt (FeCrCo) magnet, or any other suitable material. The magnetizable material may have any suitable shape, such as a cuboid, a cylinder, or the like.
For more details, review Apple's granted patent 10,957,501.
Magnetic Field Sensors in a MacBook
In a second MacBook granted patent, their work with magnets continues. In this granted patent Apple describes how partially closing the lid of a MacBook could automatically trigger the display to go to sleep and save power.
Apple's patent FIG. 10 below illustrates an isometric view of a MacBook showing the magnetic field sensor 118b and multiple magnetic fields incident on the magnetic field sensor 118b. As shown, the display housing (#104) is positioned at an angle (#170) relative to the base portion (#108). The angle may be approximately in the range of 0 to 10 degrees. In some embodiments, the angle 170 is 2 degrees.
The granted patent also notes that lowering the lid could also stop music playing. For more on this, review Apple's granted patent 10,955,494.
Selective Keyboard Backlighting
Apple was granted a third MacBook patent titled "Keyboard backlighting with reduced driver circuitry." Apple's granted patent covers methods for selective keyboard backlighting.
Apple notes that despite computers becoming more useful for a variety of personal, business, and manufacturing tasks, computing keyboards have hardly changed beyond their original design. Physically, some keyboards have improved by providing a single backlight that allows the user to see the keys of a keyboard better. However, such backlights are typically static and therefore do not provide any additional utility beyond improving the visibility of keys.
In some embodiments, a method may be set forth for controlling brightness of light emitting diodes (LEDs) coupled to a keyboard. The method can include a command being sent to a lighting circuit for a keyboard, wherein the lighting circuit may control the brightness of a plurality of LEDs. The method can further include the brightness of one or more LEDs or of one or more subsets of LEDs of the plurality of LEDs to be changed.
For example, if the user is playing a game or using a software application that uses one or more keys more frequently than other keys, the more frequently used keys can be illuminated while the other keys can remain dim or off.
For more on this, read Apple's granted patent 10,957,500.