Today the US Patent & Trademark Office published a patent application from Apple that relates to computer systems and computer input devices. More particularly, the present embodiments relate to a new kind of compact keyboard design that provides either a removable key or set of keys that are usable as a separate input device like a mouse, pointing stick or joystick.
Apple begins by noting that trackpads, pointing sticks (e.g., "eraser head" mice), trackballs, and similar pointing devices for computer equipment can be difficult and straining to use over long periods of time and for certain types of work with a computer.
Additionally, trackpads, pointing sticks, and trackballs take up valuable space in portable electronic devices that have constantly dwindling size and thicknesses. A sliding handheld mouse is generally more comfortable for fine pointer operations or extended use, but handheld mice are also large, are of limited portability, or require particular work environments (e.g., ones with a proper mouse tracking surface) to be used effectively.
Accordingly, aspects of the present invention relate to input devices where a keyboard is provided that has at least one deployable and removable input device that is specialized for input similar to a handheld mouse, stylus, wand, or other remote, handheld input to a computing device when the deployable input device is separated from the keyboard.
For example, the specialized key can be removable from the keyboard and can comprise input and sensor features configured to receive a "click" input from a user and to track the position or movement of the deployed key as it moved across a tracking surface.
In some embodiments, the removable key is operable between a first configuration wherein it is usable as a key having a first function when attached to or positioned in the housing of the keyboard, such as a key switch input function, and having a second configuration with a second function when separated from the housing, such as a mouse input function.
Accordingly, the removable key can comprise features and elements that enable the key to operate as a mouse or other remote input device, such as an optical tracking sensor configured to face and sense the position or movement of a surface below the optical tracking sensor.
The key can also have a button, touch sensor, or similar structure for sensing a click input from a user.
Some aspects of the invention relate to a computer input system having a keyboard apparatus with a controller and an input device that is removably attachable to a housing of the keyboard apparatus among other key switch mechanisms.
Apple's patent FIG. 1 below illustrates a keyboard with removable keys that could act as a mouse or pointing device. The keyboard could be a compact or full-sized keyboard. The keyboard could be a desktop computer keyboard or a MacBook keyboard; In FIGS. 1A and 1B a user could use a set of keys to use as a remote input device. The user would press a button to release the keys. the set of keys acting as a remote input device (#106) can have multiple different buttons that provide different operations or functions.
In FIG. 2A above, the housing (#202) can comprise a side surface (#222) that can include a retractable body portion (#224) that can be extendable from the side surface to increase the size of the housing. The body portion can alternatively be referred to as an expandable side feature of the housing.
In some embodiments, the top surface can be convex, as shown by surface (#336) in FIG. 3 above. A convex top surface can be positioned on a rectangular key housing or on an elliptical or cylindrical housing. A concave or convex top surface can beneficially have increased surface area as compared to a flat, planar top surface and can therefore provide additional surface area against which a user can provide touch or sliding input to the removable input device as indicated by the bidirectional arrows (#300). The central feature can also act as a fingerprint scanner.
In Apple's patent FIG. 17 above, the central feature can pop up when the user provides sufficient force. This could provide the user with a joystick-like feature.
Apple's patent application number 20210255711 that was published today by the U.S. Patent Office was originally filed in Feb. 2020.
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Considering that this is a patent application, the timing of such a product to market is unknown at this time.