A new patent application published by the US Patent and Trademark Office gives us another thought-provoking insight into Apple’s thinking behind sci-fi keyboard designs. Granted, only a fraction of their patents see the light of day. Moreover, those that don’t often file is vague, too broad conceptual ideas. Nevertheless, this one’s interesting on several levels.
Apple wants you to feel the keys before you hit them. The document entitled “Input Devices and Methods of Operation” proposes the use of air vents on keys (you read that right) coupled with a bunch of proximity sensors like the one inside your iPhone that prevents spray input from your face.
In some systems, feedback is provided before actual contact with the key expelling air from the input device proximate the key when user selection is imminent. In other examples, the tactile sensation results from automatic movement of the key in response to detected user selection of the key.
Another embodiment calls for a pneumatic system designed to pull the key away from you by “advancing the selected key in a direction of actuation in response to detecting user selection”. What do you make of this?
The described concept is pretty much useless in virtual keyboards where glass prevents air expelling. However, such a design could come in handy for really tiny keyboards where the individual keys are too close together, meaning one is unable to distinguish between the individual keys just by touching them with one’s finger. How small a keyboard, you ask? Really small – think iPhone small. Any suggestions? Meet us in comments. Apple credited this keyboard concept to engineers Aleksandar Pance, Michael Sinclair and Brett Bilbrey.