An Apple patent application has described how transparent glass keycaps could be used to improve MacBook keyboard durability.

Rather fittingly, given the unhappy history of the butterfly keyboard on MacBooks, the patent acknowledges the difficulties inherent in trying to design a keyboard that is both thin and durable…

A pleasing exterior appearance of an electronic device is often difficult to pair with the market demand for advanced functionality, improved durability, key definition, and reduced thickness and weight. Some aesthetically pleasing materials may not be sufficiently durable to include in a device housing or other components, and other aesthetically pleasing materials can interfere with the advanced functionality of the electronic device. Some aesthetic materials are brittle, rigid, or difficult to manufacture into keycaps with desired surface features.

One perennial problem with keyboards is that printed keycaps tend to wear off over time. The patent application describes a way to completely avoid that by having inverted keyboard glyphs beneath the surface, so that light shines through the transparent surface.

One aspect of the present disclosure relates to a keycap for a keyboard that includes a key body comprising a top external surface. The key body can comprise a transparent body having a bottom surface, a light-blocking material attached to the bottom surface of the transparent body, with the light-blocking material defining a glyph shape, and a carrier body configured to support the transparent body and the light-blocking material. The top external surface can include at least two edges and a center, with the at least two edges being raised relative to the center.

In some cases, the transparent body can comprise a glass material, the carrier body can comprise a polymer material, and the light-blocking material can comprise an opaque layer positioned between the glass material and the polymer material. The transparent body can comprise a transparent polymer material, and the top external surface can also comprise concave curvature. That concave curvature can be substantially cylindrically or spherically concave.

The result, says Apple, would be keycaps that are very thin but extremely durable.

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 initially played down problems with the butterfly keyboards it introduced in an effort to make MacBooks thinner before offering a service program for them, trying revised materials that didn’t solve the problem — and eventually abandoning the design in favor of a new-generation scissor mechanism first fitted to the 16-inch MacBook Pro. Further improving keyboard durability is certainly a worthy goal.

Via Tom’s Guide

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Ben Lovejoy

Ben Lovejoy is a British technology writer and EU Editor for 9to5Mac. He’s known for his op-eds and diary pieces, exploring his experience of Apple products over time, for a more rounded review. He also writes fiction, with two technothriller novels, a couple of SF shorts and a rom-com!

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