Apple wants to free you from the standardized keyboard. A new patent filed by the tech giant reimagines a MacBook’s entire keyboard as a single trackpad. The sensitive surface would allow users to customize their keyboards in just about any way they want. Tiny lights underlying the pad could project a traditional keyboard, or potentially even a crazy emoji keyboard, right onto the trackpad, leading to a lot more creative typing.
The surface would be a “force-sensitive input structure for an electronic device” that is “zero-travel,” meaning a user would not actually see any physical parts moving. The new surface would permit users to add new “keys” rather than getting stuck with the traditional keyboard. For example, one could easily add a keypad to part of the surface where the keyboard traditionally isn’t.
We are not talking about a touchscreen keyboard. Apple trackpads rely on small mechanical sensors beneath the trackpads to accurately determine where a user is pressing, while touchscreens use electronic sensors. This typing space would be dotted with tiny “micro-perforations or holes” that would be lit from beneath to allow the user to see the new design of their keyboard.
Even if you aren’t the kind of person itching for either an emoji keyboard – “glyph” keyboard, as the patent describes – or a numerical keypad, a keyboardless MacBook would be cleaner and probably last longer than current models, though they may also be somewhat harder to repair. In fact, one study found as many as one in eight keyboards pose genuine health hazards on account of bacteria growing between the keys.
The shift away from traditional keyboards would certainly constitute a major update to the relatively stagnant field of MacBook hardware. It would risk alienating the many millions of comfortable consumers, but it would also prove that Apple has not lost the edge in creating sleeker and cleaner devices. Even if the emoji keyboard did not immediately take off, the advantage of a more customizable keyboard is also evident. If CEO Tim Cook is looking for a legacy project, this kind of big idea might just be it.