Apple has just been granted a patent for a Macbook keyboard that does pretty much everything, and therefore doesn’t need a touchpad. In fact the touchpad — the flat square you use like a mouse with your fingers — is conspicuously missing from Apple’s schematic diagram of its new proposed keyboard.
First spotted by Apple Insider, the “fusion keyboard” sports touch-sensitive keys that can also be depressed to two more levels, creating two more types of functions from a single key.
This means that the touch-sensitive keys can be used in a similar way to the current MacBook touchpad, to control an on-screen cursor, zoom or scroll.
At the same time, the user can type by depressing the keys one level, while some keys can be depressed to a second level to produce another command — like a mouse click.
Since a key can be used for several functions — touch, keystroke and a double-depressed command — the keyboard has to establish which is which. If it doesn’t log a keystroke shortly after sensing a touch command, it assumes that the user intends to use the touch-sensitive portion of the key. If it does log a keystroke within a pre-determined period, it ignores the touch-sensitive portion and lets the user type normally.
Interestingly, commands from each hand are dealt with separately but at the same time, meaning that one hand can type while the other uses the touch-sensitive keys to scroll or zoom.
There’s no guarantee that this new keyboard will make its way into any Apple products. Apple frequently patents ideas it does not develop. But as AppleInsider points out, Apple keeps reducing the size of some MacBook designs. Getting rid of the touchpad on the latest 12-inch MacBook would allow Apple to keep the functionality of its larger models in new, smaller releases.
Google has also considered killing off the space bar so that it can create smaller Chromebooks.
But Apple has only just re-invented its touchpad for the new MacBook and MacBook Pro. Rather than scrolling with the top portion of the pad and clicking with the two bottom buttons, the whole pad is sensitive to pressure.
It may be some time then before we see an actual keyboard without a touchpad — if at all. But if we do, some people will be reminded of the Thinkpad’s red button, which performed a similar set of functions on PC laptops.
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